Updated: Sep 2, 2020
It's no wonder that a complementary body conditioning practice can enhance your tango dancing. Many dancers have some kind of movement practice that they've taken up as a way to support their dancing goals, among those for example pilates, gyrotonics, yoga, martial arts, feldenkrais, training at a gym, or I've even heard of someone who supports her dance training by learning corporeal mime! Because tango is such a complex and multi-faceted dance, balancing classes in other disciplines with your tango classes can only benefit your overall experience.
In my case, especially as I got over the initial fast learning curve that many dancers, (particularly followers) experience, I discovered that what I needed to learn next was a lot more subtle and much deeper than just learning what an ocho was. I wasn't satisfied with remaining a beginner. I was hungry to dance with people who up until then had barely looked my way. I wanted to feel more and express more and yet my body and my mind felt like one huge obstacle standing in the way of what I wanted. It was both frustrating and motivating. I remember asking one of my teachers what it takes to get to where they were. And she told me you can't just do tango. you have to find a practice that helps you with your self-awareness. And so I discovered yoga and over time it became absolutely essential to my dance training. So I want to share with you 7 ways that yoga has benefited my dancing and I hope it can help you along your journey as well.
1. INCREASES FLEXIBILITY AND LOOSENS TIGHT MUSCLES
It's not necessary to reach your toes in order to be able to dance tango. However tight muscles can lead to poor posture habits, a tense embrace, and a lack of general stability. In my own experience I always had a very tight upper back and shoulders. This made me hunch over, and as a tall girl, this was the worst thing I could do! by hunching I was constantly putting a lot of weight on my partners and because I was never on my own axis I was falling into a lot of my steps. My teachers would tell me to roll my shoulders back and open my chest more and this felt impossible until I started working on this area in my yoga practice. It also blocked a lot of my spinal mobility so torsion and in particular, using my lats, was very difficult. But this is just one area of the body where tightness can limit what is available to us in the dance. I see many of my students with tight hamstrings and hip flexors who have difficulty to tilt their pelvis in the right way in order for their upper body to feel relaxed and allow for spinal rotation.
Your goal does not have to be to backbend into chakrasana (wheel pose) or be able to do hanumanasana (full split), but with even just a little bit of stretching you will feel a huge difference in how you move in tango and your partners will be delighted to find you more stable and comfortable in the embrace, leading to more invitations to dance from your desired partners.
2. CORRECTS POSTURE
It makes sense that tango teachers spend so much time teaching proper posture because improving your posture in tango improves every thing else you do in tango. But as I mentioned above many of us have postural limitations that have nothing to do with tango. They are simply a combination of habits and tight and weak muscles.
Above you saw the example of how inflexibility can affect your posture but weakness can be a big issue as well. For example if we find ourselves hunching forward because of tired back muscles a little bit of strengthening of the core can reverse the hunching and support the spine in a more upright position. Strengthening the glutes and especially outer hip muscles can keep us from collapsing into the hip which often leads to losing our balance in tango.
As a general rule in tango, when our lower body is strong and grounded, the upper body can become soft and comfortable, once again leading to that yummy desirable embrace that keeps your partners coming back to you.
3. IMPROVES BALANCE AND STABILITY
Speaking of being grounded, we all know that one of the biggest obstacles to dancing well in tango is balance! As I mentioned above, strengthening the glutes and outer hips are vital to supporting an upright spine, but so is proper stacking of the head above the shoulders, shoulders above the ribs, ribs above the hips, hips above the feet. In addition, subtle engagement of the abdominal area and lengthening of the spine.
Fortunately, yoga tackles all of this, and many of the poses in yoga are specifically for balance and engage the rooting of the feet into the earth, some thing we hear all the time in tango.
You can even think of balance in an emotional context, as finding inner stability can lead to more focus and contentment which can certainly have a positive affect on your approach to learning difficult tango concepts, or handling unpleasant situations such as getting rejected by a desired partner.
4. REDUCES ANXIETY AND PROMOTES EMOTIONAL AWARENESS
Well now that we're on the topic of emotion, we all know that tango is THE dance of intense emotion. Not just the act of dancing, but also the learning process and the social interaction can produce a vast array of emotions, some that can be difficult to manage.
It is normal to feel anxiety in a context where you are constantly being observed by others, dancing intimately, and basically exposing yourself to all kinds of judgement. Not all milongas feel friendly and inviting and not all partners are going to be forgiving of our way of dancing or interacting. The anxiety is real!
In yoga many of the poses activate the parasympathetic nervous system which is what reduces stress and anxiety. But another way that yoga helps us in tango is that throughout the practice we allow ourselves to observe our intense emotions when we sustain a pose for a long time or go into a deep stretch and meet ourselves at our edge. In those moments yoga asks of us to stay and observe what comes up instead of reacting, therefore increasing our awareness, and helping to tackle our fear of intense feelings, by recognizing that it is not necessary to run away.
5. CULTIVATES MINDFULNESS AND PRESENCE
The act of observing and not reacting as I described above is not just a way to help with emotional resilience. It also cultivates mindfulness and presence as it asks you to be still as your ongoing internal dialogue chatters away. This allows you to really see and understand what is behind your actions and impulses. It can replace that chatter with just being present in the moment.
Have you ever listened to your internal dialogue when you are at a milonga or in a class? does it go some thing like "Oh my god, he doesn't want to dance with me. I hope he thinks my extensions are okay. What if he doesn't like my embrace? He'll never ask me to dance again, did I point my toe?"nSuddenly the tanda is over and did you even for one second FEEL what was actually happening? We can miss out on so much because we just cannot calm our minds.
On my first trip to Buenos Aires I spent 5 months taking classes every day, practicing and going out dancing every night except for the occasional night when my body couldn't handle it anymore. Looking back at that time I don't think I was present even ONCE in any body's embrace. When I came back to BA two months after that first trip it dawned on me that the number one thing I needed to work on in my dance was just being present and receptive to the moment. It was a whole new sensation and to my surprise I got more compliments on my dancing, felt more in control of my movement, and got asked to dance way more than on my previous trip.
6. INCREASES BODY AWARENESS
Inviting sensations into the body is not just about being mindful and present. In order to level up our dance we need to cultivate body awareness. You know those people, or perhaps you even see it in yourself, who have been dancing for years, take all the classes, go to milongas and yet for some reason their dance always seems to stay the same? If you are struggling to really incorporate especially the more subtle aspects of the dance into your body you may find that you actually do not need more tango information, you might need more body awareness.
When you observe your body in a consistent yoga practice you begin to notice how all the parts of your body feel and how that changes or doesn't change over time. You begin to understand how your body functions and what it responds to. You become more sensitive and therefore when your tango teacher asks you to find a new sensation in your body it will be a 100 times more accessible.
When you encounter a new partner on the dance floor who moves differently than what you've experienced before, you are so much more equipped to respond and move in unison with that person because you are in tune with your own body. This of course can lead to a stronger feeling of connection when you dance which we all know is one of the most intriguing and even intoxicating aspects of this dance.
7. PROMOTES CONNECTION WITH OURSELVES AND OTHERS
Connection. It's probably the number one reason why people get hooked on tango. Connection is one of our deepest human needs and both yoga and tango can provide us with a whole lot of that.
Yoga first and foremost promotes connection with yourself. Without that we cannot connect with others. Personally yoga has brought me a greater understanding of my authentic self, and showed me the power of compassion, an essential ingredient for understanding others. Not that this is always easy to do, but that's why it's a practice. We all want to be seen and understood and when we take the time out for ourselves to explore our internal world we are much more prepared to give when we are around others, and that extends to what we are able to give in a tango embrace.
I hope this gives you a little insight into how yoga can improve your tango dancing. Do you want to practice together? Get started with this 3-class freebie pack. Each practice is just 20 minutes and will get you well on your way to improving your dance!