So You Think You Can Tango

8th January 2009

"Nothing in the world is more flexible and yielding than water. Yet when it attacks the firm and the strong, none can withstand it, because they have no way to change it. So the flexible overcome the adamant, the yielding overcome the forceful. Everyone knows this, but no one can do it." ~ Lao Tzu


Looking at the people who made it through to the beginning of “So You Think You Can Dance”, they’re all very obviously dancers. Whereas if you looked at most people who attend a milonga you probably wouldn’t say the same. But what is it that says “Dancer”? Well partly it’s the way a person moves. But also it’s often the shape / tone of their body.

I think there’s a distinction made between the demands of a professional dancer and a social dancer. I don’t intend ever doing this: 


in a milonga. So I don’t need that kind of flexibility, coordination, core strength etc.

You have to have something

But it’s tempting (particularly for men) to then think we don’t need any of that. (Women seem more open to doing pilates and yoga and more recently going to the gym). And we certainly have an easier time of it as we get to choose when we dance and what we lead, whereas if the woman is put in a low planeo she’s not got a whole lot of choice in the matter.

What is important and often overlooked though is flexibility, particularly as men tend to value strength and looking ripped over being able to touch their toes! There’s a tradeoff between the two. Stronger muscles are shorter, more flexible muscles are longer. But where’s flexibility come into tango you might ask?
Sure, maybe the women might need flexible hips to do this kind of thing:


but not the men.

Which is true.

So you think you can?

Look closely at men dancing tango socially, the principle difference between the ones who are good and the ones who aren’t, is tension. The ones who’re are good move gracefully and flow. The othe’s don’t. Think of someone who’s injured and although not in pain, is conscious in their movements that a mis-step could really hurt. That’s how a lot of guys look. Stiff, frozen, broken. Well you get the idea.

At first I though it was just a matter of relaxing. After all, if you’re tense (often through concentrating) then “freezing up” is a natural result.

What I’m coming to realise is that as tango dancers we need flexibility. When the teacher tells the women they need to “loosen their hips so their leg can move freely” often it actually means they need more flexibility in their hips. Men almost always need more flexibility in their legs, hence the constant admonitions from teachers to “straighten out your leg”.


So how do you do it? Well find someone who’s qualified to explain it to you ;o)
Yoga’s not a bad place to start or Sports Physio.
The one piece of advice I would give is to take a long term view. A little improvement each day is much better than mauling yourself in one concerted effort.

It’s also worth noting that as you dance you gradually build up tension, so it’s a good idea to stretch occasionally to re-set yourself.

- Christopher O'Shea, 8th January 2010

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