About the Body

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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Chin Jutting to Sternum Hanging

I have been heavily immersed in a weekly seminar with my former Kinesiology professor and now Mindful Movement (TM) coach, Pam Matt. The goal is to add Mindful Movement to my alignment offering. Mindful Movement is a branch of Ideokinesis which is defined as the use of images as a means to improve muscle patterns. All that being said, this week in my studies I came across another great image for our chin jutters! Remember those are the dancers that lead into their embrace with their chins, thus smushing their cervicle (neck) vertebrae.

Sternocleidomastoid MuscleThe this “new” idea stems from the premise that our bodies are like a building, an architectural structure with similar principles. Weights can either sit upon structures or hang from them and in this case of the body, we are talking bony structures. In terms of chin jutting I am speaking about the Sternocleidomastoid muscle! Are you impressed? The greatest part of this name is that all the points of connection are in the name: sternum, clavicle, and mastoid process. So basically this muscle connects the sternum and the clavicle to the head, behind the ear.

I think it’s much nicer to imagine having a weight hanging from the bones then to imagine them sitting on top. So here’s an opportunity for a hanging weight image. Imagine that when you lift the back 1/2 of your head properly the sternum can hang from here. What this does for me is to create a lengthening in the cervical spine and a looseness or release of tension in my chest.
sternumYou don’t have to add or do anything extra just imagine your sternum dangling from the back of your head. Close your eyes and see what happens… If that doesn’t work for you just drop your chin and elongate the back of your neck!

More images to come and see how it changes your dancing!

 

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FREE: Alignment 101!

Hello tango dancers:

Many of you have heard me talking about my new certification in Restorative Exercise (TM) and some of you have had the opportunity to try it. Well, here’s another teaser the Free Alignment 101 downloadable pdf for you.

This is the precursor to more alignment fun to come with a website and more downloadable exercises and corrective placements specifically for tango dancers!

In the meantime get started with any of the 5 suggested exercises on the downloadable handout.

Free Alignment 101

If you have questions or would like to book your own alignment session contact me directly.

In the meantime:

Alignment is for health and for better living !

 

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