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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Parada

Parada Pose: Body, Legs, Feet

Let us consider in more detail a fundamental pose arbitrarily called "Parada", R><LF, or L<>RF. In Spanish the word "Parada" means "Stop, pause, suspension, halt" and thus has a very direct relation to the use of this posture in Argentine Tango dance. I use the name of the pose for a popular Argentine Tango element, since this exact pose is used there and it is familiar to most tango dancers.

Parada body twists while standing on the R are shown on the picture: pelvis is twisted to the left, upper torso is twisted to the right, lower torso to the left, creating torque (direction of the lower torso and pelvis match). "Tail is tensed" in such a way that thighs and knees are held very tightly together. Tail has to be directed exactly back. The free foot is positioned flat on the floor. This is achieved by and is an indication of the correct tail tension with the help of leg rotation. The free foot is directed exactly forward. The metatarsal of the free leg is touching the floor, which is the main contact area and there is zero weight on the free leg. To learn the correct body twist, while taking the posture, you must stretch your arms, up and to the side, and extend the free leg to the maximum. There should be a continuous line of tension between the arm which is up and the free leg, a giant arc from fingers to toes. Reach as far as possible, and keep the knees together. Imagine a light beam coming from the center of your torso. Correct the direction of this beam exactly forward by the twist in the waist. To maximize expression and twist, the upper hand should be in the position "outside", and the side-stretched arm slightly in front of you, in the position "to the head".

Regarding "unlocked" legs, in flexible state, there are two cases. One, when a knee is bent very slightly. This is an "unlocked" position of the leg. It allows the knee and hip joints be free and flexible, ready for an immediate movement in any direction. In tango, by default, the standing leg must never be exactly vertical. A vertical leg "locks" and hinders the ability to follow, it suggests "falling" instead of "stepping". This "unlocking" is slight, allowing the thigh bone (femur) to "stand on" the lower bone of the leg (the tibia) so that leg muscles are not holding the body weight. The body weight is passed through the bones. It is "Standing on the bone". This state allows easy movement in any direction, as in pivoting. Let us call this position of the leg a "standing position". It is shown on the left picture where F is femur, T - tibia, M - metatarsal. The free foot might be slightly in front of the standing one.

In tango the body is usually standing on the metatarsal. It is achieved by unlocking, bending the knee slightly, and advancing the body weight forward so that its center comes over the knee which comes over the metatarsal: the three points, the body center, the knee, and the metatarsal are in one line. The free leg, while "searching" around, should be touching the floor with its metatarsal. This enables a dancer to move on it at any moment. It is even possible to search the floor with the heal, but it is not good to position the free foot in such a way that the foot is over extended and touching the floor with toes only, like you often see in ballet. That eliminates the ability to follow, which in tango is far more important than the formation of a beautiful and elegant body line. Tango has its own distinct drama: drama of highly adaptive reaction.

There is the second way to stand when the standing leg knee is bent. Let us call it a "dramatic position". The knee is bent more than in "standing position" to maximize the extension of the free leg. Thighs and knees are still held tightly together. Bone is not standing on bone any more. Muscles are now much more involved in holding the body weight. As a result, the position is more visible, and the movement from this position will be done with greater amplitude and power. The standing knee can be extended far beyond the standing metatarsal. The torsos should move forward a lot to come as close to the knee as possible so that the body will produce a good axis of rotation. The extended leg serves as a counterbalance. While dramatic positions look good, some movements are not possible from them, and therefore are mostly suitable for a follower. This position is used most often when the extended leg holds some of the body weight. Usage of this position is beyond the need and scope of this book.

Note about execution. Free Foot. The free foot should touch the floor with metatarsal. To prevent placing the foot "on outside", always reach the floor with the inside of the metatarsal. Your foot should be in a position to be able to immediately and softly accept weight or be able to push from the floor. This is a default for all poses, positions, elements and figures. It corresponds to the principle of following: an immediate reaction to the partner should be available at all times. There are situations when reaching the floor with the heal is preferred. Touching the floor with any other part of the foot except inside of the metatarsal is for exhibition purposes and is dangerous in crowded situations, since it makes the dancer unable to follow well.

Note about execution. Knee: As much as possible, a knee should be under the torso center. Usually it is a mistake for a woman to direct the knee outside (knee sticks out). It should be forced to be directed inside. Knee inside ! Leg twist helps to achieve this. It should be kept under the center AND directed inside. It is usually a mistake when a knee sticks out. It must not go outside of (to the side of) the projection of the center. Torso center, knee, and metatarsal are on the same straight line. You can call this line your "axis". The pose looks less "dramatic" but allows for more adaptation and immediate reaction. If you do not have ("you are not on") "axis", you will not be able to perform elements containing pivots well. Restraining the desire to stick the knee out requires training. Pay attention to it. Term "axis" has a complex meaning which includes correct body centering, body twist and tensions, and awarness of ones own possible moves and his partner.

Feet Positions: Forward, Zig-zag, and Promenade

Foot positions are very important in tango. On the picture in the left column there are three different feet-together positions: parallel, apart, and very much apart. A dancer may take Parada from all of them. A standing leg is the one with the blackened "shoe", a free leg is the one with the white "shoe". "Nose" ( ^ ) shows the general direction of the body.

If you take Parada pose from the first position, and due to the geometry of pelvis joints, knees, and the mechanics of the foot, the free leg will be exactly in front of the standing leg, slightly apart (the less the better). Remember, use the tail and keep the knees together to correct the direction. If you begin taking steps continuously taking Parada pose before every step (the more complete mechanism of how to make these steps will be given later), you will go directly forward, as if you are stepping along a line. Thus the name of this is "Forward". This practically parallel position of the feet allows both partners to walk directly in front of each other. The parallel position of feet is natural to trained people: runners have this position when they run. Twisting thighs to the inside helps to obtain this position.

From the second position, if you take the Parada pose, the free leg will extend slightly (up to 45°) to the (R in this case) side of the standing leg, crossing in front of the body as you step and be directed straight ahead. It happens because knees are being kept together. If you begin taking steps, the line you make will be a zig-zag line. Thus the name is "Zig-zag". This position is executed frequently in tango and is used when a man steps forward "outside-inside of the partner". See later.

If you are a trained classical dancer, the third position is familiar to you. It is called the first position in ballet with feet very much apart. In tango we never stand like this, but the third position (here) is not as unusual as one might think. Assume you standing in the "Forward" position. Before taking the parada pose, if you make a sharp pivot of the foot to the side (R in this case), you will achieve this third position. Take note of the nose direction. Afterwards, taking the parada, the free leg will be extended very much to the (R in this case) side of the standing leg, and the free leg foot will be directed slightly forward, like in the picture. This is the position which happens while walking in promenade, hence the name is "Promenade".

Here I have attempted to show you how slight changes in foot positions may lead to very different walks and figures. In tango, a subtle change of an angle may make the difference in the success of a figure. Pivoting, before or after taking a pose, is frequently used as a mechanism of obtaining a certain and more comfortable, and therefore correct, pose. It is the mechanism of adaptation and the source of fun.

Note about execution. Be careful to distinguish between Forward and Zig-Zag positions of the feet. Most people naturally step in a zig-zag way and this is not always correct. Other people are not able to step zig-zag without significant training. The third kind of people direct their feet inside. Surprisingly, there are situations in tango that we can say "they have a talent for ". In my teaching experience, obtaining the ability to step from the Forward position is the most difficult.

Concept: Changing Pose While Moving from Leg to Leg

"Liberty" Pose

The name of the pose comes from "Liberty Leading the People", by Eugene Delacroix, 1830, or from the somewhat more famous "Liberty" statue in New York, by Frédéric Bartholdi, 1875.

Take Parada on R leg. Stretch arms to the extreme. Then gradually change the arms: R arm goes up, and L goes to the side. Changing of arms is only a hint and guide for twisting the upper and lower torsos in the opposite directions. Stretch as much as possible. At the same time move to the L leg without changing anything in the pelvis area. You have now come to the position I will call "Liberty", L<>LB, (or R><RB) . I am deliberately trying to avoid usage of ballet terms. Liberty is a pose of "Glued Feet" construction after (-180) degrees of pivot on L leg starting with R arm up. But there are some adjustments.

Liberty position body twists are shown on the picture: If you are standing on L leg, R leg is stretched back, pelvis is twisted to the left. Tail is in the compensating twist so that the pelvis is flat forward, and a huge energy is felt inside. R arm is up, and L arm is to the side. Torso is twisted in such a way that upper torso is to L, and lower torso is to R. There is a continuous arc of tension between the fingers of the R arm and toes of the R leg such that you can feel the R lower rib and R thigh bone sticking out. Free R leg is stretched back so there is a gap between knees. R foot is directed strictly forward. You should not turn your head even if you are tempted to do so. You should look in the same direction - forward. Check the standing knee, it should form the axis of being under the torso center and exactly over the standing metatarsal. Check the free foot, it must touch the floor with the metatarsal.

In the glued feet construction, this Liberty pose was the pose, when a dancer looked left. Sometimes, the dancer should fix himself to be looking more forward (like during the forward walk). It is done by adjustment with Waist area and Tail. Just position yourself directed more in front. These adjustments will charge torso and pelvis even more. Again, pelvis is not turned right, but left ! A dancer should feel the bone of the pelvis pressed forward, the bone on the free leg side. The line between left and right bones of pelvis should be perpendicular to the forward-back line. That is needed for Forward Step which we will study later, but not for Cunita. It can be turned left which is even better for Cunita, making the whole figure very twisted, but it can not be turned right, watch it!

The forward adjustment as described is needed for Cunita when performed with a partner who is in front. But you are welcome to experiment.

What you have done is changed your pose while moving from one foot to the other foot. You changed the pose from Parada to Liberty. There is a difference between Long-Step Toe-First and this movement. The step should be like in Toe-First Long-Step without the completion stage (the free foot remains at the same location, as in Glued Feet). It is a clean movement from foot to foot with a pose change.

First Tango Figure: Cunita

Now move in reverse: from Liberty to Parada. Continuing to change poses is a tango figure called Cunita which means a cradle in English. On the illustration, I have put Parada and Liberty pictures together so you can see what changes are made.

While moving from Parada to Liberty, the feet positions, the head position, the pelvis position (whatever it is), stay the same. The torsos upper and lower are twisted in opposite directions. It means the torque changes to the opposite. This torque should be the source of the energy for the transition. The body might not reach the extreme end points when it is exactly over the standing leg. Try to make the Cunita very fast: the body will stabilize itself between legs and you will not even have time to change the arms. But the body move is there. It becomes small, much less visible, but present and well felt. The feeling of the torque change in the partner is fascinating. The move is facilitated by movement of the torso center diagonally forward and backward. It is especially felt in fast changes.

Here is how torso center is moved during this Cunita in relation to torso. If the body is turned very much to the left, the arrow's direction will be exactly forward or backward in relation to legs. This is the preferred position to more easily learn the figure.

To obtain more energy for the movement, Hip-Push can and should be used.

This simple figure illustrates several principles of Tango:

  • Changing of poses;
  • Body is moving and it is the source of energy. Torso and pelvis are twisting and the center is moving;
  • The same movement and figures can be done slow or fast;
  • The body moves can be very small but they are felt very strongly. In the game of lead-and-follow, this is the source of signals;
  • Energy may come from another source other than lead signals;
  • Arms do not need to be moved to move the body correctly. They therefore may act independently, thus forming the sensitive embrace with the partner, with its own game of sensual feelings. I use changes of the arms to show and to teach how the body should move, but it is not required and is not actually done often in the tango dance, usually during the poses.

In short, for Cunita, torso twists in opposite directions with center moving diagonally F and B, but pelvis stays twisted the same way, with additional lower body energy coming from Hip-Push.

Cunita has an interesting effect. When the torso, and especially the pelvis, are twisted during continuous execution, the dancer as a whole has a tendency to rotate counter-clockwise in the aforementioned L-leg-forward and opposite configuration. It is always a release of twisting energy.

Pelvis Action During Cunita

Even though pelvis does not change its position during cunita, and the initial energy comes from torso, action in lower body is very important. The movements must be done with "Hip-Push" ( see description in previous chapters ) to preserve connection with a partner and be able to do it in faster rhythm. Overall tightness in the lower body and legs helps greatly. The more the better. Keep the legs flexible in the knees.

There are 14 types of cunita. Transition is comprised of moving from leg to leg, without pivot, changing torso. Cunita does not have to be based on "Glued Feet", so there are no necessary N, E, W, S rotations. During cunita with a partner nose usually should be directed to the same direction all the time. But it does not have to be, the torso can be rotated to the right or left by the abdomen area. Most often Cunita is danced with bodies twisted, and, thanks to the twist, the couple naturally rotates counter-clockwise if the L is in front.

Number from "Glued Feet" table Pose one
Transition
Pose two

Remark

-3 L>>RF
<-2X->
R<<RB  
-2 L><RF(~Parada)
<-2X->
R<>RB(~Liberty)  
-1 L<>LF
<-2X->
R><LB  
0 L><SS
<-2X->
R<>SS From side to side.
1 L<>RB
<-2X->
R><RF  
2 L><LB(~Liberty)
<-2X->
R<>LF(~Parada) Basic cunita with opposite torso twist.
3 L<<LB
<-2X->
R>>LF  
   
   
-3 L>>LB
<-2X->
R<<LF  
-2 L<>LB(Liberty)
<-2X->
R><LF(Parada) Cunita described in this chapter. This is a basic cunita for a tango dancer.
-1 L><RB
<-2X->
R<>RF  
0 L<>SS
<-2X->
R><SS From side to side.
1 L><LF
<-2X->
R<>LB  
2 L<>RF(Parada)
<-2X->
R><RB(Liberty) Cunita on the opposite leg than described in this chapter. It is more difficult to do with a partner in-front because of asymmetry of the embrace, but it still can be done in close embrace.
3 L>>RF
<-2X->
R<<RB  

A Rule of Changes During Any Cunita

    Changes to and from
Standing leg L R
Torso twist << >>
  <> ><
Pelvis twist stays the same
Leg direction F B
  S S

Amendment for the 4th edition

My latest conclusion is that the lower torso twist is more important during Cunita. Everything is as explained, only more attention should be paid to twisting the lower torso while the twisting of upper torso can be minimal.

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Complementarity of Poses. Dancing with a Partner. Main Principle of Tango

Cunita with a partner

If two dancers are positioned facing each other while making cunita, their movements will be complementary: while one is in Parada, another is in Liberty. See the picture in the Horse Model chapter.

Here on the left, a man is shown in the row below, a woman in the upper row. On the left, man is in Parada, woman is in Liberty. On the right, after changing pose with movement, a man comes to Liberty, a woman takes Parada.

Positions of pelvis are parallel and are kept parallel. Since the dancers dance in an embrace the upper torso is parallel too. But the lower torso are positioned contrary to each other. To reflect this fact, the abbreviations are slightly changed. In both positions for both partners, it is Twisted position of torso. In Close Embrace pelvises can be pressed against each other.

As you can see the Parada and Liberty poses are complementary. Which means when the partners take them and face each other - they find the perfect match and are able to come very close to each other and perform whole variety of human movements. Come to think about it, this fact is quite extraordinary, especially taking into account that the bodies are not symmetrical in forward and backward directions. The tango dance is built on this fact, that facing bodies are complimentary. This allows "dancing together". This is the main principle of tango.

Please, pay attention that the pelvis is shown not tail-charged. For simplicity, it is assumed that the tail is charged and it makes a big difference during exits from Cunita, for example to sides. In the shown Cunita, usually the feet positions are "back leg is turned inside" and the whole bodies are turned left.

Rolling

While I was talking about complementarity, what about lower torso? It looks like they are not parallel. They are not. They are in a position contrary to each other. This shows that twist created in torso creates torque against the partner. The torque brings partners closer to each other during correct Cunita performance.

What happens in Cunita if partners are touching each other in lower torso, is that the lower torsos of partners are rolling against each other. It is better to view the lower torso as more a circle rather than a parallelepiped, which in fact is what it is. The rectangular form of lower torso abbreviation is misleading, but it is easier to draw. The lower torso is round.

On the drawing you can see the point of contact in lower torso rolling from right to left and back during Cunita torso change. This allows upper torso of dancers to stay immoveable against each other and at the same time obtain a change of lower torso torque.

 


"Cunita" Pattern Generator

Here are possible graphical abbreviations: P - Parada pose, B - Liberty pose, (it should be L, but when I prepared the picture, a name used for the pose was different), C - Cunita

The small black circle represents the body position, the white arrow - extension of the free leg, L or R. The "Nose" shows the direction of the head. If the free leg is extended forward - it is Parada. If back circle is in front - Liberty. Arrows may be omitted.

Cunita abbreviation with two black circles represent a small pattern generator "Cunita". Not much can be done with one Cunita, it is a minimal pattern generator. Here are creative possibilities.

1. Space-rotation. All cunitas except one from side to side due to torque have tendency to rotate in place, counter-clockwise for regular cunita, or clock-wise.
2. Space-linear. One can make global movement without rotation in a certain direction in space during a cunita: Right, Left, Forward, or Backward, progressing a little with each cunita move taking feet away from the ground. Progressing left is better to do when outside of the partner on the left...
3. Rhythm variation, one move per 2 beats (slow) or one move per 1 beat (quick). Their combination fits tango musical phrase perfectly (beat count is in the parenthesis): Move(1,2)-Move(3,4)-Move(5)-Move(6)-Move(7)-Pause(8). Or in other words, slow, slow, quick-quick-quick-rest. Five moves per two measures. You finish in another position than the starting one. The next repeat will be in the opposite direction. A good way to learn phrasing.

"Cunita" is the way to move to another leg in "Glued Feet". Combination of "Cunita" and "Glued Feet" enables progressing around the floor, since cunita is a rotating and progressing figure.