Updated: Sep 2, 2020
What is the secret for executing effortless boleos!? If you are any thing like me you've probably taken dozens of workshops and practiced your boleos endlessly, with or without a partner. Hopefully you had plenty of space to yourself since these bad boys could become potentially hazardous on the social dance floor if executed poorly, especially if your limbs are long and ruthless like mine.
One of the biggest challenges in dynamic movements such as boleos is balance. Without it, every thing else falls apart. (read more about how to improve your overall balance in tango in my previous blog post). Often we lose our balance in boleos because the base leg is not rooted, the hips collapse to one side as the torso collapses to the other, and/or the pelvis dips forward and takes our torso back.
Another common challenge is timing, which is tricky because we need to allow enough time for torsion to take it's path through the body but get that free leg to whip fast enough so we can finish with a step in the new direction we are taking. This means our twist needs to be efficient and our pivot strong.
What you probably did not think about is that boleos also require some hamstring and glute strength, as well as flexibility through the hip flexor. Flexibility in our shoulder area is also useful as often this can get in the way of making space for the hips to come all the way around. Often we might be trying or even forcing boleos without realizing that our limitation has nothing to do with what we learned in tango class!
So below are several yoga poses to help you execute effortless boleos. To keep it relevant to tango, I've mostly outlined the benefits of each pose as it pertains to boleos, but know that each pose has several other benefits as well. For our purposes, I've focused the descriptions on poses that help with strengthening the base leg and hamstrings, stabilizing the hips, and increasing flexibility in the abdominals, spine, pecks, lats, groin and hip flexors.
1. Twisted Reverse Warrior (Parivrtta Viparita Virabhadrasana)
This pose is very similar to the position we take in back boleos. It helps us to find hip stability as we twist and stretches the abs which helps deepen our twist. It also opens up the pecks and lats which helps to create space in the embrace during torsion). The back leg also gets a good stretch in the psoas (hip flexor) which helps us with extending the free leg back in a boleo.
To try this pose step one leg back, keeping the feet hips width apart. Bend the front knee, stacking the knee above the ankle. Point the back heel towards the ceiling and press it back to activate the quad. Reach your arms towards the ceiling and then twist towards the front leg and extend your arms out. Take the back hand towards the back thigh and the front arm up towards the ceiling.
2. Eagle (Garudasana)
This pose is especially useful for front boleos as you have one leg wrapping around the other. It helps us to find stability on one leg by rooting the foot and strengthening the ankle. It also tilts the pelvis backwards in the same way we want to have the pelvis tilted in boleos, helping to make space for the wrapping leg. Draw the belly button in towards the spine and you also have a lift that engages the transverse abdominals. This subtle engagement is what helps us to create those opposing directions we look for in our tango posture of rooting the standing leg and growing taller through the top of the head.
To try this pose put the weight into one leg and cross the other leg over the thigh of the base leg. If it's available to you, you can also cross the front foot behind the calf of the standing leg. Then cross your arms just as you have the legs crossed and bring palms to touch. The bottom arm should be the same side as the leg thats on top.
The arms in this pose stretch the upper back muscles which is also useful for engaging our back for our tango embrace.
3. One Legged Revolved Mountain Pose (Eka Pada Parivrtta Tadasana)
I've referred to this pose in many of my posts about yoga for tango dancers because it's so incredibly beneficial! Just as we saw in eagle pose, this one tilts the pelvis back to help situate our sits bone over the heel, which is the alignment we look for in tango so that we don't lose our balance by taking the pelvis forward. Here we also want to draw the belly button in towards the spine to create a lift through the torso. And once again, as we twist we look to stabilize the hips, keeping them pointing forward. The bent front knee although not exactly like a boleo, mimics to some degree the action of the free leg.
To try this pose start off standing tall, with feet together. Bring the weight into one foot and lift and bend the knee of the other leg. Twist towards the bending leg. and extend the arms out to the side, or bring the front hand to the bent knee. Make sure to root into all four corners of the standing leg, press the foot firmly into the floor, and grow taller from there. Hug the hip of the standing leg in towards the center.
4. Half Lord of the Fishes (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
This seated twisting pose is particularly useful in bringing our awareness to stabilizing the hips as we twist. Because we are seated, our hips are automatically grounded, so from here we can find quite a deep twist. Having the top leg crossed also mimics the direction of our free leg in a front boleo as we twist in the opposite direction.
To try this pose begin seated with the bottom knee pointing forward and the top leg crossed over. Plant the sole of the top foot on the outside of the bottom thigh, toes pointing forward. Reach your arms towards the ceiling to lengthen the spine and then twist towards the heel of the bottom leg. The back hand can come to the ground and the front elbow can hook outside the top thigh. Broaden your collarbone to open the chest.
5. Dancer's (Natarajasana)
This balancing pose helps to strengthen the ankles, knees and hips (which helps with stability), and stretches the hamstrings, groin, shoulders, abdomen and chest (all helpful for the extending leg to create a boleo). Although there is no twist in this pose, the back leg is in the same position as a back boleo. We also need to distribute our weight between the front and back leg, giving us a better sense of balance. The arm reaching for the back foot gets a good stretch through the pecs which is helpful for opening up space in our tango embrace.
To try this pose start with your feet together and bring your arms up. Bend one knee and reach for the back foot with the arm on the same side as the bending knee. Kick the foot into the hand and from there begin to take the chest and other arm forward.
6. Bridge Pose - Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
This one may not be so obvious but is particularly helpful for boleos because it strengthens the glutes and hamstrings which are powerful leg extensors. This helps us take the leg back higher for back boleos, or draw it up the front thigh for front boleos. Bridge pose also stretches the hip flexors which aids in stretching the extending leg back.
To try this pose start by lying down on your back, knees bent, feet hip width apart. Point all 10 toes forward. Arms can be by your side, finger tips grazing the heels. Press into the heels to lift the hips up and either keep your arms by your side or clasp the hands together, coming on to the shoulders. To release, gently bring the hips down, vertebra by vertebra, with the tailbone coming down last.
So I hope this gives you a little insight into how yoga can improve your stability, deepen your twist, and increase your strength and flexibility, resulting in effortless boleos! Do you want to practice yoga together? Get started with this 3-class freebie pack. Each class is just 20 minutes and will get you well on your way towards improving your dancing.