Friday, February 25, 2011

Tango Ballet

What is Tango Ballet?  As I mentioned before, my training was in classical ballet and when I started learning the Argentine tango I immediately saw the similarities in techniques required to execute the tango properly.  As I studied Argentine tango, I realized that the approach of teaching the tango is obviously on how two people dance together.   As the Argentine tango is a dance that puts a great deal of responsibility on the individual dancer, there needs to be training that focuses on how the individual should move to be both technically sound and aesthetically appealing.  That is the mission of Tango Ballet.

Ballet is the vocabulary of how a body moves.  But do you really need the entire Websters dictionary?  Not really.  The class is basically a beginning class that teaches the techniques that apply to a person in the context of social dancing, and omits elements that are not necessary.  For example, port de bras, or arm movements.  In the context of social dancing it is basically taught as watch me and do the same.  In ballet there is a whole repetoire of movements and exercises to learn how to move your arms gracefully and in a way to complement the movements of the body.  And then there are the feet.

All dancing starts with the feet.  In every moment of the dance, the feet are involved.  No other part of the body is more important, and yet in the context of classes, no part of the body is more neglected.  An awareness of  your feet and what they are doing is essential to becoming a good dancer. 

So if you are interested in improving your arms, feet, posture and balance, give Tango Ballet a try.

Monday, February 21, 2011

If you can walk you can dance. Not Argentine Tango.

The Argentine Tango.  What is it to me?  What brought me to the tango and why do I travel the country living in solitude much of the time in pursuit of those moments that tangueros discover in late night milongas in the arms of a stranger? 
These and many other thoughts will be addressed in subsequent blogs, but as a teacher, my intention is to put my thoughts down, so students or potential students can get an idea of my approach to teaching and dancing the Argentine tango, and how I arrived at it.  I will also include thoughts from the road, tango communities I encounter and what makes for good communities, all in an effort to further the spread of this wonderful dance, so that others might find what I have experienced along the road.
For me, Argentine tango was another stop along the dance road.  I have spent my entire adult life involved in dance in one form or another.  For about 25 years I danced with ballet companies all over the country.  I made my way to Nevada where ballet dancers frequently head for steady paychecks working in shows, (or the nearest thing dancers get to steady work).  For those of us with a true love of ballet it is a good option since you can make a decent income in the shows and work with the local ballet companies on the side.  Along the way I also picked up some ballroom and did some performing and competing.  Then came the Argentine tango.  As a trained dancer I was soon caught up in its' beauty and loved the creativity that it encourages and knew that I would spend the rest of my life exploring it. 
I was fortunate that I was in Las Vegas when I started learning it, and I was exposed to many wonderful teachers.  Some of the top dancers make their home in Las Vegas, and many come to Vegas with shows, so we always had an influx of great dancers to suppplement the local teachers.
"If you can walk, you can dance".  That is a sales point that the ballroom studios have been touting for years, and it is true, for ballroom dancing.  Not Argentine tango.  Argentine tango is much more akin to ballet than to ballroom.  You may be dancing in anothers' arms, as in ballroom, but that is where the similarity ends.  It is not a dance of patterns where the dancers are basically moving as one doing the same step to a predetermined tempo of quicks and slows.  It is rather, a dance of lead and follow.  Consequently, it requires both dancers to take on a greater responsibility for their own balance and placement.  The walk itself is critical to the dance.  Being a dance that is defined by lead and follow, any unintended bouncing or jarring can be misinterperated as a lead.  Therefore learning to move smoothly like a panther stalking its prey is essential for good tango. 
It is for this reason that I focus from the feet up.  Having the weight placed properly on the feet with the body aligned with proper posture on the correct axis is the starting point. 
What is the correct axis?  In our everyday life we find our axis generally back on our heels.  It is comfortable and secure and works for walking and standing around the water cooler.  But try to pivot and there go the ligaments of your knees.  The weight of the body must be forward on the balls of the feet for pivoting.  In tango, the possibility of pivoting exists constantly, therefore keeping the weight forward on the balls of the feet is essential.  Yes, there are plenty of exceptions, but this is just the beginning.