Twisted Body Dance Theory of Argentine Tango

by Igor Polk, June 5, 2016 - May 19, 2014

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Book:  Dance Theory of Argentine Tango
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Leg Twist, Knee and Foot Positions

Thinking in the same way about legs:
1) The whole leg twisted from pelvis with all lower body (essentially twisting of pelvis) and it corresponds to SG twisting of arms;
2) Rotating twist of a leg in hip joint corresponds to SH of arms;
3) Below the knee the leg does not twist, unlike E of arms, but in the production of twists, it is useful to think about "twisting in the knee" and "twisting in the hip".
4). A foot position likewise corresponds to the thigh rotation, but like with the knee, it is often useful to "think in terms of a foot".

Summarizing, think about a
- Hip, thigh when you want to increase pelvis twist;
- Knee, when you want better balance and position, and during special pivots and elements;
- Foot, to position yourself better in relation to a partner and preparing for certain pivots.

A foot position is very important. Firstly, in Argentine Tango, in accordance with the "lead and follow all and always" principle, AT ANY MOMENT a foot must act to accept the weight, the force, and do other things reacting to the lead, dance situation around and on the floor, and the intention of the dancer. To satisfy these requirements, a foot must always be positioned "the ball of the foot (metatarsal) to the floor". A considerable effort should be spent training this more or less flat position of the foot to the floor using "dorsiflextion", and "supination and pronation" positioning of the foot.

Stretching (like with "plantar flexion") of the foot so that metatarsal is not on the floor might look good, but it is against the major principle of tango: perfect following. If she does that, there will be a gap in her abilities as a follower. It is even dangerous when a foot is stretched in this way, because a dancer is not able to step on it when immediate reaction is required. Or someone else may kick it while in this vulnerable position. The foot stretch is possible to do, but only during playing or backleading a "stop". A partner must be completely aware of the stretched foot and wait for the signal that it is stopped, or being lead to exit from it. In a nutshell: a default position of the foot is "metatarsal to the floor". Anything else is an exception, special performance, bravery, bragging. Here, on picture 2), where a leg prepares for a back step, a foot is fixed with "dorsiflextion", so that the ball of the foot come to a good contact with the floor. For a useful result, the leg comes closer to the standing leg. It may look less fabulous, but is more practical. When striving for a good metatarsal position, often it is useful to think about stretching the heal away instead of the foot "dorsiflexion".

On this picture, in a side position, a free foot was fixed with "supination or pronation" to be placed flat on the floor.

In a lead-followed dance, a leader feels the position of the followers legs, but may not be able to easily feel the position of the free foot. Irregarless, he plans the dance around the percepted position of the foot, since he is responsible for leading the follower on her perfect balance. In order to get to the position of weight transmission when a follower's metatarsal is not on the floor, she must bring the metatarsal to the floor, which may be several centimeters away from where the leader thinks it should go (unless she is a ballerina dancing on pointe). This is a huge distance! In doing so, she disconnects from the leader, confusing him. Leaders may posses a mechanism to compensate for that. I will talk about that in an appropriate place. But that does not make the follower any better. In martial arts, all that, of course, goes without question.

Foot position is adjusted by movements of the foot, bending of the knee, twisting of thigh, twisting of pelvis, and tensions in butt and the back. Everything works, and that is good..

Direction of an extended free foot affects the twist of the pelvis. Assume the pelvis position is side (neutral). Extending the R leg forward produces slight twist L. Extending the leg back produces a slight twist R. Still, the main twist is produced by the muscles of pelvis and this may greatly overcome the tendency of twist created by the extention of the leg. This induced twist is the reason why a neutral position shows its properties best when a free leg is extended side.

Rotating twist of a thigh likewise influences pelvis twist. As shown on the pictures below, free R leg twisted outside supports twisting of the pelvis right, and twisting of the same leg inside supports twisting of the pelvis left. It can be used to support or diminish any main pelvis twist. On the right side, it is shown how it affects the position of a free foot. Twisting a thigh, with or without charging of the leg, is a mechanism of regulating foot direction: outside, parallel, or inside.

Torso Twist and Rotation of Torso Center

What is the torso center? I can intuitively feel it, but so far I am not able to give a precise definition. I can suggest the following working hypothesis. As an understanding of the center, I offer an explanation: the point around which all torso movements and twists are done, while either bending the spine or twisting the torso. The center lies in the plane of the upper and lower torso twists. The vertical line intersecting this plane defines the center. It can be found like this: Hang from a bar. Relax. Twist to the left and right. The axis of rotation is that line.

It seems, there will be corrections when the spine is bend: the line will not be the same, and the plane will become a paraboloid. Ultimately, it is quite complex. But we need a definition to start with.

This point does not necessarily lay in the vertical axis when you carefully lower yourself and put your weight completely on one metatarsal. It will shift to compensate for the weight of the free leg. Therefore, the position of the free leg influences this shift. It can be positive for tango dancing. For example, if the free leg is positioned behind the standing leg, its weight projects the center even more forward. It prevents unwanted shift of the center to the sides. Keeping the free leg behind helps "to maintain center" in relation to the partner. In general, it gives a useful simple method: if the center has to be extended in a certain direction, which happens often in tango, the free leg should be extended and maintained, if needed, in the opposite direction.

The spine may bend in such a way that the torso center, located approximately at the level of the solar plexus, is able to make an oval trajectory in the horizontal plane.

The center is clearly felt by a partner. Ones awareness of the torso center is also clearly felt. It is absolutely clear to an experienced dancer whether the partner is aware of his/her own center or not (as well as of other parts).

It is important to understand the difference between movement of the center and a twist. They are not the same. Moving the center in an oval may create a sense of stretching, but it does not necessarily create the sense of twisting, a torque within. And the torque is THE source of energy for dance moves, and that is what we are looking for.

The location of center around the oval is important for the execution and leading of some tango figures. For example, leading Boleo and Barrida is done by twisting the torso in the same direction, but the center is moved differently. The result of it is that the center of the UPPER torso is going AROUND or IN A LINE. More about the details later when these particular elements are presented. Any twist in torso can be accompanied with movement of center diagonally forward or diagonally backward.

Mostly, tango poses do not require special descriptions regarding the center. Where it is required, I will note that. The center can be moved in 8 directions, but in tango it is moved mostly in 4 diagonal directions. In the graphical abbreviations it will be shown as an oval with a point. It is an open question whether the center should be directed forward as a default or not. It is often done.

Practicing center movements in a circle or in opposite directions is a wonderful exercise. Thinking about the center, extending it more into a certain direction amplifies the twist. This is the way to amplify the twist and obtain more dramatic lines and more energy.

Thinking about the center and ones ability to control the center is crucial in leading. All the movements must start with a micro movement of the center. That is the way to show a partner what is coming, what is going to happen, an indicator of the possible body twists resulting in a certain pose transition.

The similar concept of a center can be applied to the pelvis. While dancing with a partner, it is very useful to explore an idea of Dancing "Center to center".

Three Ways to Move Center: Torso Twist, Spine Shift, and Spine Bend

There are three ways to move the center of the torso. The first one is when the center is moved by the torso twists themselves. During the twist the center does move.

The second one is when the torso "is shifted" above the pelvis horizontally, like on the left picture, the spine is bent in an S-curve. Upper torso and waist areas remain vertical. It can be done in all eight directions and is seen in abundance in belly dancing. This movement is more related to the shift in the spine rather than to twist, but it does make some twist.

The third way is when the spine bends on a large scale starting all the way from pelvis. It is shown on the right picture as a result of an overall bend in the spine. It also can be done in all 8 directions. There are several things which depend on the big bend in Argentine Tango, like movement of a leg up and Quebrada. As of now, the effect of this bend is not considered in this dance theory. It is an area of future development. Bend of spine is a larger movement than those of twists. The bend, overlapping with twists, may produce some useful superposition effects. However, in some disciplines like tango, it is avoided and takes place only in very special elements.

In my view spine bends do not produce much energy. The clean, stable bends, without twists, are only forward and backward. The pure side bends, left and right are unstable. A small shift in diagonal direction will immediately be followed with torso twists, and will result in a more powerful, comfortable, and graceful position. In my practice, I have found the spine bend useful in Quebradas and some fancy lead to pivots. All three ways to move may occur at the same time.