Let the Artist In

10 06 2012

Something rather remarkable happened in my dance last night.  I danced a tanda with one of my favorite local partners at a level that I didn’t think was possible for me.    It’s as if something become magically unlocked in my body and released in my dance — apparently because I finally was able to empty my head, listen to my body and let the artist in.

It’s not that I haven’t been told that many times before and have been working on it for years.  But in the past, each time I’ve felt that I’d arrived, it ended step being nothing more than a baby step and I realized (in my mind) that I had a long ways to go.  So while my mind is useful from time to time helping me understand what’s going on in my dance, it’s only when I let it go that I seem to move forward to places I’ve never been.

I do watch videos from time to time.  Other dancers inspire me — Carlitos Espinoza is one of my favorites — I have come to realize that it’s not by looking out at others, but by looking in at myself (or should I say not looking in) — giving myself permission to just be and listen to my body — that good things happen.  As with many things tango, what is most remarkable to me is that when I let it go and don’t focus on it, it happens — whatever “it” is.    But when I  focus on “it” nothing happens.

Don’t misunderstand what I’m trying to say.  I’m not saying that focusing on elements of technique doesn’t help.   Some of you may have read about a discovery I recently had by understanding the principles of barefoot running and applying that to tango.  I’m now able to carry my core properly and step lightly with spring in my feet in important ways that have improved my dance.   And applying the same principles improved my snow skiing last winter and my bicycling this spring — go figure!

When I started studying with Susana Miller a few years ago, I recall her telling that she will be helping me improve my dance by taking things out of my body and not by putting more things in.  She said that I already had enough in my body — or should I say too much — too many things in my body that were getting in the way.   And while I wasn’t always sure what was happening, I let it go and trusted her to get me back on the right path.

I took classes with Susana in April of this year, and then again six weeks later this June which provided me two opportunities to move forward.   And just when she told me to quit thinking and to quit focusing on steps, the steps happened.   It wasn’t easy for me to do or should I say ‘let happen’ … comments like “quiet the mind”,  “lose your thoughts”, “walk with an innocent (idiot) look” and “let your body speak to you” seems so simple to me, but it’s not easy.   But for the moment, it is working for me in good ways.


Walk Like a Child

2 01 2012

So Uncle Rich,” my adult nephew asked me over the holidays, “Have you learned how to walk?,

I’m still working on it,” I replied, “but I’m closer than before,

though I didn’t tell him at the time that the further I got into the book I was reading, the more questions I had  about walking.   That book is Born to Run by Christopher McDougall*, the book that was the basis of the New York Times Magazine article “The Once and Future Way to Run” that I referred to in my earlier blog post and had mentioned to my family a few days earlier.

So with this post, I have now finished reading the book that has provided some amazing insights about running (walking). tango and life.    But first, I’d like to try to clean up my last post a bit with some specifics about what it has meant for me and tango social dancing.

(1) Here’s what’s been most helpful for me:

  • Be quick, light and springy below the waist, while keeping the body quiet above the waist (leads and follows)
  • Land lightly on your forefeet (leads and follows)
  • Balance, elasticity, stability in mid-stance and cadence is important for every step. (leads and follows)
  • Keep your feet underneath you.  Step with you knee, not your feet.

(2)  It’s been difficult for me to change my posture, but some of the changes I’ve made have reaped dividends.   I spent way too many years flexing at bit at my waist (tilting forward from the waist) — because I thought that was the right thing to do.  And the harder I tried to fix my posture, the more aches and pains I got in my lower back and below.   Now, I’m starting to learning how wrong I was and what I need to do differently to fix posture, although I still have a long ways to go.  Most of the aches and pains in my lower back have disappeared (and I was able to ski again this winter) without any adverse effects.

Bad Posture

Illustration2: Showing bad posture bending or tilting forward from the waist; note the bend in the middle of the "red line ".

Good Posture      

Illustration1: Showing good posture, with the shoulder, hip and foot aligned, see the straight "yellow line".

Finally, it’s been helpful for me to get my head around the concept of “keeping my feet underneath me” and “tilting forward from the ankles” with the heel down and the feet flat on the floor. While these concepts can work independently, they can also work together as shown by Illustration 3.

Leaning Forward

Illustration 3: Tilting or leaning forward from the ankles with feet flat on the floor. The yellow lines show an example of good posture. The red line shows a wrong posture when the legs are perpendicular to the floor.

It’s been an interesting for me to discover how some of these diverse pieces seem to fit together. A number of people from different walks of life had to tell me essentially the same thing in their own way before I had my “Eureka moment.” But as all tango dancers eventually discover, a Eureka moment is just the beginning of a quest and not the end.  I’ll share more from the book later on, as they give me new insight into tango dancing.  As the book subtitle says, “A hidden tribe, superathletes, and the greatest race the world has never scene.”  That’s not unlike the path taken by most aspiring milongueros in their own personal quest.   The book is worth the read for anyone.  It is a fascinating read for those who would like to understand their dance.

*Thanks to Mike Adamle for encouraging me read the book!

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