Reflections on Tango

The First Living Room Sessions

The goal of The Living Room Sessions is to share information on many tango topics to a small intimate group of interested dancers. The first Living Room Sessions topic was about our Feet. Susanne made us gifts of sage salt scrubs for our feet (lovely!) and we snacked on apples and helva! The objective, as I explained to everyone, was to help dancers become better informed about their feet and this included information about the (negative) effects of wearing high-heeled shoes.

Daniela talks about feetI started the session with some basic anatomical information and pictures of our feet. We did some exercises and aligned our feet looking at each of our feet and legs individually. We also stretched and massaged our feet giving them some much needed attention. It was nice that everyone was open to sharing their “Foot autobiography”. I enjoyed looking at everyone’s shoes and having them explain how they felt about their tango shoes. Clearly, sometimes loving the cute painful pair but end up wearing the one or two pairs that are most comfortable.

Some take-aways from the evening:
1) the arch is a muscular construct and therefore, will be affected by muscular contraction
2) there are as many nerves in the sole of the foot as in your face: 1/4 of all motor nerves (of the whole body) are dedicated to your feet
3) from barefoot to 5cm heeled shoe the pressure increases on the forefoot about 65% and then adding another 2.5 cm to that heel (so 7.5cm) you increase the pressure on the forefoot ANOTHER 30%. And why is this bad? because there are 26 bones in your feet and the biggest bone of the foot is the heel, where the bulk of your weight is meant to reside. So if Daniela About the Feetyou’re increasing the pressure in your forefoot, all those little bones are getting the bulk of that weight. Ouch!

So when you are not in your heels what will you do for your feet to honor them?  Stretch, massage, go barefoot, go for a walk (not in your heels!), grab a tennis ball, a golf ball, and a dozen other recommended ideas that we shared!

Thank you everyone for joining me!

The next one 30, September: How to hug the giant (no matter what size they are).  In this Session we will look at the shoulder girdle and the arms, the ribs too,  anatomically and biomechanically. We will do exercises and of course, hug. As always, I am not necessarily here to change your mind, I just want you to be a more informed dancer! Open to both roles. Remember to RSVP.

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Are you Dumping?

Are you dumping?

Are you dumping your pelvis? You have probably heard me say this in class. What am I talking about? Why your pelvic tip, of course!

One of 2 things happens with the pelvis when you come to tango class – you are either tipping it or tucking it!

Rommel Sitting

The Pelvic Tuck

If you are like most of the population who has been sitting at a desk all day, you are probably tucking your pelvis, so then your posture for tango is a little confused. As a leader you might be hitting your partner’s knees or as a follow you might feel that you are not getting your legs out of the way fast enough or that you are dropping the weight into your heels when you are moving backwards.

Tucking is the opposite of tipping for me. So then a teacher who might not know much about biomechanics comes along and says, stick your butt out, for both the lead and follow, get your crotches / genitalia out of the way of your partner! (I actually heard this in a class once!) The teacher is asking you to stick the butt out to create more room for the legs.

I most recently read an article written by a newer Argentine student studying in Argentina who began to focus on walking and the embrace and he described his proper body position as having “el pubis levemente mirando al piso”, which literally translates as having your pubic bone staring slightly at the floor.

And those who know me can imagine my reaction!! So let’s look at this.

If your pubic bone, as a lead or follow, is looking for the floor, it means that you are tilting /tipping/dumping the pelvis. Imagine, that your pelvis is like a bowl and you are now attempting to dump the contents onto the floor in front of you or as he said, place your pelvis so that the pubic bone is looking for the floor.

Ashlee dumping

A pelvis dumping and ribs thrusting

I know the idea is to give the illusion of creating more space for the legs. Unfortunately, what it does is create damaging effects to the vertebrae of the spine and to the integrity of the torso. It also limits the capability of the extension of the legs. What I mean by the integrity of the torso is that now, the abdominal muscles are lax and lengthened, with no real supporting structure for you and in turn the organs in the trunk are adjusting to this new position. And what does that mean? Well, imagine now that your organs are now displaced and putting pressure where they probably shouldn’t. I propose that this affects digestion and elimination at this level. And with all this weight out in front of you it pulls on the discs / vertebrae of the back, mostly the lower back causing shearing. Shearing is when vertebrae are not stacked on top of each other but more sliding across each other. Ouch! And with all this weight out in front of you, your knees, feet, and neck will probably hurt after a time, if not other body parts!

But sometimes dumping has nothing to do with you actively tipping your pelvis but actually, actively sticking out your ribs!

So are you dumping?

I think you can dance like this for a long time or a short time depending on your body type and the partners you have been dancing with. But eventually, I promise that something will give.

ahslee and eric no dump

Same Happy Couple

I view the pelvis as a body stabilizer. It is a bridge between the legs and the torso. It connects your heart and your intension of this dance to your movement, your legs.

If you look at some of the really strong, lovely followers, look at the stability in their pelvis. It is often harder to see the male pelvis in action due to their clothes, so I suggest Corina Herrera and Ariadna Naveira as 2 examples of amazing female followers who also are amazing leaders. They are so stable and solid in their pelvis – all their power comes from here. And I think you can see it.

My point, it’s unhealthy. Regardless of style, this exaggeration of the pelvis will offer you some health issues in the long run. Just hoping to raise some awareness – happy body, happy mind, happy dancer!

*pictures thanks to my students at ASU and taken from and for The Tango Workbook

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Creating Community or Disintegrating Community

Crowded MilongaThe ins and outs of the milonga community is a subject for much discussion. As I have ventured in and out of many communities throughout this year of travel, I still ponder the question on how to create community or how we contribute to disintegrating community.

Interestingly enough, just last week, Buenos Aires milonga organizers and dancers joined a large outdoor demonstration, that consequently turned into a milonga. They were protesting the closure of milongas due to the rising costs of the building owners’ overhead: electricity, gas, general maintenance costs. The AOM – Associacion de Organizadores de Milongas  got together to create a legislation that would help owners of the buildings and organizers to work together so that the milongas would not have to close – after all, these establishments are hosting an intangible world heritage event. On this day it didn’t matter which milonga you normally attended or didn’t attend, everyone was joined by a common cause: keeping the milongas alive and kicking in Buenos Aires. All the milongas, organizers and dancers alike, found themselves joined together for this purpose.

I bring this up maybe as a contrast to what happens in so many cities: milongas compete with other milongas and there sprouts hard feelings, etc. Or even within a milonga people are competing for attention and feeling inclusive or exclusive (invited or uninvited, friendly or unfriendly).

Possibly a positive way to look at this, is that it is normal and healthy for communities to be varied. There will always be cliques (after all you have known your friends for years!), there will always be the loners (and some people like to be loners), there will be people ok sitting with new people, and some ok sitting alone. And it is all ok.

As I continued to reflect upon all of this by comparing my great experiences with my not so great experiences, I thought there might be a “less painful” transition to entering communities.

The Steps

I recall a British TV series I watched several years ago, Teachers. In one particular episode the lead character, a high school teacher, is questioning how a new teacher is entering their after school drinking social group, he is a little miffed that she didn’t actually follow the proper steps.

He outlines them as thus:

Initiation
Apprenticeship
Acceptance
Inclusion

I think each of these words are understandable without needing too much of an explanation (a person initiates into a group usually through another person or through common activity, they are taken under that initiators wing, the group accepts them, and they are now included) so let’s look at how the model might apply to the tango community.

Initiation

How you are initiated into a community and into the milonga might be the key to feeling successful and to the reason for staying or for leaving the tango community. If a teacher brings students to the milonga and invites them to sit at a table together, this helps the initiated to feel less awkward and more welcome.

I think we forget, as those who have experienced or learned Argentine Tango outside of the culture, that Tango is first and foremost social. It is about the community. Tango is (although not exclusively) a Friday night with friends in Buenos Aires. So I think it is difficult to extract Tango from its culture even when we bring along all the codes! I suggest if you are going to a new community alone, email the organizers ahead of time, find someone in that new community to introduce yourself to, then meet them at the milonga, and get invited to sit with them. And then smile and have a good time. Facebook is great for this, as so many communities have their own Tango pages now.

Apprenticeship

It is a bit hard to imagine that there is an apprenticeship phase in entering a community regardless of your years of dancing but maybe look at it like this, if you have some “new tango friends” at a milonga they help you during this phase. You see who they dance with and who they don’t. You get to decide who you might like to dance with or not, and, without a doubt, they will let you know some of the ins and outs of that community (call it gossip or not!). And hopefully, they will also introduce you to some of their friends and favorite dancers. Thus your apprenticeship, until you get on your own feet!

Acceptance and Inclusion

I have combined these two phases. It is hard to say if there is a predetermined time frame for when one is accepted or feels accepted. I also know communities where dancers never feel accepted, and they therefore stop attending milongas and often stop attending classes too. Therefore, clearly, they do not feel included.

The acceptance phase is quite personal and community – based. You might feel accepted by some but not by others. If you have the luxury of choosing among different milongas, then you can find yourself accepted and feeling included at one and maybe not at another milonga. I have found that sometimes even the same dancers who might dance with me in one milonga, might not, in another milonga (ie: Wednesday night in one location versus Friday night in another location). So I feel accepted and included in one milonga and variable in the other! And my desire to go dancing on Friday night is incredibly lower unless, I know people who say to me, “come, we will be there!”

I had an experience, where I had already been in Berlin for 6 months, and one of the leaders, who I saw everywhere (we clearly liked the same milongas), finally asked me to dance. His first words were, “you’re still here!!” AHH – he discovered I was going to be part of the bigger community, not just here for the weekend!!! And then subsequently, his small group of friends, all took me for a tanda afterwards. And now a year later, he rarely asks me to dance although we still pretty much attend all the same milongas. One of his friends asks me to dance sometimes and there you have it! BUT I do feel accepted and included in the milongas that I enjoy attending regularly. Otherwise, I wouldn’t go, right?

So maybe not a perfect model. And in the TV show, the young teacher who was missing the steps, found herself included anyway!

And you?

What about you? Were you initiated into your community? Have you initiated another into your community?? If so you will probably not have an inclusive/exclusive issues! Do you find yourself feeling accepted and included?

Would be interested in hearing your thoughts. And I know many of you have a lot to say on this topic too!!!!

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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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Maestra Time with Graciela González

What a fabulous couple of weekends – Maestra Time!
Graciela González is on tour through Europe and I was lucky enough to catch her! I had the great fortune to spend 2 short weekends with my most influential teacher, Mi Maestra, Graciela González. (Who is Graciela? see below for a little bio or just google her!!) And for the record whenever I am with her, I always meet great people and sometimes magical things happen!

I was first in Hamburg where we had planned to meet to be her assistant and to translate her classes (into English, my German has hardly improved!) It was a great weekend. I really enjoyed the company of my generous host, the organizers, and getting to know some of the other invited teachers of the weekend event. These included Luis Bruni, Fabrizio Nunnari, Ramiro Gigliotti, and Ariadna Naveira and Fernando Sanchez.

I have had the privilege of translating her Technique classes before, have been with her in Buenos Aires several times, and had her in my home in AZ, and each time I find that even after studying notes that I have taken voraciously of her classes, something new and old strike me again as important. Her desire to refine the language and create new exercises to help explain her concepts make each visit with her and each class a new rich exploration into the world of tango technique.

In Hamburg I was hosted by a very special person who also hosted one of the Living Room Milongas. What is that you say? Actually quite a fun idea. Imagine several living rooms open for milongas and in advanced you and 19 other people are told to go to certain addresses – living rooms, between certain hours. And you will travel to 3 or 4 living rooms over the span of an evening. Cool! You get about 1.5 hours at each living room. The DJ is set up in one of the living rooms and is playing over the internet to the other living rooms!!! Such a fun way to meet people too. Volker, my host, commented that he was greeted by more people at the regular weekend milongas, than usual, and he suspected because he was recognized as one of the Living Room hosts. AND I suspected because those Living Room attendees all had a chance to connect on some level with the host, whether a greeting at the door or a dance!! It was very fun to experience. Some of the dancers brought small gifts to the host – like flowers or chocolate!!! Really nice! The host in turn provided wine, water, Apfelschorle (apple juice spritzer!) and some snacks!Notre Dame with La Leona

I had not planned to go to Paris, but the next stop on Graciela’s tour was Luis Bruni’s, La Tanguedia, she asked me to come and from Berlin I was able to sneak away on a Sunday to Wednesday, in between teaching gigs.

So here are some of the highlights from both weekends:

Partaking in the course taught by Ramiro and Graciela in Hamburg, which spoke about differences between dancers of the epoca. It was a class comprised of stories and video and movement. It included stories of Carmencita Calderon who died at 100 (who I remember seeing at a milonga in Buenos Aires before her passing), of Pupy (Graciela’s partner), and several others. There were also videos to demonstrate how the dancers vary in their dance. As this class ended the other teachers in the weekend were there working on the material that was presented. I was high on life, as was Graciela when we talked later. Being with other dancers who I admire and respect, working on these embodiments of the old milongueros was fantastic.

Exploring movement and certain common figures in tango from the perspective of different old milongueros as passed on by Graciela and Ramiro, really grounded my theory that body type makes a difference in our dance. How we move is greatly influenced by our physicality, how tall we are, our weight, etc.

Graciela Gonzalez CertificateIn Paris, I assisted more classes with Graciela and participated in a pedagogical group with some younger dancers who I again, greatly admire in tango. We explored different ways to execute movements with the flavors of some of the old milongueros, clarifying technique along the way, clarifying lead and follow and it was delicious!

Finally, Graciela honored me with a certificate allowing me to implement her method in my tango classes. “Método Graciela González”. Wow! Truly an honor to be recognized by her and a part of a small group of most talented dancers who have worked with her for even much longer than I have. Muchisimas Gracias!

WHO IS GRACIELA? La Leona Del Tango?

She is the most famous women techniques teacher as she was the first to create a specialized course for female dancers. She began to dance in 1988, her teachers were the legends of tango: Pupy Castello, Pepito Avellaneda, Antonio Todaro, Juan Bruno. Graciela worked with Pupy for more than 20 years and imparts his tango secrets in her courses! In 1977, she gathered the first group of tango teachers, Grupo Graciela González, to help promote and popularize Argentine Tango and her teaching methods

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