In Tango Escuela last night, what I was dealing with was the nuts and bolts of follower’s technique:
That is, walking and waiting.
These notes are mostly relevant for followers, and more so for people like me with bowed legs and bunions. The bowed legs make bringing my knees together extra hard, and the bunion causes the big toe, the main source of support, to derail inward leaving an empty space where I am to step.
If I activate my fibularis longus (formerly know as peroneus longus), which has the sensation of a slight inward rotation of the calf muscles, my bowed legs spiral into straightness, my arches lift, my feet activate and get springy, and my big toes, while not exactly straightening, move a little more into the line of support.
For stepping, Amy Lincoln used the analogy of a mop (the stringy type). Your body is the pole, which as you lower down causes the mop strings to fan out. The fanning strings represent your free leg, which drops down, out, and away from your axis. But it doesn’t go far. The sensation is that the gesturing leg is weighted and reaching towards the floor. It can go in any direction (in your tango box). Meaning, it can go forward, sideways, or backwards. The spiral ocho steps are an illusion of your hips and torso. The spatial direction respects your box.
This sounds easy, but I struggled with doing too much with my free leg (mop strings only spread so far). The look of extension does not come from the free leg. The extended line is created by pushing off the standing leg.
I struggled with the paradox of being an active follower:
The follow, I, must collect and wait. At the first whisper of an impulse, I am to allow the mop string leg to extend with energy, but also quietly towards the earth. At the second impulse, I am to step with energy, pushing from the ground to execute the led step. This is the basics of walking technique. Yet after many years, the wires are still crossed.
When I try to be an active follower (that is, providing 100% of my energy and “opinion” to the dance), my habit is to rush and I often do steps that haven’t been led. When I attempt to rein it in and follow clearly, my energy drops, and I often miss leads because I’m too hesitant.
When one of my leaders kindly pointed out my issues, I felt a flash of irritation. But I knew he was right, and managed to listen and learn. (Every relationship lesson can be practiced in tango).
Similarly, I was struggling with misunderstandings about my hip rotation. Do I always get my hips perpendicular to the leader, creating sharp angles and precision, or is my degree of hip rotation something that is led? My understanding, as of last night, is sharp angles.
From the previous classes, I felt better energy in my upper body, a firmer, more, “bus wheel” like embrace, more connections with my hands, and a better sense of the floor to ceiling spirals through the legs. Also, for once, my Alexander Technique primary control seemed to be kicking in, and I seemed to be able to control my balance from my head.
What did we do in class? An unusually complicated combination (Santiago and Amy tend to focus on the basics) with a bunch of sacadas. This presented major challenge to the leaders, who have to set it all up.
The evening finished with a little glad insight into using the gesturing leg to aid balance. From modern dance, I have a habit of thinking I need to avoid dragging my feet on the floor. But in tango, the gesturing leg can glide along the floor and help with balance as it reaches out like a tentacle gathering information into the body. Mind you, there’s no weight on the free leg. But the sensitive contact with the floor is just one more bit of kinesthetic feedback to aid my teetering high-heeled stance, and compensate for my “missing” big toe.