About the Body

The Answer is in the Hands

Sometimes we think that it’s all about the feet and what the feet are doing, but sometimes the answer is in the hands.Plouarzel France

I left Berlin about 18 days ago to finally visit my friend in Brittany, France who I had not seen in a LONG time. So long in fact, that her youngest, who is now 10, wasn’t born yet!!! I flew to Paris and stayed a few days dancing and then off I went! With a few adventures along the way, of course! Including a few nights in Brussels with day trips to Leuven, Antwerp and Brugge.

Prior to my departure I contacted 2 tango associations in the town of Brest, telling them that I would be coming though. And to my delight and surprise, I received a message from a lovely young woman, Stephanie, introducing herself and asking if I’d like to teach with her during her normally scheduled courses. OF COURWith Stephanie at ElaboSE!!!! I had the pleasure of teaching with her both in Brest and then again in Rennes. We had much fun and we had a lovely connection, I hope that she and I will collaborate again in the future.

My dear friend literally lives on the western coast of France, walking distance to the “western most point in France”. And the sun did not shine for more than 1 hour during my whole visit, but the landscape was dramatically beautiful, changing all the time from clouds to dense fog to rain, sometimes in short time spans. Although I did not dare to swim, there were plenty of people who still ventured to! One Sunday evening, she invited 10 of her friends to try some tango so we had a great class with the view of the ocean behind us and snacked after the class was over! They asked lots of questions about the music and etiquette – they all loved it!!!Class in Rennes at Elabo

I also wanted to highlight that I used to live in Rennes, France for my one year of study abroad, almost 26 years ago!!! I had not been back since, but being back in Brittany, I was reminded of all the creative things that are happening there (and in France): Fêtes de la Musique, Dance and live performances of all kinds, etc. I even taught in a functioning artists squat in Rennes with Stephanie called Elaboratoire. I met a modern day “town crier”/ actor / clown / troubadour, who is in charge of street performances. And what a great space to create!

During my return to Paris a couple who will be competing both in the European Tango Championships this weekend and again in the Mundial asked me to coach them – give them some feedback and fine tune some details.  They won the French division of the Stage Competition and they are lovely dancers. I was so enthusiastic about this prospect as I had seen them perform and found their work creative and lovely!

From my years as choreographer and dancer in the “modern dance” or “contemporary” dance world, I am very interested in transitions, how do you get from one movement to another, or sometimes one shape in the body to another. Very often talented dancers have beautiful “moves”! And as you watch it looks like you are watching one shape or one move and then another and then another and the focus turns away from the beautiful moves to the effort to get to those pretty shapes! I have found that one solution to this issue is to find something in the body that links the shapes. In the case of Irene and Patrice the solution for them was to bringing attention to their hands: to put their attention to really touch and find each other in the more difficult and fast movements. Which of course reminds me of my work with Graciela, always encouraging us to use our hands, to really touch each other. Our 2 hours together was spent with other details in preparation for their performances. It was so brilliant for me to have this time with them. I LOVE WORKING WITH TRAINED DANCERS TOO!!!!

They are at the European Championships this weekend and I send them big hugs and kisses as they will shine beautifully, I’m sure. I found it interesting that even (or maybe not even in Stage Tango) but also in Stage Tango, the Russian dancers pose “a threat”! This was the scene for the Mundial too when I was last there… Interesting! As Patrice and Irene mentioned that they were ready this year for those Russian dancers and the competition they bring!

I am spending this birthday weekend in Amsterdam and will be back in Berlin this week for the start of the Summer course I am teaching at one of the studios and for my visa renewal/extension appointment.

Not a day goes by that I do not express my gratitude to my parents and all of the lovely people who are helping me make this journey through tango in Europe and of course, self-discovery. Thank you Thank you Thank you

Here are some additional cool pics!!!

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Tango: A Pain in the Neck?

Is Tango a Pain in the Neck?

I have not known how to broach this subject of tango being a pain in the neck, and it seems to be a common recurring theme as of late. After returning from another 3-day tango dancing event, several people shared with me their “pain in the neck” or their “pain in the back, effecting their arms.” Does posture in tango have to cause so much pain? I really believe that it does not. But if you have been dancing for many years the same way, to change this habit may be too much to ask for.

Our bodies really are our autobiographies, the sum total of all that we have done, our histories, up until this point in time. But if you are in pain dancing, I wonder why you learned it that way in the first place. Monkey see monkey do perhaps? Maybe there’s a weakness in several body areas, accompanied with a lack of knowledge about the body and its biomechanics that has afforded you this painful posture. I know that the minute I point out why you are having so much pain I might be in for some controversial backlash, but here it goes.

That head tilt to the left (their ear is nearly resting on their shoulder) that some leaders have, compounded with a raised left elbow, and 2 scapulas practically kissing each other – are you in pain just from reading it? I am! And with this the whole spine is now curving unnaturally in 2 directions and in 2 planes: in a spiral and in an arc. All of this is further pronounced with forward projected ribs, compounding undue pressure on the vetebrae of the spine.

But just changing one part of the system, like just the neck or the cervical spine, will not take away your pain. Your system, your whole body, will suffer from this posture and static positioning more and more over time. I think you can have whatever look you want in tango but that static stuck fixed posture is also causing pain.

I know that many who read this will not be happy with my suggestions but change will be the way to get rid of pain and hopefully dance until you are 90 (if you want to).

We really must look at the whole body because just taking away or changing your neck and shoulder habits might not get rid of your pain, as they are probably tense in the first place as a way to cope with the forces created by how you are walking. (Katy Bowman Whole Body Barefoot: Transitioning Well to Minimal Footwear)

Let’s take the model of alignment found in Restorative Exercise (thanks to Katy Bowman). Here we find 25 bony landmarks to help us align our bodies, working with gravity and a system of corrective measures and exercises we start aligning the body. And I believe that with this understanding as a measuring tool we can free up our tango posture and dance pain free.

So why does the head tilt to the left? Either the follower is imposing their heavy head into the leaders space as opposed to keeping her head on her spine and in her own alignment, or / and the leader is attempting with a very tight right shoulder to wrap completely around the follower’s back. This excessive wrap, with already tight shoulders, hinders the embrace. Often this is compounded with an already tight scapula. This is those shoulder blades practically kissing each other. Those shoulder blades squeezed together tells me there’s a weakness not only in the back but also in the front of the shoulders. There are other muscles in the back that can support the weight of your arms and they are not being used or even considered. The left elbow sticking out is a sure indicator of this; which then protrudes the ribs to try (I guess) for a “chest connection”. And now the pelvis is so far out of alignment (dumping forward – as I call it – there’s a blog on that!) and the majority of weight of the leader’s axis is now around or beyond his metatarsals. And he doesn’t fall over? Probably because the follower is matching this falling posture.

So let’s back up a bit. Alignment affords health. This is the premise I am working with. Health means oxygenated blood coursing through the body without being hindered by bumps in the road. But health also means less pain.

There are ways to use the spine dynamically in its vertical axis with 3 natural curves; there are ways to support the arms and have a chest connection with a partner without thrusting the ribcage over your toes.

As opposed to hanging onto bad body mechanics and being in serious debilitating pain, consider the following:

  • Stretch those calves and hamstrings.
  • Widen those scapulas.
  • Hang from a bar.
  • Put your head on your spine by ramping up your head several times a day.
  • Drop those ribs.
  • Check out my blog at My Alignment Practice and check out Katy Bowman’s video on all About the Shoulders.

You can really dance pain free and without being so tense.

If you came to me for an alignment session, for example, I would start with you standing and aligning your feet, with the weight in the heels, and placing your pelvis in a neutral position. I would then follow with placing the ribs into their alignment, which is the lower rib on top of the neutral pelvis. We would allow the head to fall forward and slowly begin to ramp it up. I would include calf stretches. Then to tackle a bit of the shoulder area we would move to the floor in a quadraped position (on hands and knees) and do some hand stretches and exercises for those tight muscles between the scapulas.

I really think there needs to be more awareness drawn to the body and its’ mechanics. Maybe you walk through life in a fixed posture – because you probably also spend a lot of time sitting in the same posture, so you probably dance in a very painful fixed posture.

This can change!
I would like to get you to dance dynamically both as a leader and a follower. Using this model of alignment to work the body in a more friendly, productive, and pain free way.

Let me know if you are ready to let me help you with your posture..

PS – spread the word – more body awareness makes for happy dancing… ☺ share with people you like..

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Axis: the W’s and the H!

Accessing your Axis: the W’s and an H!

Where is it? What is it? How do I use it ? maintain it? Who has an axis? When do I need to use it? Why do I need to know about it?

In a class recently a student was having a hard time with a “barrida” or a “drag”. And after many tries and different versions of the same concept, the question came up: Why can’t I do this? Or what am I doing wrong? And I replied, “The same concept that gets the follower to move in a walking situation is the same mechanics at work here.” He stared, not really blankly, but with a slight grin to his face!. I said, “So explain to me how or why my follower moves when I am walking in front of her?” He said, “I don’t know actually.” A HA – herein is where the problem lies.

He continued, “Well, in beginner classes you don’t get feedback and it’s hard to learn so now I need the fundamentals and I don’t want to go back to a beginner’s class”. (Actually, I’m not sure that’s exactly what he said but basically this is how I interpreted it!)

This is not only a rant about axis but also about pedagogy. What are teachers teaching if not a very basic fundamental concept in tango, AXIS. Sigh….

I guess cuz it’s not “cool” and not really what students want. But we as teachers do a disservice to the students without tackling this concept somehow! Because it shows up over and over and over again regardless of style.

Where is it?
Some teachers like to talk about the spine as the axis. I like this because even though you might never have had your spine purposefully touched you have an idea of what it is and where it is. The next level is imagining this line being in the middle of the body. I have also tried to access the idea by mentioning buttons on a shirt – your midline. Something to give students an idea of their dimensionality or, as I remember Los Dinzel saying, “your volume”.

What is it?
Axis is a fundamental tool for understanding how tango works with your partner. Your own individual movement relates to your own axis and to your partner’s. Some think of it as a “line” in the middle of the body but for me it’s more than a single plane or place.

How do I use it?
I like to think of the axis and moving through my body across my foot by using the articulation in my ankle. Did you get all that? Try this: stand on one foot (try barefoot first) and bend your ankle. Or move your spine across the length of the foot. Those who have taken my classes (or Rommel’s) think of 1, 2, 3 on your foot.
So you can use your axis along this transverse plane as well as combining the sagittal plane which would begin to add a spiral dimension along this axis.

Axis (PSF)

By Pearson Scott Foresman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By maintaining it. I think awareness is a big step in the right direction. Are you falling over? Did you stick your butt out too far? Is there still a relationship between your sternum and your pubic bone (or your 2 centers as I like to call them!)

Who has an axis?
Aw! I know you know the answer!

When do I use it?
All the time.

Why do I need to know about it?
In order to dance and communicate affectively and clearly with your partner. (this is in both directions – as a leader and a follower)

Definition thanks to Merriam Webster
: the imaginary straight line that something (such as the Earth) turns around
: a straight line that divides a shape evenly into two parts

Back to that student: open and willing to understand he is now ready to practice and actually wants to work on this to get it more into his body. He knows it’s boring but willing to put in the effort in order to improve his tango skills.

Come explore more about the axis with me on Tuesday nights in the technique classes in Budapest. Or take an individual session to explore this concept directly with me.

Happy dancing!

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Hip Dropping

Dropping your hips?
A student came to me recently and shared with me that another teacher had told her that to find her balance (which had been a problem for her), all she had to do was “drop her hip”.  And well, as you can imagine, I have some issues with this.

Now, this isn’t the first time I had heard about dropping the hips, for whatever reason, aesthetic or for balance. Many years ago (2006) was probably one of the first times I had heard a follower talk about how she used her hips when she danced. Back then, I thought, WHAT? use your “hips”, how??
Fast forward a few years, and dear friend and world traveling teacher, was talking about how she drops her hips in the dance. She and I had a short heart to heart, where I shared with her that I didn’t think that was very stable or healthy for her joints. I also shared with her some of my Restorative Exercise (TM) information. (She told me a year later that she had thought long and hard about our conversation and had chosen to do it less).

I see a couple of issues with the idea of dropping the hip: what dropping your hips does to your own body and then what message it sends to the leader.
Hip Dropping

So what am I talking about when I say “drop the hips”? And I know cuz I’ve always been a hip dropper. After all, it was the cool way to stand through most of my puberty! Then hard core training in modern dance entered my life and you had to be able to control the movement of your hips in all directions, on all planes of movement. What I also learned is that the muscles of the leg and the pelvis work synergistically to keep your legs ideally under you to help support the weight of your torso.

Those who have attended my “Pelvis” lecture and read my blog on the generic use of the term hips know that our culture has a general idea of where the hips are. But when I say dropping the hips, I think you understand that I mean that model catwalk of dropping the hips so one side of the pelvis is lower than the other.

Look at the picture I have here (nice cool outfit so you can see my hips): my right hip is dropped. Now look at the shoulders and the diagonal pull of my shirt. My right shoulder goes up to compensate for that drop. Another more subtle thing that you will see on some people, is that when they drop their hip, the other hip will move farther away from the center line order to compensate. In other words, my left hip (approximately at about the level of my wrist) would move farther to the left. (Some followers and leaders experience, over time, pain here. This is why, too much movement to the outside of that leg – the femur – is pushing away from your midline.) Sometimes with this comes a rotation of the thigh bone inwards and well, the pelvis might compensate as well with a tilt. WOW! Who knew all this was going on? And meanwhile the spine is being drawn downwards and depending on your embrace, guess what else is pulling downwards? So could you be hanging on your partner because of this? Possibly. We all know that tango is very individualistic so we can’t generalize too much.

Now with all that being said, when the follower takes forward steps there can be a bit of hip swaggering. I see this as attitude and makes sense with a heel-first step in a forward step.

For me the energy has to be drawn into the midline, your stability and balance are here. Anything, “sticking out” or “moving around” means that the base is compromised. And here is where I think that the language used has lead to misunderstandings in the idea of using the hips. Think of this analogy, like a building, there needs to be a good foundation. And maintaining a solid base doesn’t mean there isn’t any movement, a building is designed to expand and contract, and so are we.

Remember – I’m not telling you WHAT to do but I am asking you, do you know why you do it?

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Reflections on Confidence

Hello everyone from rainy, wet, windy Wuppertal!
I’m here to report that my stay in Austin has come to an end and I am now in Germany.
I am so grateful for the time I had in Austin. I met some wonderful people, visited with others who have been a part of my tango life, taught some great people and was able to spend much cherished time with my parents. I encourage students to keep on keeping on! You hear lots of seemingly mixed or contradictory ideas but the goal really is to continue to enjoy tango for yourself and find a teacher who you like and invest in that relationship.
I was reminded over the last few months how important confidence is for a student’s self-perception in the dance. I am lucky that my profession provides me the opportunity to educate students about their bodies, their personal biomechanics and then linking that to their tango. From this phello from wuppertallace they can make wise choices about how dancing works for them. I am beginning to think the body and a student’s understanding of it, helps with confidence. Practice does too!!!
All of this jogged a memory of a class I had with Dr. Pam Matt (who I have mentioned before) where the idea was presented about how from a young age, we naturally have a curiosity about our bodies but this curiosity is soon suppressed and from then on we have misconceptions of our bodies: Where things are located, what they are called, how they work, etc. and then comes cultural and environmental impositions of shame or whatnot. And we aren’t really taught much about our bodies thereafter. As we get older usually pain becomes the trigger to learn more about our bodies, which then might reduce our confidence to move in certain ways. Our ability to do it, whatever it is, is curbed by the pain, which of course, naturally, decreases the confidence. Pain can be a natural teacher, making us more aware and guiding us to seek knowledge for prevention and healing.
I think if we have some information about how our bodies function we can use them more efficiently and of course in something like dance, this helps. So back to having confidence. The more we know the more we can move with confidence. It’s about the journey. And that’s where I am now, on a journey… I will learn new things about myself, my body, my strengths etc. This will all influence my dancing and my teaching as well. 

What steps do you take or have you taken on your tango journey to educate yourself about your bodies and its functions?

 

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