Crucial in tango.
And yet so hard to master…
It took me years to find my tango balance. The excruciating part was that I came from the world of ballet, so I was supposed to be quite good at balancing. But there was something about the tango posture, the embrace, the fact that I was ‘following’…. that left me wobbly in the embrace for years.
And in milongas today I see that a lot of women struggle with it too.
You want to feel light, be stable and keep control of your own axis. But you’re on high heels, walking backwards, with no clue where the lead will take you…which makes keeping a strong axis hard. I understand, It took me years of practice to master my balance, and to feel free and powerful in the embrace. Because that’s what it’s all about: if you don’t have balance, you are always reliant on your partner, and thus are never able to completely express yourself. So here are 6 of my favorite tips for followers’ stability – from relaxing your knees to strengthening your core to quieting your mind, they will make your dancing more grounded and more elegant.
(Pssst: leaders could do with them too…)
1. Lower your center of gravity
Ideally you’d want to stay connected to your partner, and keep your chest at the level your leader is asking you to. But when dancing, if you feel that you are losing your balance, it is better to find a quick way to keep your balance rather than putting weight on him (spoiler alert if you do: his back will hurt in a few years!).
So in you feel that you are losing your balance, simply get your centre of gravity closer to the floor by slightly bending your knees. I’m not talking about a deep bent: think about it as ‘relaxing’ the knees. This should give you much more control over your axis. Relaxing the knees also tends to make us straighten our spine, which helps keep a stable balance.
But this is only a quick fix.
We want to be stable but always connected to our partner. And we don’t want to be reliant on overly bent knees. So, the 5 following tips are more technical. You’ll need to practise them consicously at first – they might take a bit of time to become a natural part of your dancing – but once they are trained into your body’s memory, you will be more grounded and more stable.
2. Alignment: really go back to your axis
In a forward or back ocho, a lot of women are anticipating: they pivot before being fully on their axis. They want to follow the leader, who is slightly anticipating the next movement, so they are pivoting when their torso is not fully aligned with their hips and feet. If you do so, your hips and feet need to do all the pivoting work AND compensate for the lack of alignment of your torso. Pivoting becomes extremely difficult.
In order to be very stable when pivoting, you need to be well aligned, with your torso, hips and supporting leg in the same line. Even if the leader is leading the ocho while you are still walking, take the time your need to find your alignment then pivot.
Resisting a bit the speed of the lead doesn’t mean that you are not following. You’re simply communicating and creating your dancing – Men also need to learn to give them ample time to pivot, but that’s another story…
3. Strengthen your core muscles to stabilize your spine
You won’t be able to pivot if your spine is wobbly. You spine, or backbone, is the key support element of your body. And it needs to be very stable: you, the dancer, should be in control of where your axis is -it runs along your spine- and keep it straight.
The best way to do so is to work on strengthening your core muscles, the deep set of muscles consisting of the pelvic floor and and the ones around the spine.
Strong core muscles give you a stable platform to dance. On a previous post, we’ve spoken about what core muscles are and how to strengthen them.
4. Relax your toes
I see plenty of women dancing with clenched toes. The “panic of walking backwards” and not being in control of one’s movement leads to the body unconsciously contracting the toes. Yet a relaxed foot is one of the most important elements to be grounded.
- First because it gives you a wider “base”: your weight can spread across all of your metatarsal bones (the 5 bones of the feet), which gives you more stability.
- Secondly because it allows you to really use your intrinsic muscles -the tiny, underused muscles running along your metatarsal bones – to push the floor.
When you feel tense in the dance, check if your toes are clenched: they probably are. Relaxing them will impact both your balance and the overall pleasure you get out of the dance – you will feel it, and your partner will feel it too!
5. Don’t look down
Ballet dancer’s tip: if you look at the floor, that’s where you’ll end up.
And not only for pirouettes and Grands jetés, but also for giros and ochos in a tango embrace. True, it’s tempting to look at the floor, to check where the leader’s feet are, and follow from there. But it’s one of the worst things you can do for your balance. When you look down, your neck stretches out, and you have to compensate by straining your lower back’s muscles.
Bad idea, both for your back and for your balance.
Make sure that your neck is in line with your spine. I often think of a long silver* thread running along my spine, from my tailbone to my neck to the top of my head. It improves my posture and gives me presence in the dancefloor. Look up, close your eyes, and you’ll have more stability!
*silver: color is optional
6. Stabilize your mind
I envy the follower who spends all her tandas in a blissful state of joy and relaxation. It took me some time to find that place. It’s very common for followers to worry about their technique, the way they look, how they can influence the dynamics of the dance, express their musicality… Yet with a messy, jumpy mind, even the best trained dancer can’t keep a beautiful balance. Ironically, a quiet mind, focused solely on the present moment, is key for stability. Once the mind goes blank, the body unconsciously adjusts perfectly to the lead.
So once you’ve trained your body to integrate all of the technique above, you need to let go.
I know of dancers who have taken on meditation. What works for me is to write down my thoughts on a piece of paper: check out how Julia Cameron’s morning pages help leave your worries behind.
We hope that these tips are helpful and will make you enjoy your tango more!
Now, we’d love to hear from you.
Men or women, leaders or followers, do you have any special tip that made all the difference to your balance? Any special trick that help you keep a strong axis?
Thank you so much for reading and sharing your ideas with us all.