Updated: Sep 2
One of the most heavenly aspects of tango dancing is finding that partner who's embrace just fits yours like a puzzle piece. Chests meet together in the middle, arms embrace as if they were made for you, and suddenly you don't know where your body ends and theirs begins. When you move more dynamically there is space and clarity, allowing for movement to be free but still close and connected. Everything feels perfect and you probably don't want to let that partner go between songs. Sounds pretty desirable, no?
Now, I don't want to bring you down from cloud nine, but reality is that for most of us it takes a while before we are able to create such an embrace that keeps our partners coming back to us. Sure, maybe while we are just standing embracing may come naturally to us, but add into it the execution of tango figures and you start to see your embrace fall apart.
There are many factors that come into play such as stability which can have a negative affect on our embrace. However, as I mentioned in my previous article 7 Ways Yoga Can Improve Your Tango Dancing, a lot of these factors have nothing to do with tango and are simply bodily limitations; habits we've acquired over time from activities such as hunching over a computer for many hours.
In my case hunched shoulders was my biggest demon, and it wasn't until I started opening up this area in my yoga practice that I was able to improve my embrace. Not only did it improve comfort but by opening up this area I was also able to improve my balance since I was no longer dumping all of my weight forward.
I knew I had really made progress when I received one of the most redeeming comments from a partner who told me "I could just stay here forever." Now this isn't necessarily going to happen with every one you dance with, but when it does, boy, does it feel like hard work has truly paid off!
So, my friend, I want to share with you several yoga poses you can do to make your embrace a place your partners never want to leave.
1. SPHYNX / SALAMBA BHUJANGASANA
This gentle backbend is accessible to most practitioners. It strengthens the spine, opens the chest, lungs, and shoulders and stretches the abdomen.
To try this pose lie down on your belly and come up onto your forearms, stacking the shoulders above the elbows, fingers pointing forward. Press into your forearms, draw the shoulders away from your ears and send your heart forwards, broadening the collar bone.
This is very similar to the way we want to open the chest when we come into our tango embrace. As the shoulder blades come down the back we can make contact with our partner's chest but engage through the back body so there is a 3-dimensional quality to our torso.
2. PUPPY POSE / UTTANA SHISHOSANA
Another gentle and accessible pose, this one stretches and improves flexibility in the spine, shoulders, upper back and arms.
To try this pose bring your hips above the knees and stretch your arms forward, drawing the chest and forehead towards your mat. Energetically, draw your arm pits in towards your center to open up the upper back even deeper.
As this pose loosens tightness in the upper back and shoulders it helps us to draw our shoulders down in our tango embrace and as we saw with sphynx pose, activate through the back body.
3. MOUNTAIN POSE / TADASANA With Arms Up
This one may not be so obvious but the secret lies in the rotation of the arms.
To try this pose, stand up nice and tall, lining up the back of your neck with your tailbone. Draw your bellybutton up and in towards your spine and extend your arms up. Internally rotate your arms to spin the pinky fingers in towards your center.
This rotation of the arms is key for tango dancers. The tendency for most people is to externally rotate their arms, sending their elbows too far back and hiking up the shoulders. When we do the opposite we relax shoulders, open the chest, and invite softness into the arms.
4. REVOLVED LOW LUNGE POSE / PARIVRTTA ANJANEYASANA
While the main benefit of this pose is a quad and hip flexor stretch, I find it useful for tango dancers because the arm holding the back foot is stretching the pecs and lats, resembling the position of our arms when we are in a tango figure with torsion.
To try this pose first come into a low lunge. The back knee and foot can rest on the mat, the front knee is bent. Keep your knee safe by making sure it does not go past your ankle. Send the hips forward, bend the back knee and with your opposite arm reach for the back foot. A little twist is helpful in reaching the foot but if it still feels far away, try placing a block underneath the bottom hand.
I love this pose for tango dancers because it also includes a twist which is beneficial for improving our torsion in tango. (If you want to learn more about improving torsion in tango check out my FREE twisting yoga class with tips for tango dancers).
5. BOW POSE / DHANURASANA
A more advanced back bending pose, Dhanurasna stretches the entire front body and strengthens the back body.
To try this pose be sure to first warm up with other less intense back bending poses. Lie down on your belly, bend your knees and grab on to your ankles or feet. Draw knees in towards center, push feet into hands and then lift the chest. For a little less intensity try this pose on one leg first.
The benefits for tango dancers are immense in this one. When we first learn to connect chest to chest in tango we often make the mistake of collapsing our back and puffing our chest. In this pose we strengthen the back body as we open up through the front which helps bring our awareness to the 3 dimensional quality of filling up the embrace.
6. COW FACE POSE / GOMUKHASANA
This pose opens up the shoulder area, stretches triceps and helps with elasticity in the back. It can also help to relieve back pain, some thing we dancers may need if we've been dancing with a lot of partners who hang on us!
Traditionally this pose is done seated with one knee on top of the other providing also an outer hip stretch. However, you can also take this arm variation in a forward fold and get all of the same benefits for the upper body. Extend one arm up and one arm by your side and then clasp fingers behind the back. If this feels inaccessible to you today, hold onto a strap, hand towel, handkerchief or anything similar you have close by. In time as you open up this area you will be able to clasp your fingers together.
This pose and others that open up the shoulders, pecs, lats and upper back are particularly useful for tango dancers in figures that involve torsion so that the shoulders and arms can remain out of the way. A lot of times when we are leading or following figures that involve torsion we tend to block our own space or even push our partners away from us by involving the shoulders in the movement. This makes it difficult to maintain a close embrace for more dynamic movements, resulting in an army, unsatisfying experience!
Lastly I want to mention the importance of awareness. Many times we aren't even aware of how much force or tension there is in the arms, shoulders and upper back, so bringing our attention to this area over and over again both through our tango and yoga practice can help with creating better habits that lead to those heavenly dances we all crave.
Of course chest openers and backbends also have an emotional benefit as they are heart openers which invite healing, openness and compassion, essential ingredients for the emotional quality of our embrace... but that's a topic for a whole other blog post.
I hope these few poses give you a some insight into how you can tackle this little tango demon with yoga. Do you want to practice together? Get started with this 3-class freebie pack. Each practice is just 20 minutes and will get you well on your way to improving your dance!