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gancho | July 24, 2017

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YOU NEED TO GET YOUR TANGO PRIORITIES STRAIGHT…#1: EMBELLISHMENTS!

Embellishments

A friend and student recently told me this:
“I want to change my Tango priorities. Maybe do some work on embellishments.I would like to focus more around the dance itself instead of myself IN the dance.”

Hey hey… I know… You are probably thinking:
Embellishments? This is the last thing you should be practicing on….instead you should focus on blah blah blah…
I know I thought of that myself, but instead of rushing to answer her request, I asked her to explain it to me…I wanted to hear her out

And she said: “I feel I have been very egoistic in my dance, trying to show people all the great moves I know. Now I feel it is the time to focus on the dance itself, on its subtleties, on its internal rules.”

But isn’t this the reason why people avoid embellishments?

WHY WE REALLY AVOID EMBELLISHMENTS?

I used to believe that people avoid practicing embellishments for two reasons:

  1. Because their teachers have made it clear to them, that embellishments are secondary in Tango. Therefore when they practice, they want to use their time effectively, focusing on Tango priorities, like balance, posture, disassociation, walks, ochos…
  2. Because they are fed up with all these dancers on the dancefloor, doing nice embellishments and then sucking in technique.

There might be some truth in the reasons above BUT my friend’s request made me think, of a more important, underlying reason. Tango is serious dance, and people don’t want to sound superficial by saying:

I want to make things look nice on the dancefloor!
Seeing all these followers doing these beautiful embellishments makes me jealous, I want to learn how to do them too!
Or
I want to make things look tidier, prettier

What is wrong with these statements?
Well if you are asking me…NOTHING!

It is a dance for God’s sake, you are supposed to look good while doing it and most importantly you are supposed to feel good and not guilty!

We are feeling guilty though, either because we are afraid of what other people might think of us and our commitment to Tango or because we judge others with similar criteria…
C’mon, we have all done it…
Looked around to check out the “show off” walking in the cafe on Sunday morning,  too awesome to be real!

The truth is though that our practice can benefit a tons from embellishments, if we use them strategically.

HOW CAN EMBELLISHMENTS, HELP US WORK ON PRIORITIES FOR TANGO.

When we say priorities in Tango, we mean balance, alignment, posture, walks, ochos, musicality. As you get better, you’d probably have to fit improvisation in there too.

The question is can you work on all these elements, through an embellishment?

YES, you can!
And here is the video to prove it:
Embellishments– More than making things look pretty

Most importantly, though embellishments can help us discover new ways of creating movement, where the outcome might be the same but the quality of the movement is completely different.

And this in itself is a very important element in every dance!

TOE-TAPS. AN OPPORTUNITY TO WORK ON TANGO PRIORITIES

As you can see, I chose one very simple embellishment, toe-taps.
This was a deliberate choice!
I didn’t want to have a very difficult embellishment to work with, because then naturally, all my focus would be on the embellishment itself.
So, if you don’t want to work on toe-taps, you can choose something else, but make sure it is not too demanding.

Toe-taps, usually happen, before a side step, and the dancer will

bend the standing leg for the free leg to extend and tap, before taking that side step.
That in itself might a bit difficult for some of us. So try it a couple of times, staying strong over the standing leg. Without, letting the free leg just flop around, but directing the movement from the standing leg. Nice and controlled.

A great way to work on balance, and on the side step that follows. For which, you will not throw yourselves over. Instead you will control the swing of the free leg, bring it in to center, and the push your way over.

So already you have practiced on:

  1. The embellishment
  2. Balance, proper alignment and posture
  3. Side steps.

Things are about to get more challenging though! Because now you will go into a back step instead of a side step…
Why is it more challenging?

Usually because our hips are not properly aligned, for us to execute the back step and stay balanced.
So, FIND it!
With your focus on the standing side, and with the help of your tailbone, try to find the proper placement for the hips in order to smoothly exit into a back step.

So this time you are working on:

  1. The embellishment
  2. Balance, alignment, posture
  3. Understanding your movement and how your body can create smooth transitions

Things will get a bit tougher, when you will create back ochos from the embellishment.

Before you even think of pivoting, notice the twist created in your core because of the embellishment. Try to feel how it is created from the movement of your hips and your free leg. And notice how it affects your upper body.

When you are ready, activate the standing heel, and bring it around, taking the free leg and the hips with it.
Here too everything is directed by the standing leg. So DON’T hop into your step, bend your knee, extend the free leg, push to step, pivot by bringing the heel around and repeat.

This time therefore you are working on:

  1. The embellishment
  2. Balance, alignment and posture
  3. Disassociation
  4. Back ochos
  5. Understanding your movement and how your body can create smooth transitions

If put some music on, then you can actually create small combinations of the exercises above, and work on your musicality and improvisation too!

BUT IT IS NOT OVER YET… LETS BREAK SOME RULES

This is where things get interesting.
As you will see in the second part of the video, I am ONLY moving from the free leg.

Instead of bending the standing knee, to release the free leg, you will swing the free leg out and around to tap, and then let it lead you to a side step.

That in itself, if you haven’t tried it before, will challenge your balance, alignment and posture. Plus it will make you feel a bit weird, especially on the side step, where you NOT allowed to push!

Is it wrong? NO!
It is just a different way to do a side step. Reacting and directing it from the free leg, instead of the standing leg.
Doing the embellishment right before, will help you understand how the free leg can help you move without losing control, and will give you great insight on how you can isolate the axis without creating strain on the leg/hip/shoulder.

So what have been working on here:

  1. The embellishment
  2. Balance, alignment and posture
  3. Side steps
  4. Understanding the power of the free leg
  5. figuring out different flavors of movement and how your body can create smooth transitions
  6. Noticing where there is strain on the standing side–look for it at the femur 😉

You will then, just like before, do back step and then back ochos, directing them from the free leg.
This is quite demanding and will make you rethink your posture, especially on the ochos.
Just like before though, feel how the swing of the free leg, can move your hips back for a back step and around for the ocho. How that energy makes its way up to your core and what effect it has in your upper body.
This prep- work will help you a lot in your back ochos which you will be directing FULLY from the free leg. DON’T PUSH! haha

THE FINAL TEST

Traveling back ochos! What you will be working on?

  1. The embellishment
  2. Balance, alignment and posture
  3. Disassociation
  4. Connection between upper and lower body
  5. Back ochos
  6. Understanding the power of the free leg
  7. Figuring out different flavors of movement and how your body can create smooth transitions
  8. How much do you really need to pivot!

So what do you think now, are embellishments a waste of time?

-Chrisa

 

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