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9 Yoga Poses For Your Tango Feet

Updated: Nov 19, 2023

It's no question that how we use our feet has a big effect on our dance. There are many techniques and tutorials out there on "proper" tango foot work, some that focus more on the fundamentals of stability and "using the floor" while others offer adornments to spice up your dancing, making it more musical and playful.

I'd like to offer another perspective on foot awareness based on what yoga has taught and enabled me to do with more ease in my dancing. Below are 9 yoga poses that you can do to improve foot strength, flexibility, and mobility and where exactly these benefits will show up in the dance.

1. Toe Squat

Toe squat is a pose that comes from the Yin yoga tradition in which poses are meant to be passively held for a long time without engaging muscles so that the joints, connective tissues, and fascia can be strengthened and lengthened. This pose opens the toes and feet and strengthens ankles.

Benefits for tango dancers:

Spreading your toes when you dance can significantly improve your balance and is often overlooked as we cram our feet into tight dancing shoes, tensing up rather than opening when we feel unstable. Ankle strength also supports stability as well as smooth movement. When ankles are fatigued or weak we are more prone to clumsy, stiff movement and possibly injury.

To get into this pose come on to all fours in a tabletop position. Tuck your toes and spread them out. Sit your hips back over your heels and line up your spine over your hips. If this is too intense you can keep your hips slightly elevated and bring your fingertips to the floor in front of you. Hold this pose for at least a minute and a half trying not to engage your muscles and breathing naturally and fully. If it is too intense to hold for this long, come out of the pose and work up towards a longer hold over time. In yin yoga, poses are held for a minimum of 90 seconds so that the joints, connective tissues and fascia can open up.

2. Ankle Stretch

Another yin pose, ankle stretch, (as it’s name suggests) opens and strengthens the ankles. As with our previous pose this one is also meant to be held for a while without engaging muscles.

Benefits for tango dancers:

Flexible ankles can assist with pointing your toes as you extend your leg back or forwards. Especially when you extend the leg back this helps you place the weight first in the big and second toe, roll into the ball of the foot and then come into the heel so as not to plop the whole foot down at once. This assists with smooth movement and prolonging the transfer of weight so that you can express a slower, perhaps more melodic aspect of the music.

To get into this pose come into a kneeling position with the tops of your toes down on your mat, sitting on top of your feet. Gently lift your knees off the ground. They may not lift very far as this can be very intense. Walk your hands behind you, pointing your fingertips towards you, pressing down gently to lift your chest and lengthen your spine. Hold this pose for a minimum of 90 seconds, breathing naturally and smoothly. If it feels too intense you can modify by sitting on a block or putting a blanket underneath the knees.

Keep in mind that yin yoga should be practiced with “cold” muscles, so it is ideal that you do these poses WITHOUT warming up beforehand. Unlike other forms of yoga that are more yang, this is ok because we are not engaging muscles in yin. In fact we do not want the muscles to steal the benefit from the joints by being warm. It is also important in yin yoga to find your edge at around a 5 on a scale of 1-10 in intensity with 1 being zero sensation and 10 being pain.

3. Runner’s Lunge

This pose, as well as any other lunge poses in yoga, is a great way to stretch the ankles, feet and entire legs. In addition, this opens the hips and hip flexors as well as the heart and chest.

Benefits for tango dancers:

I love this pose for tango dancers because it is exactly how we want to engage the feet in tango to find traction, the action of “using the floor” as many tango teachers say. When coming into this pose the ball of the back foot presses into the ground as the heel presses back, just what we want to do when we take a forward or back step in tango. You can practice rolling through the ball of the foot in this pose to create the motion that you would find when moving from one step to another in tango.

To get into this pose I usually go from downward facing dog in which case you would step one leg in between your hands, stacking the front knee above the ankle (make sure not to go beyond the ankle so that you don’t put too much force on the knee). Keep the back leg extended, heel lifted and pressing out. Come on to your fingertips and lift the chest and broaden the collarbone.

4. Half-Moon (Ardha Chandrasana)

This pose strengthens the ankles and stretches the calves. It also strengthens the abdominals, glutes, and spine and stretches the groins, hamstrings, shoulders, chest and spine. In addition, it improves coordination and balance, relieves stress, and improves digestion.

Benefits for tango dancers:

Balance is an obvious benefit of this pose as we’re literally balancing our body weight over one leg. One of the common tendencies that causes us to lose balance in this pose is rolling onto the outer edge of the standing leg, very much like we tend to do in tango when we take a step. To regain balance, pressing down into the inner edge of the foot and engaging through the inside of the leg is very important. This is the same action we need to look for in tango to maintain our balance.

To get into this pose I usually prefer to start in Warrior 2 so the hips are already open. Bring your weight to the front leg, stacking the hip of the extending leg on top of the hip of the base leg. Extend your back leg behind you and flex your back toes towards your face. Lower your bottom hand down to the floor or a block and extend the other one up towards the ceiling. Engage your core to lift you up, press into the inner edge of your bottom foot, and hug the hip of the standing leg into your center.

5. Tadasana on tip toes

This pose brings awareness to posture and strengthens and stretches ankles.

Benefits for tango dancers:

As I mentioned before strong and flexible ankles assist with stability and smooth movement. In this pose we try to line up the back of our head with our tailbone and tailbone with the heels. When we lift our heels we take that whole line with us, just as we would in tango when we bring the weight into the ball of our foot, rather than leaving our butt behind and extending just our chest over the ball of the foot.

To get into the pose stand up nice and tall. Bring your feet together or have them hips-width apart if having them together does not work for you. Line up the back body as I described above and have your arms by your side. Lift your heels, coming onto your tiptoes, keeping the line of the back body. Lower your heels and repeat several times to build ankle strength.

6. Squat (Malasana)

This pose can be done in both a yin and yang practice and the first 2 yin poses I mentioned above are a great way to make this pose more accessible. This is a great way to strengthen and stretch ankles and also targets the groins, hips, torso and thighs and improves concentration and focus.

Benefits for tango dancers:

This pose is also fantastic for balance as it strengthens the ankles and helps with all of the previously mentioned aspects of the dance as it is quite a deep ankle stretch. It is also a nice way to practice that tango “turn-out” in a safe way as your feet should be open to about a 45 degree angle. Knees should be in line with the toes to protect the knees. Although this is a bit deeper than one would turn out for their tango posture it is a good way to bring awareness to the external rotation of the hips for this turn-out and keeping the knees safe as you do so.

To get into the pose stand with your feet slightly wider than hips distance with your toes pointing out. Come down to a squat bringing your hips in between your feet. Make sure to point the knees in the same direction as the toes. Bring your hands together in front of your heart, bringing the elbows to the inside of your thighs and press your elbows into your thighs to help them open. If this version of the pose feels too intense you can lift your hips a bit higher and/or sit on top of a block. If your heels are floating off the ground you can place a rolled-up blanket underneath.

7. Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) to Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

This is really 2 poses and the aspect I want to focus on is the transition between the two because it is a great stretch for the ankles and tops of the feet and toes.

Benefits for tango dancers:

This transition feels amazing after you’ve been dancing in high heels as it stretches the toes in the opposite way of how they have been stuffed into your heels. Because we generally move through quite a few vinyasas in one class you can go through this transition several times and each time get a little deeper into the stretch. It also helps with ankle flexibility which can assist with pointing the toes when you extend the legs as well as “roll” through the foot when you transition from one step to the next.

To get into this pose come down to your mat, lying on your belly. Bring your hands underneath your shoulders, drawing your elbows in close to your rib cage. Press into your hands, lifting the chest and begin to straighten the arms, drawing your shoulders down your back. In upward-facing dog your knees are hovering off the mat but f or less intensity you can modify to a cobra and lower the knees to the mat. Now without untucking the toes, send the hips up and back for your downward-facing dog, hanging out in the middle of this transition as long as you like to stretch the feet. I personally like to linger here for a little while after a night of lots of dancing when my feet really need this relief.

8. Three-Legged Dog

This pose is another stretch for the ankles and also the hamstrings and calves. It also strengthens the arms and legs and lengthens the spine.

Benefits for tango dancers:

This is a great way to stretch the calves which can get fatigued from dancing tango, especially if you wear high heels. While you stretch the calf of the grounded leg, the other leg extends behind you like you would do in tango, unfurling the foot to a point, which is a great way to practice the progression from having your ankle flexed to pointing. When we extend the leg behind in tango the heel presses back first and slowly opens up the ankle as the leg comes towards a full extension where the heel is towards the ceiling and your toe is pointing. This is the same action we take when lifting the back leg in three legged dog.

9. Easy Twist

Easy twist offers all the benefits of a lunge pose such as stretching the hip flexors and strengthening the legs, feet and ankles, as well as the benefits of twisting, increasing spinal flexibility and improving digestion.

Benefits for tango dancers:

Aside from increasing stability and flexibility in the feet and ankles, this pose is ideal for bringing awareness to common tendencies in the feet when finding torsion in your dance, as it is very similar to a cross step in tango (or ocho). Very often when we find our twist in this pose, the back foot tends to cycle inwards as we try to take the hip into the twist in order to compensate for a lack of spinal flexibility. This is the same thing that commonly occurs in tango in those cross steps. Ideally in both this yoga pose and in our cross step in tango we stabilize the lower body (the feet and hips) and twist from our obliques and up into the muscles of the back. In tango we should try to find the limit of our twist in the upper body and then allow the lower body to release into a pivot, allowing the hip and foot to come around. In yoga we do not have a pivot, but we can get to know the limit of our twist as we try to keep the foot and hip out of the twisting.

So here you have 9 yoga poses to bring awareness to how you use your feet in tango. I hope this brought you some insight for your dancing or yoga practice. Watch the video explanation below to go deeper into this topic.

Do you want to practice yoga together? Check out my on-demand yoga and body conditioning for tango dancers.

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