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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Fundamental Poses

In the theory presented in here, a fundamental pose or just a "pose", is a combination of torso and pelvis twists. Let us review the elements of a fundamental pose. There are 5 positions of torso: Neutral, Twisted L and R, Overtwisted L or R. There are 5 positions of pelvis: Crossed L and R, Open L and R, Side. Combined, these 25 positions of torso and pelvis will define a pose. We will omit the position of the "nose" (where a dancer is facing). We will assume that the waist area serves the purpose of adjustment to a certain direction, but is not a pose defining element. We will take the twist in the arms as support for torso twists and omit the "dance of arms" for now. Also, we will assume at this moment that positions of legs, their direction and twist, are defined by the pose and serve to the best interest of adjustment to a partner. In other words, a pose is a method to charge a body with energy. This charge of energy defines the possible changes to poses which will be accompanied with movements and positions of head, arms, and legs. Perhaps not surprisingly, these poses form a gracious palette of poses used in Argentine Tango. Let us get acquainted with the algebra of poses.

Algebra of Poses. "Glued Feet" Pattern Generator

Pattern Generator is a structure, mechanism, to prescribe and limit possible movements and therefore defines patterns built with these movements. I will present several pattern generators in this book. In our case, pattern generators will be shown graphically. At first I need a pattern generator which guides through most of all the poses, 14 of them, on one leg.

Here is a very small diagram of this pattern generator. A dot means a pose on one leg, a line means a leg extended.

The idea is this. Standing on one leg, another one extended, go from one pose to another pose by changing twist in the torso (emphasized by arms) then to the opposite twist trying to go through all pelvis positions while keeping the feet at the same place, "glued to the floor". To enable and facilitate it, turning left (counter-clockwise) or right (clockwise) 90 degrees with each change will be done when possible. Pivots are allowed.

Let us introduce a coordinate system for the exercise. Assume you are standing on the L leg and the R leg is stretched to the side. It is shown with the dark "grounded" dot in the center and a line (with or without a white arrow extended right). Remember, some other arrows, for edxample, are "noses". Assume you are facing "north" (N). The torso twist is like with L arm up and R arm side, "twisted to the right". This is a starting pose, an initial position.

You are gong to pivot on both legs keeping both of them at the same spots while you are keeping the feet flat to the ground. The center should be kept over the standing leg 100%, or as much as you can, watch it. The sequence of pose transitions is

- initial position is on L facing N;
- pivot -90° to L facing west (W);
- from there pivot -90° to L facing south (S), -180° from N;
- from there "pivot" -90° to L facing east (E), -270° from N. During this change there is no actual pivoting in the foot, only repositioning of the "nose" due to overtwisting of torso. It is not a direction of a standing foot which goes through a directions, but a direction of the "nose" and therefore, upper torso;
- return to initial position going in reverse;
- pivot 90° to R facing E;
- from there pivot 90° to R facing S, 180° from N;
- from there pivot 90° to R facing W, 270° from N;
- return to initial position going in reverse;
- in place, change torso twist to opposite: standing on L leg, R is stretched to the side as before, but this time the torso twist is with R arm up and L arm side, "twisted to the left";
- go through all other poses like before. Do not forget to change arms with every pivot: one arm is up and the other is side.

I am using the cardinal direction N,S,E,W compass point symbols as a simple reference mechanism. Also, pivoting helps to keep abdomen area twist absent. All pose changes are produced by twists in torso and pelvis, twisting of legs, and pivoting of feet. I describe these transitions with torso, pelvis and legs separately and then altogether. They will be described first, then summarized in a table.
Another, main reason "why pivoting" is that in this construction, pivoting is a static process. It is produced solely by tensions in the muscles and requires significant energy. Therefore, it helps in understanding what is going on. Going through poses in "Glued Feet" is a very difficult exercise. It is far from a beginner's figure, but it is a simple, logical way to memorize poses.

Leg Stretch in Poses Sets up the Body

During all the poses, which include Parada, Liberty and a Side pose, (see later), stretch the free leg to its maximal extension. It means, firstly, that the metatarsal touches the floor very controllably. Secondly, when the pelvis in Crossed or Side, the thigh bone pushes so much into the pelvis that you feel that that side of the pelvis is pushed in the opposite direction of the stretch, and when the pelvis is Open, the stretch of the leg should tense it to be Open even more. This tension of the stretch should be felt deeply into the torso. This is a great device for perfectly setting the body and toning all the muscles involved. The simple advice "stretch the leg" helps students immensely.

Metatarsal Contact with the Floor

There are four ways to put metatarsal on the floor:

  1. The first is when there is no push into the floor at all. The leg is tensed to maintain its weight. The method of tension varies. For example, in Parada (see later), the thighs can be pressed against each other.
  2. The second is when the leg is relaxed, such that the body does not maintain its weight. The leg "maintains its own weight" by resting on the metatarsal. This way the body position, its center of gravity will not be disturbed by the weight of the leg.
  3. The third is when there is a light pressure into the floor and it is created by pushing the femur into the pelvis. The body weight does not participate in any way. This method is used as the preparation before stepping on that metatarsal to establish a firm point before the weight transfer: "The leg accepts the body weight before actual weight transfer" which makes the step very smooth. "Accepts" in this slogan means a process when the leg is tensed enough and is pushing into the floor enough to create a force need to smoothly and confidently accept any force, including one from the transferred weight. As the result, there should be no "fall", no "drop" if an actual step follows. But it may not follow. All this relates to the long steps as well as to the short ones.
  4. The fourth is when the body weight is involved by leaning very slightly onto the free leg.

All these methods are used at approprate times. Jumping ahead, for example, but far from being limited to, 1-st - during pose change with no step, 2-nd - during slow relaxed boleo, 3-rd - in arrepentida or in a step, 4-th - performing sacada, cunita.

All these methods may be used while practicing "Glued Feet" transitions, even the first one.

Symbolic Abbreviations of Poses

In search for a symbolic abbreviation of poses, I offer this, 5 character way: "L<>SS". The possible characters are, from left to right:

  1. L or R as a standing leg;
  2. < or > is a direction of the upper torso twist, L or R. It can be "n" or "=" for neutral;
  3. < or > is a direction of the lower torso twist, L or R. It can be "n" or "=" for neutral;
  4. S, L, R is a pelvis twist: side, to the left or to the right; By default, the pelvis is always "crossed pelvis". N may stand for neutral;
  5. S, F, B is a direction of the free leg: side, forward, or backward. N may stand for "feet together".

Each pattern generator may place additional properties on poses. In "Glued Feet" its the direction of the nose. It will be specified with N,S,E, W symbols like this: L<>SS-N. The dash is used to separate the pose properties from generator specific properties.

Neutral position of torso twists, if needed will be abbreviated like this: L==XY.
X and Y stand for a variable, for example, X can be L or R, Y can be S, F, B. In this theory, S (pelvis twist) as a variable X should be avoided, (see later discussion). In many cases the position of the pelvis and the free leg are irrelevant, so the neutral position can be expressed as L== or R==.

~X means "another leg, other than X.
"xy" are used as variables for torso parts. Then ~(xy) will mean the opposite twist. For example if xy is "<>" then ~(xy) means "><".

This method makes the pose abbreviation clear as to what part is turned and where: <>. Note that L<> is pose on the L leg which is analogous to R>< on the R leg, not to R<> which is an opposite pose. If legs are different, torso twists should be also different for poses to be analogous. Sometimes I will use L(Parada), or R(Parada) when it provides clarification.

Going with Torso

Let us go with torso first. The initial position is Twisted Right. It means L arm up, R arm side. With each pivot, the torso twist will change to opposite, this means the arms positions will also change to opposite. Use the muscles of the torso as the source of energy for changing positions and, if you are able, produce the pivot with torso muscules. It requires strength!

Stretch arms as much as you can. Observe directions precisely. Keep the body as vertical as you can over the same foot. Go left (counter-clockwise) to the end then right (clockwise) to the end and back several times slowly. Find the energy for pivots inside the torso, charge it more !

Now take the initial position and change it to Twisted Left. It means R arm up, L arm side. Now go through all other 6 positions.

Going with Pelvis

The initial pelvis position is Side. After the first pivot left, it becomes open (and the free R leg is back). After the second pivot left, it becomes crossed and stays crossed for the third. For the third, going now right, after the first pivot, it becomes open, but the free R leg is forward. After the second pivot right it becomes crossed and stays crossed. Use the muscles of the pelvis as the source of energy for changing positions and pivoting. Pelvis is powerful, so, it is easy. Pay attention, that the first pivot left must be done by moving the R thigh very much back. This creates a wider leg opening, not the opposite.

You can also practice by twisting from Side to Crossed, instead of Open. Twisting from the Side position to the Open or Crossed is not the same. Opposite muscles are involved. Therefore it is important to practice. Crossed pelvis positions are common in Tango, Open pelvis positions are frequent in Latin dance.

Going with Torso and Pelvis

You may now begin to combine Torso and Pelvis part movements so that you may use them together while going from pose to pose.

The Diagram Summarizing the Stages, Transitions. Graphical Abbreviation of Poses

This diagram shown below has 7 rows and 2 columns. Columns are abbreviated L and R, rows: -3,-2,-1,0,1,2,3 from top to bottom. I will abbreviate each cell as 0L or 3R, or -3L, etc. All poses are on the L leg. Each position is represented by two small drawings of a body structure and "feet-and-nose" position. The main row is the 0-row, the middle one, which corresponds to the two charged side positions. For the two poses at the 0-row, "feet-and-nose" diagrams are the same. It is convenient to take these poses as starting poses, nose is North. Left column from top to bottom, show poses after changes by pivoting counter-clockwise (and correspondingly from bottom to top - clockwise). Right column, from top to bottom, shows poses after changes by pivoting clockwise. Rows -3 and 3 are the extremes.

Note that the nose on the "feet-and-nose" small diagrams show the direction of the head in relation to the floor. Nose on the "body structure" small diagram shows the position of the head in relation to the body, therefore it stays in the same direction, since there is pivoting.

In considerations about the degree and direction of pivoting, at the bottom of the row 0 there are two small symbols depicting counter-clockwise or clockwise rotation with a foot. At the right of 0L there is a small symbol of torso twist change only. It is quite difficult to align it all in the mind as it is written. Practice actual movements.


All 14 of the most important poses on one leg (L) are presented here. I have found that the"Glued Feet" is an excellent, memorable way, to study poses and the transitions between them.

It is possible, of course, to go with one change of torso and/or pelvis through several spatial positions "in one twist" as well as to change torso twist while staying in place. The number of patterns generated can be very large. As a mathematician can see, all the transitions between poses in this construction form a mathematical group. Transition between torso positions and pelvis positions done separately are the subgroups. These groups all contribute to form the basic groups of the dance. Other groups formed by other pattern generators which produce patterns, "dance figures", like the one shown here, are formed by a combination of these groups, (with certain constraints and other things which we will study).

As we will discover later, all other pattern generators, structures, figures, and katas, present ways to study poses and transitions. They are simply combinations of these poses and other possible transitions.

The Symbolic State and Transition Diagram of the "Glued Feet"

On the Left leg On the Right leg but going in the same directions like L!!!
-3 L<<RF-W   L>>LB-E   R>>RF-W   R<<LB-E
-2 L><RF-S   L<>LB-S   R<>RF-S   R><LB-S
-1 L<>LF-E   L><RB-W   R><RB-E   R<>RB-W
0 L><SS-N <-1X-> L<>SS-N   R<>SS-N <-1X-> R><SS-N
1 L<>RB-W   L><LF-E   R><RF-W   R<>LF-E
2 L><LB-S   L<>RF-S   R<>LF-S   R><RF-S
3 L<<LB-E   L>>RF-W   R>>LF-E   R<<RF-W

The table contains 14 poses. Overall, there are 36 combinations of the four properties like "<<RF". Twenty two poses are omitted: <<SF, <<SB, <<SS, >>SF, >>SB, >>SS, <>RS, <>LS, ><RS, ><LS,... all these poses are related to the side position of pelvis or a free leg except L<>SS, or L><SS (these two represent nice, clean side poses with L or R arms up).

A transition from top to bottom between rows may be abbreviated like -1PL90X-> or "pivot "P" left "L" 90 degrees on the same "1" foot with changing torso "X" ". Numbers can be omitted. Symbols '-' and '>' or '<' forming an arrow, represent the direction the transition, from one pose to the next pose. A transition from bottom to top between rows can be abbreviated like -1PRX-> or "pivot right on one foot with changing torso. Note that in the transitions between rows 2 and 3 and -2 and -3, there is no additional pivot, only the torso is changing.

A transition at row 0 is <-1X-> or "changing torso staying on the same leg". It is possible in both directions.

I want to specifically mention several transitions with larger angles than 90 degrees done in "one twist":

L><SS-N  -1PL180X->  L<>LB-S
 and back which is <-1PR180X-
It is done with
180 degrees rotation.
Note that the poses are from different columns; It might be more intuitive to write:
L<>LB-S  <-1PL180X-  L><SS-N, since it is turning left.
L<>LB-S  -1PR360X->  L><RF-S
and back
It is done with
360 degrees rotation
 
L<>RB-W  -1PR180X->  L><LF-E
and back
It is done with
180 degrees rotation;
 

It is interesting to try to change the torso twist to opposite, like from <> to ><, and perform the same transitions going with pelvis. In the mentioned, direction torso release of torque helps pivoting. In the opposite one - not. Pelvis energy is transmitted into torso charging it, which can be released into another pose transition. With some experimenting, it seems to me, it may be possible to find other muscles in the torso which create opposite torque with the same twist. This will require further research.

Going with Legs and Feet

Go through the poses using the twisting and pivoting energy of legs alone. See 2) in Legs twist chapter. You will find that this greatly facilitates pelvis twist and adds a lot of energy. Both legs twist to the left for the left column changes, and to the right for the right column changes. This is not a hint, but an actual way to produce a dancing style equal in importance to "main energy comes from twist with torso", and "main energy comes from pelvis", to namely, the "main energy comes from legs and feet" style. It should be thoroughly studied.

Transitions of "Glued Feet". "Two Feet"

So far we have met 2 types of transition between poses: -1X-> and -1PX->. If "moving from leg to leg" transitions are added, with or without changing pose, and all transitions are done with different rhythms, we may have a huge number of combinations. "A Glued Feet with moving from leg to leg" pattern generator graphical abbreviation is depicted here. It is a line symbolizing a leg, and two dots symbolizing two possible center positions. It can be called "Two Feet". It coincides with Cunita (see later). For now I do not have a better abbreviation, so the one used will be explicitly specified. By default it is Cunita. "Two Feet" contains two "Glued Feet" on opposite legs.

Let me summarize available transitions with this pattern generator in the following table.

-1X-> A transition of torso pose staying on one leg without a pivot
-1PX-> A transition of a pose with pivot.
-2-> A transition moving from leg to leg without changing the pose of the body and without a pivot. 2 symbolizes two points of contact with the floor. One step - two points. Essentially, this transition introduces several kinds of forward, side, and back steps. There could be 7 initial poses, and 7 ending poses, therefore, in a most general way, 49 kinds of steps may exist. This takes into account only "steps" ending or finishing with a charged pose. Steps starting or ending in neutral body position, and timing variations, are considered later.
-2X-> A transition moving from leg to leg without pivot, with changing the torso pose (Cunita, see later)
-2PX-> A transition moving from leg to leg with a pivot, with a changing pose.

All these transitions are possible starting with any pose with different rhythms, taking energy from legs, pelvis and/or torso. Some exceptions, like -2-> (which means no change in pelvis or torso) are done only by the energy of the legs. A complete table should be developed.

If needed, pivoting can coincide with the movement from leg to leg. Here I mean pivoting when both feet are "glued" to the floor. With all of these transitions, and remebering of possible arm twists, one can develop quite a dance!

Pivoting in "Glued Feet"

So far, the pivoting in the "Glued Feet" was only done in such a way that both feet, the standing and the free one, were kept at the same location of the floor, hence the "Glued Feet" name. It is possible to pivot on a standing leg using the energy of torso and pelvis from a static position in such a way that, after the pivot, the free leg comes around the standing leg. It can be placed in a new location including to exactly the same point on the floor where it was before the pivot. As a result, the free leg changed its direction, for example, from back to front. This pivot may be considered as a part of "Glued Feet". This pivot may be a combination of boleo and barrida (see later) and will be abbreviated similarly, as above. I will explain details of various methods of pivoting separately. There are many of them, perhaps around 26.

As mentioned above, a peculiar execution of transition -2X-> exists if one of the poses is neutral. There is nothing illogical here. On the contrary, transions of this type are very popular in the dance. The new abbreviation does not have to be made. Here is an example::

X==  -2X->  ~X(Pose)

If Hip-Push is to be emphasized, a symbol H is added to the arrow -2XH->

Body Condition in Poses

A better understanding of poses comes from the notion that while taking these poses, a dancer concentrates energy for the next body change and for the performance of particular elements possible from each individual pose. A pose is a concentrator of energy. For example, performing a boleo (see later) brightly illuminates what a pose is. Stretching of the free leg helps. Arms are stretched as mentioned. Detaching the free leg from the floor as in arabesque helps to understand the line of tension in the body.