Updated: Sep 2, 2020
When we think of yoga an image that might come to mind is some flexible person holding an impressive-looking pose. However, especially in Vinyasa yoga, there is just as much emphasis on the way we transition from pose to pose. In fact the word Vinyasa itself means "to place in a special way" as in the way we link one pose to the next.
Vinyasa is also a flowing sequence that consists of specific postures and is used in a vinyasa practice to warm up and to reset the body from side to side. It connects the poses to the movement of the breath. I will talk about this in greater detail later in this article, but for now I think you get where I'm aiming, which is that yoga, and specifically vinyasa yoga with its emphasis on movement, is extremely beneficial for those practicing another movement art that requires grace and fluidity such as tango.
In tango we learn many steps, but individually those steps do not create a dance. It is the fluid combination of linking those steps together in sequences that creates an entirely new dance each time it is executed. So when we practice consciously and smoothly transitioning from pose to pose in yoga, we are preparing our body to act with similar ease when we dance tango.
But that is not where the benefit ends. Below I will share with you a few of my favorite yoga transitions and why they are particularly useful for tango dancers to practice because of how they help with specific tango struggles.
1. Crescent Lunge, 1 Legged Mountain and Revolved Mountain
If I had to recommend only one transition for tango dancers to practice it would be Crescent Lunge to One Legged Mountain, back to Crescent Lunge, Back to One Legged Mountain and twist from there into Revolved Mountain.
The action of stepping up into the forward leg is a great way to practice balance and by coming from a lunge it teaches us how to use the strength of the base leg to find balance, rather then what we tend to revert to in tango, which is the arms. In particular it has us using the back of the legs (glutes and hamstrings) which is where we want to focus the power in our tango step.
In One Legged Mountain we need to locate our sits bone over our heel, and draw our belly button in to lengthen the spine as we tilt the pelvis slightly back, so basically coming into a good tango posture. From here as we step back into lunge we practice reaching our free leg back by first grounding and pressing into the floor with our standing leg, and at the same time slightly leaning our torso forward and up as we do in tango to stay connected with our partner's chest and avoid dumping all of our upper body weight into the heel.
To transition from One Legged Mountain to Revolved or Twisting One Legged Mountain we need to keep the base leg rooted and the hips stable and pointing forward before we engage our obliques for the twist, just as we would in tango when creating movement that requires torsion.
2. Crescent Lunge to Revolved Crescent Lunge, to Twisted Reverse Lunge
Speaking of torsion, this transition is great for exactly that. It is very similar to the movement of an ocho in tango with the only difference being that we would not bend our front leg as much as we do in yoga. The important thing here is to find stability in the base before twisting. Rooting the feet down, keeping the hips pointing forward and pressing the hip of the extending leg back, and then from there finding a twist. Once again, as soon as the lower body is stable, the twist should happen by engaging the obliques, and not involving the hips.
When we transition in to Twisted Reverse Lunge and bring the back hand down the back leg we open up the pecks and stretch the lats which helps us to create mobility in our shoulder area. This is important for tango dancers because often in twisted movements such as ochos we block our own space by not getting the shoulder out of the way. In this pose we can feel the twist of the obliques carried up all the way to the upper spine where we can create room in our embrace so that we do not push our partner away.
3. Warrior 3 to Half Moon
These are two of my favorite postures to practice for tango because once again they require you to really work on balance, and we all know what a struggle that is in tango. (To learn more about balance read my article on how yoga can help with balance in tango - And try a free balance for tango dancers sequence).
As we move from Warrior 3 into Half Moon, stacking the hip of the extending leg on top of the standing leg, the tendency is to roll on to the outer edge of the bottom foot, causing us to lose balance. To counter this we need to press into all four corners of the bottom foot, but especially into the inner edge to engage the whole inside of the leg. As we press down we grow a little taller.
We see a similar struggle in tango of rolling onto the outer edge of the foot when we take a step, so practicing engaging the inside of the foot as we do in this transition is extremely useful as well as pressing down to lengthen up.
4. Pyramid to Revolved Pyramid
Pyramid to Revolved Pyramid is another useful transition for finding hip stability when we twist. The tendency here is to collapse the hip of the forward leg out to the side as we twist, much like we tend to do in tango. Instead we should try pulling the hip back and tuck it in to our center so that the head of the femur bone comes back in line with our knee. Then draw the belly button in towards the spine to lengthen and finally engage the obliques for the twist. (to learn more about how yoga can help with torsion check out my free twisting yoga class to improve tango torsion)
A good exercise is to try to find these cues in pyramid and revolved pyramid and then get into a position like you are stepping into a forward ocho with your weight in the front foot and your torso twisting towards the front leg. Notice if the hip wants to collapse out to the side as you twist and try to find the same sensation in the hip as you did in the yoga postures.
5. Surya Namaskar A (Sun Salutation A) with a Side Bend
In traditional vinyasa yoga this sequence is what is called the vinyasa. It is a sequence that warms up the front and back body. Other postures can be added to vary this sequence depending on the aim of the class. Here I've added a side bend because in tango we want to build awareness around our front, back and side body so that our moving embrace has a voluminous sensation.
It's very common in tango when we first start to dance to be too far in our back because it can be awkward to come close to another person. Later we tend to over-emphasize the front side when we learn to dance in a close embrace, by puffing our chest to meet our partners. And then learning how to fill our side body is a more advanced sensation, but one that gives us access to communicating with our partner on a whole new level.
This vinyasa sequence requires us to warm up the front, back and side. It also serves tango dancers by linking various postures together in a flowing sequence, as I mentioned in the beginning of this article, which is useful for practicing smooth, graceful moving. It can be done at any pace but the important thing is that the body remains active, just as in tango where even a pause is still an active movement.
I hope this gives you a little insight into how yoga can improve your tango dancing. Do you want to practice together? Get started with this 3-class freebie pack. Each class is just 20 minutes and will get you well on your way towards improving your dance: