Here are Monday’s + Wednesday’s editions rolled into one.
Today I begin a few simple and somewhat challenging exercises to build up strength in the standing leg and open up freedom in the free leg, by using a spicy balancing posture while articulating the free leg. Practice these like everything else, one song per side per day and you will feel a tremendous increase in your stability and control.
Exploring my headspace, and the way each of us think, has always fascinated me and shaped the way I teach. What do I bring to this moment? To this dance? To this conversation?
Here are some of my thoughts on how to distinguish where your attention is during dancing. Are you aware of the little voices chattering away in your head? What are they saying? How do they affect your experience, your performance, your enjoyment? In other words: what’s in your head?
This is part 2 of a 3 part molinete series looking at training around a chair to cultivate precision, balance and elegance in molinete. Today is we finish the movement with the pivots in the front and back step, how they are generated and a few tips on making them better.
Molinete on the dance floor around your partner is rounded (obviously!) so there is another way of moving that has to be integrated ultimately, yet, if you can do molinete around the chair with balance and grace, it becomes effortless to translate that into rounded movements, but the reverse is not quite as true.
In addition to my written blog postings I’m introducing a regular video blog. Focuses will include dance technique for a variety of styles and levels, classes, practicing, how to get the most out of practicas and milongas, interviews y mas.
Today’s topic is the first of a three part series on molinete. I love to look at molinete around a chair to create an environment that requires:
larger steps, which cultivates more power in your movement and exposes inelegance,
linear movement, which is often lost in the ‘falling-this-way-or-that’ tendencies when we have every angle available us,
specific direction and size of steps, which focuses our precision even more to do a step exactly this big, exactly there, into exactly a 180 degree pivot,
balance on each step.
I find that working for one song a day on each side around a chair can be an excellent practice. Of course, the way in which you practice is equally important to what you practice, but that’s another video.
Imagine a general walking before the troops under his command to deliver a speech before a bloody, pivotal battle. He begins by puffing himself up and storming onto the podium raising a fist high into the air and opening his mouth wide saying in a meek voice:
“Uhhhhhhhhhhhhh…I, uh. I’mmmmmm not exactly suuuuuuuure of what we need to do, you know? I’m feeling a little stressed right now and really confused. What do you guys think we should do?” Imagine the response of the troops who’s lives are being risked by this general. It won’t be one of confidence. He isn’t leading. To lead is to listen, carefully planning and then: decide. Leading is decision, direction, action. Call it the yang, the fire. In the dance I must move. I must move in way that inspires trust. The surest way to trust is clear invitation and caring about the safety of my partner. Sweetness.
Now imagine having a conversation with someone who interrupts you with non sequiturs after every few words. They look distracted and seem to be both oblivious to your words and absorbed in their own thought (maybe checking out their body in the mirror or chuckling at thoughts in their head). There is a lack of awareness, receptivity and rapport. You are not being met in the conversation. On the other end of the spectrum, nor are you simply passive in your listening, sitting blankly, occasionally nodding with understanding. Lets say you are flow, movement. Yin.
An image I had very early on in tango was that of a river. The follower in tango is the river, and I am the banks of the river, shaping the flow. The river ultimately decides and often just overflows the banks, and yet, I subtly and clearly attempt to define the course of each twist and turn. When I dance, I want to dance with you! Where are you? Who are you? How do you move? Let me know…this is a conversation.
In the yin and yang symbol, the black is not purely black, and the white not purely white. As a leader I am also not purely ‘leading’, as in a confident general. As a follow I am not purely ‘following’, as in passive listening. There is an element of the each role always present, fluctuating with each moment passing, each movement and shift. As a leader, I must move, and yet my partner doesn’t I can’t. I stop and adjust. Thus I am always following my ‘follow’. As a follower I am responding to the impulses I feel and yet I am not simply surfing their energy, weakly, meekly, passively nodding in agreement as a puppet in the dance. No! I move move myself too! I must. I am light not because I weight nothing (which I don’t!), I am light because I respond, I move, I choose to flow instantaneously with the feeling I perceive.
My job as a leader:
Powerful, irresistible leader: decision, direction, action, balance.
Action through clear invitation.
Responsible for both my own and my partner’s balance, connection, fun.
My job as a follower:
Match the energy of my partner.
“Listening” to three things from my partner - When, How far & What direction.
Responsible for my own balance, powering my movement, enjoyment.
In the milonga, that’s where I leave it, if there’s a mistake, its mine (lead of follow). In a class or private, you pay me to make you wrong for everything I see. If there’s a mistake, its your fault.
Next time we discuss the difference between practicing and dancing.
Cheers and marvelous dancing to you all,
Here are two videos of a master of Tai Chi push-hands, an art that has endlessly informed my tango. The lines between lead and follow are intentionally blurred and shifting to through you opponent off. The ‘pushing’ is always from the flow and is usually a devious masking of a push as a innocent movement…until the last moment. If you haven’t try it!
Stand up. Take a look at your feet. Notice what direction they are pointing. Now bend your knees and notice what direction they are pointing. Now with your knee bent, point it inward relative to the foot. Notice what you feel. Now point it outward and notice what sensations come up.
In general we want our feet and our knees to point in the same direction.
If I grabbed your foot while you were lying on your back and started to twist it along the axis of the leg, eventually something exciting would happen. Your knees would explode. Yaaahhh. The reason is that our hips are many times stronger than the ankle and shin. And the Ankle and the shin are much stronger than the knees (in this example). So your knees are the weak link along that axis.
So when I am dancing and I start pivoting, I am putting the same torque on the knee as in the above example and the only way to avoid knee-splosion is by cultivating the habit of always keeping the foot pointing in the same direction as the knees.
Example. If I’m doing back ochos and I stop in mid-step. My feet, knees and hips should be roughly in line. If not, I’m not pivoting enough for the step. This tends to cause a fall-like step that is less controlled but more importantly, it puts tremendous strain on the medial lines of the knee.
“But in tango, we are ‘turning out’ our feet for many movements!” True. But if my hip is able to rotate with the lower leg, then I can reduce or eliminate the torque on knee. In other words, I move my femur or upper leg (which comes from the hip joint) with the lower leg. Take your hands palm up. Then turn them palm down. That mobility is also present, to a lesser degree, in the bones of lower leg, and indeed it is that flexibility that allows us to explode our knees when we weight them in these positions.
I do lots of yoga and know that eventually, almost any movement can be stable in the human form, but unless we are engaged in practices that open and maintain that mobility of joints and tissues, simple things like not pivoting enough for the step can make our little knee-sees go ‘pop’.
An example of foot, knee and pelvis moving together by the lovely Jennifer Bratt:
As a musician I was constantly assimilating newness (music, posture, left or right hand patterns, rhythms, styles, new and deeper levels of awareness for everything that goes in to playing an instrument) and finding the way to integrate and master those new skills and insights. For me it always feels like I’m opening and engaging a new part of my brain. And pushing that edge, going deeper, feeling and noticing more is the first step to mastery.
Next comes the price of actually working on what you suck at…being a toddler again, beginning anew. Can you dare to look at those areas that don’t work, could be improved? Can you humble yourself to look at, hear, feel, notice what parts of your art differ from your ideal?
These questions are exciting for me, mostly because of the discomfort inherent in shedding light on the darkness. Implicit in the above questions is the notion of comparison. I’d like to draw a distinction between competition and comparison. Competition is comparison with the goal of winning a real or imaginary battle with those that you compare and yourself or your team. Comparison is simply putting something (possibly yourself) next to something else and noticing what you see.
Do you have an aesthetic ideal?
Do you have an practical, artistic, spiritual goal?
Good. With those in mind:
What do you like about that person’s dance?
What do you not like?
With something as fuel (excitement, inspiration, frustration), do something about it.
I’ll give an example. Watching hundreds of youtube videos has given me a vast store of possibilities of movement and style. I watch and select things I want to try or incorporate. One of the first things I ever got very frustrated by was the aesthetic of my own dance, specifically my walk. Watching videos of myself I was appalled to see how my feet hit the ground, how clumsy my movements were, how distorted my posture constantly looked. That was the first flash of insight. I used frustration as fuel and have devoted more than the last year specifically to elegance. I have more to say on elegance for another post.
Examples of elegance I like:
Gustavo y Gisele. Watch how their feet index the ground.
Jaimes Friedgen y Cecilia González. Foot movement. Elegance and fluidity. Musicality!
I’ll refrain from posting videos that I don’t like. But in general, toe-first forward walking, sliding forward steps, sloppy-twisted-ankle back steps and general sloppiness drive my aesthetic tastes crazy.