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The Anatomy of a Tango Dancer

Eric Zimmer, BS Health and Human Performance, ACE certified Advanced Personal Trainer, Stott Certified Pilates Instructor, and Professional Dance Teacher

The Argentine Tango enjoys a rich and multifaceted history, seducing each of us with promises of intimacy and connection. The body of a Tango Dancer will inevitably be put upon day after day, lesson after lesson, year after year, with steps and forms and classes and privates and many, many dances. The demands on the tango body require an adaptation to the strictures of its unique aesthetic while effectively communicating subtle signals of lead and follow.

Before tackling the task of being a great partner for another, however, it will be wise to first be a knowledgeable “partner” to yourself. Your body requires the proper care and instruction that supports optimal health, self expression and longevity. In an effort to peel back the layers of nuance and simplify all that you may have heard in terms of technical “rights” or “wrongs,” you can avoid conjecture and the proliferation of advice by learning about the human anatomy.

Begin with POSTURE. The value in recognizing this reference point cannot be understated and represents a starting point or “neutral” point from which you add or subtract in order to adjust to the nuances of the tango posture. The following guideline can be used as a template for an ideal, static starting point.

A “plumb line” view of Neutral Posture viewed from side, front, back:

(Viewed from the side)

  1. Lobe of the ear
  2. Middle of the tip of the shoulder
  3. Middle of the thorax (rib cage)
  4. Greater trochanter (outer hip bone)
  5. Just in front of the middle of the knee
  6. Just in front of the lateral malleolus (outside ankle bone)

(Viewed from the front)

  1. Nose
  2. Umbilicus (navel)
  3. Pubic symphysis (pubic bone)
  4. Between the feet

(Viewed from the back)

  1. Spinous processes of the vertebrae (spine)
  2. Between the heels

Once you’ve gained an initial awareness of your standing posture, begin exploring movement quality: the translation of static posture to dynamic posture with greater ease and efficiency. This can be done by applying the principles of anatomy to your every step. Start with walking. If you’ve ever consciously attempted to slowly and methodically tie your shoes as an adult or apply your awareness to simple, usually unconscious Activities of Daily Living (ADL’s), you’ll be surprised at how difficult doing something as simple as walking can be! Walking has been described as “controlled falling” and is instructive in introducing the concepts of balance and equilibrium. These concepts address the control necessary to maintain alignment while moving, walking and dancing, thereby managing the forces of gravity and, in the world of partner dancing, managing the “force” of the connection. Outlined below is an abbreviated list of considerations and applications in order to optimize your quality of walking.

  1. Start from Anatomical Neutral (see alignment above)
  2. Shift weight from side to side, being sure to shift from the center of one foot to the other. Consider the “center” to be in line with the middle of the ankle and the 2nd toe. Settle into the middle. This is the ideal starting point.
  3. Keeping your toes on the floor, shift back and forth between the balls of your feet (metatarsals) to your heels (calcaneus). Settle into the middle. Consider that your weight will rest 50% on your heels and 50% on your metatarsals. This is the ideal starting point.
  4. Consciously walk around the room, paying attention to the placement of your body over your feet and the connection of your feet to the floor. Recognize the constant balancing and adjusting that is required to walk well and with the minimum of loss of balance.

Once you’ve had time to play with the concepts of Posture and Balance, start “tuning your instrument,” adjusting your body’s lines and qualities of movement to adhere to the aesthetic demands of Argentine Tango. Out of necessity there are important departures from Neutral Posture as one redefines “ideal posture” to accommodate “ideal tango posture.” The following is a progressive list of musculoskeletal shifts designed to align the tango dancer’s posture in order to economize movement and achieve the desired aesthetic.

1. Collect your feet

Promotes subtle weight shifts and clear directional signals over a clearly defined axis.

a. Stand in your Neutral Posture (described above)
b. Bring your thighs closer together so that there is little space between your feet
c. Practice walking: front, side and back, while maintaining this alignment

2. Shape your legs and feet

Promotes lateral stability, collection, and long “lines” of the legs and feet.

a. Stand in your Neutral Posture
b. Collect your feet, allowing a slight outward rotation of your legs and feet below the knees*

*Practice standing with legs/feet both in parallel and turnout (outward rotation from the hip … think ballet). Explore the range of motion available below the knees (including the lower leg and foot) without rotating from your hips. Be careful not to work so hard as to change the neutral placement of your feet. This tango aesthetic promotes Collection of the legs, limiting the space between your legs as you bend and move.

c. Shift weight onto one foot, maintaining both feet on the floor but with the gesture foot (non-weighted side) gently rolled in (everted), keeping the inner edge of the gesture foot in contact with the floor. This promotes continued collection of the legs and feet, minimizing space and articulating their shape.

3. Shift your COG (center of gravity)

Shifting your COG slightly forward creates space for the legs and feet to move while maintaining an effective connection to your partner (most desirable in a closed embrace).

a. Shift your ribcage incrementally forward while maintaining your hips back over your heels (neutral) and arms in a lightly-toned embrace shape. You should feel a subtle compression between partners at each contact point.
b. Maintain this compression as you walk around the room with your partner.

4. Posture, Balance, Collect, Shape and Shift

Consciously apply these concepts separately and together. Explore the information from the “inside,” seeing how they interact and support each other. Strive to find the perfect balance between what you’ve learned about your anatomy and how you move in your tango body. Experience this connection first to yourself and then with a partner. Rely on your ability to move and dance independent of your partner first and then as a couple, supportive of and yet interdependent within the embrace.

The study of the Human Anatomy will contribute greatly to your success as a Tango Dancer. Knowing the fundamentals of posture, balance, static and dynamic equilibrium can shave off years of not knowing whether what you’re doing is correct or not.

In addition to gathering valuable insights from teachers in your life, learn to appreciate the simple truths that are easily gained by standing well and moving well within a knowledgeable body. Understanding your body and enjoying the grace and awareness that comes from it will be the greatest gift you can give to yourself and to each and every connection you make on the tango floor.

Eric Zimmer, BS Health and Human Performance, ACE certified Advanced Personal Trainer, Stott Certified Pilates Instructor, and Professional Dance Teacher

References:

  • Manual of Structural Kinesiology, R.T. Floyd, 2009
  • Dance Anatomy and Kinesiology, Karen Clippinger, 2007

January, 2014