The past few months have been incredibly busy, partly because Pablo, Naomi and I have been working hard to create our online course. We spent days locked in Naomi’s flat brainstorming about what the perfect content should be. There was a lot of brainstorming, sharing and comparing and it was incredibly exciting.
Yet at times, I just wanted to take a step back and enjoy how lucky I was. I’d just sit down and quietly listen to Pablo and Naomi share ideas from their years of experience dancing and teaching.
I started dancing tango only 8 years ago, which makes me a baby in that world. So I feel incredibly blessed to be part of a team with two tango giants, with such different approaches to the dance. Pablo, who has tango running deep in his blood and lives for the music. Naomi, who comes from a music and dance background and body healing practice. It was fascinating to hear them talk, compare, challenge each other, go back to the music, agree, and sometimes agree to disagree. Just being there made my mind and body buzz with excitement.
In those weeks, I probably learnt more about tango than I learnt in my whole tango life. So I decided to share some of what I learnt on the blog.
Here are 7 of the little secrets I learnt from sitting down and listening to Tango giants….
1. It’s all about bringing sophistication to basic movements
Tango is unique because it’s improvised. No two dancers will do steps in the same way, which is why sitting down and watching couples dance in milongas can be so mesmerizing. Beautiful connection, edgy musicality, interesting dynamics… once they have find their freedom within the dance, couples bring their own take to the steps.
What’s interesting, in the end, is that even the most experienced dancers (especially them?) use the simplest, most “basic” movements… They have found their own way to lead a cross, to walk, to decorate a parada… And in the end, that is what makes this dance so fascinating: it’s always about revisiting familiar steps and finding ways to bring them to the next level. I was struck by this when I was listening to Pablo and Naomi challenge each other to create as many pauses as possible during the cross (four), or watching Naomi find new embellishments for the same movement time after time. They have such perfect technique and precise musicality that they have found absolute freedom in the dance. What is so special about Tango is that wherever you’re at, you can always make that dance yours…
2. The key shape that gives power and fluidity to Tango
Dissociation is unique to Tango and it is what gives the dance power and fluidity. Yet even though a lot of time is spent on the pivot or ochos in technique classes, teachers rarely focus on training dissociation into the body – when that’s precisely what matters. Too many dancers don’t fully dissociate, or do so with the wrong alignment of the hips and shoulders: their torso is not connected with their partner’s, their back is arched, the shoulder is going upwards, the ribs open up….
Unfortunately, a mediocre dissociation is a recipe for disaster: no pivot, giro, or ocho, can be truly elegant and powerful if the dissociation shape is not fully integrated into our muscle memory first. The good news is, there are a lot of exercises students can do to learn what Naomi calls “the key shape” – from working with opposite directions to training the hip muscles to push forward to learning how to start the movements from within…
3. Your hands are incredibly powerful
When talking about connection, most people focus on the chest. Hands are often forgotten. Yet they are incredibly powerful and play a key role in the embrace.
Feel it: the point at the center of your palm is especially tender. It is at that point that the nerves linking the tips of your fingers to your shoulder meet. In the open side of the embrace, this point is where the man’s left hand and the woman’s right hand meet and communicate. So much of our mind is set on the chest, and yet….what would connection be without the hands?
Imagine hugging someone without using your hands. You wouldn’t. It wouldn’t be a heartfelt hug if your hands did not touch their shoulders or back. That’s how important connection through the hands is: a tango embrace should feel as good as a hug.
4. Stillness is the most important part of dancing
Often, dancers, especially leaders, think that they have to do a lot to make the tanda enjoyable for their dancer. So, they lead complicated movements and walk around the dancefloor without pausing.
So important, yet so underrated. The pause is important in the dance because it is when we are building the connection. It helps the follower to feel more trust and security with their partner. Some leaders don’t want to confront that moment of being with their partner and not doing anything: they are scared of being in that moment where nothing is happening. But actually not only the pause brings more sophistication and elegance to your dance, it is also a moment that could feel nicer than any other movement and is vital for being with your partner with feeling…
5. Women could be much stronger
I love being with Naomi because she is such a strong woman. And I love how much of her teaching is about the presence women can have on the dancefloor – making sure her student followers are grounded enough to follow whatever their partners are leading.
But women could be stronger off the dancefloor too.
We spend time here and on other blogs discussing how plenty of women feel disempowered in milongas: they don’t get tandas with the men they’d like to dance with, they feel that their role is passive, they don’t know how to communicate their desire to dance with more partners…
The good news is, women CAN choose. There are loads of ‘secrets tips’ for women who want to be more active. These range from showing that you’re ready to dance, to adopting the right posture to wisely using the mirada, to moving across the dancefloor in-between tandas, to working on your musicality… there are plenty of things that a woman (or a man) can do to be much more in control of the quality of their evening. We loved this idea so much that we decided to create one full video on milonga secrets, to help less confident dancers make the most of their tango nights. It’s coming soon!
6. The three elements you need to really connect
During our brainstorms, there were many discussions about connection: what it means beyond the physical connection, how you can feel it, what helps you connect, etc… In the end, we agreed that connection is a mindset. And that improving your ability to connect is possible. Some custom exercises help you do so. There are three elements that are very important for feeling and connecting: Stillness, relaxation, and listening. Stillness in your mind, relaxation of the shoulders and arms, and using your hands in the embrace to listen to your partner.
7. Dance with your heart
That was the key point of all our brainstorms. In the end, what matters? Not your technique. Not your style. Definitely not your looks. Only your feelings. There’s nothing more real than how and what we feel when we are dancing. Are we opening up to the music and to your partner? Do we feel well in the embrace? Do we accept our partners and the level they’re at today? Do we let the pressure of looking good take the pleasure off the tanda? That’s what matters. For ourselves and for our partners. So, let’s just give ourselves a break and enjoy….
Writing all this, I almost feel a bit of disappointment that our course has been filmed already, and that the brainstorm time has passed. But well, I’m glad it will be out in the open soon, and that it will help plenty of dancers from all around the world!