Updated: Sep 2
Ground down! Push the floor! Strong base leg! How many times have you heard words like these from your tango teachers? I think we can all agree that balance is one of the most important techniques to master in tango because it affects every thing else we do! Even some thing as seemingly basic as walking in tango becomes an extreme effort when we don't have our balance.
In my case, being tall and lanky, my instability resulted in flying limbs every where. I was a hazard on the dance floor. It's no wonder as the floor got more crowded, I got asked to dance less and less.
Thankfully, there are many ways in which yoga can help us to understand balance in the body in a way that integrates quite harmoniously with what to look for in our tango technique. Below I will share a few ways that I have identified in my own practice of yoga as particularly beneficial for tango dancers.
1. Alignment Awareness
One of the most typical ways we get thrown off balance in tango, from the moment we get into the embrace, is coming into contact with our partner by reaching our head and upper body forward and sticking our butt out or leaving the hips behind.
What we should try to find instead is that the back of the neck lines up with the tailbone and the tailbone with our heels. From there, without breaking the line we lengthen the spine and send our weight into the ball of the foot, maintaining the line through our heels, tailbone and back of the neck.
In yoga we can build awareness around this line in a pose such as Mountain Pose (Tadasana). Tadasana is a simple standing pose where we root our feet into the earth and focus on lengthening the spine through the crown of the head. Drawing the bellybutton in towards our spine can help to lift our ribs and lengthen the spine. Also useful for tango dancers is building awareness around the front and back body as we distribute the weight in our feet.
2. Strengthening the Glutes and Outer Hips
The hips and glutes are designed to support our stability, yet many of us are weak in this area of the body. When we stand on one leg, as is often the case in tango, we might have the tendency to lay into the hip, collapsing one side of our body. This results in misalignment on the horizontal axis this time, as the hip goes one way, the torso the other way.
Some examples that come to mind are when a follower is in a calecita or planeo or just coming out of a parada and passing over the leaders leg. Usually this type of movement is inspired by slow, melodic music, meaning that the follower needs to be strong, and patient, because she's on that standing leg for a while. A strong glute and stable outer hip can make those movements effortless.
There are many yoga poses that strengthen the glutes such as Warrior 3 (Virabhadrasana 3) or Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana). Make it an extended crescent with the arms and chest reaching forward and the glutes fire up even more. For the outer hip try poses like Half Moon (Ardha Chandrasana) and Side Plank (Vasisthasana).
3. Grounding and Lengthening
Has your tango teacher talked about rooting down through your feet and at the same time growing taller? Maybe you've been taught this concept through an exercise where a partner presses your hips down and you try to lengthen the spine up creating opposing directions in the body.
In yoga, Warrior 3 demonstrates this concept clearly. As you root into the standing leg, the other leg extends behind you and your chest and arms reach forward. Through this pose we find the 3 directions that we try to find in tango, which are the standing leg pressing down to create a lift, the extending leg reaching back, and the torso reaching forward. The standing leg acts as the center from which we begin the opposing directions in the torso and the extending leg.
To find our balance in this pose (and in most balancing poses) we must be especially aware of rooting the inner edge of the standing leg into the ground, as the tendency will be to roll to the outside edge of the foot, causing us to lose our balance, just like in tango.
( See many of the poses discussed in this article in this short yoga sequence. Please note that this sequence does not include a warm up so it's a good idea to take a few sun salutations before starting.)
4. Articulating the Feet
In tango one of the ways we gain traction as we transfer our weight from one foot to another is by rolling through the ball of the foot. This helps us to be more grounded as we are actually spreading the weight between both feet for a good portion of the step. It is also useful for drawing out slower, more gooey movements which allows more musical possibilities. If we just plop the entire sole of the foot down each time we step we limit our musical expression.
In yoga a good way to feel this traction in your feet is in a pose such as Crescent Lunge. In this pose the front knee is bent and the back leg extended with the weight in the ball of the foot and the heel towards the ceiling. As we press the back heel away, we stabilize that leg by giving us the sensation that we are "pushing" the floor away from us, very similar to what we are looking for in tango.
Even more useful for tango dancers is to take Crescent Lunge with a twist, producing a very similar position to one we take in tango when we create torsion.
5. Stabilizing the Hips in Torsion
Think about the times in tango where we most often lose our balance. Usually it's because we are doing some thing more dynamic, that may involve twisting, and what throws us off balance is usually the hips. When we twist, whether in tango or in yoga, we do not want to involve the hips in our twisting. (Get my free twisting yoga class for tango dancers to learn more!)
So when we take a look at a pose such as Crescent Lunge with a twist, the aim is to send the hip of the extending leg back, as we twist deeper. This is exactly the same in tango, where our tendency is to take that hip into the twist, causing our back foot to spin inward, and lose that traction I mentioned above.
We can also see how stability works in the hips in a pose such as one legged mountain with a twist. Here the tendency once again is for the hip of the standing leg to collapse, and for us to take the pelvis forward. This is commonly how we lose our balance in tango as well. So in this pose, try to hug the hip of the standing leg in towards the center as you draw the bellybutton in towards the spine, tilting your pelvis slightly back so that your sits bone is over the heel (exactly where we want to be in tango when we align our body on one leg, such as taking a backward ocho).
Other useful poses to pay close attention to the hips to find that same sensation beneficial for tango dancers are Revolved Triangle Pose (Parivrtta Trikonasana), and Revolved Pyramid Pose, (Parivrtta Parsvottanasana).
As you can hopefully see by now, yoga offers us many opportunities to explore balance in our bodies in a way where we can build the necessary "muscle memory" to support our movement in tango. Personally, I find that building this muscle memory off the dance floor, in a context where my focus is on myself and my own body, I am later on much less distracted and able to be more present with my partner on the dance floor.
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 and you'll be well on your way towards improving your dancing: