6 Best Tango Posture Points:
Our posture is something that has been argued about a lot. In my 20+ years of tango I have learned many different tango postures, arm positions, hand holds, etc. The best tango posture I have found did not come from a tango teacher, but a teacher of posture, Esther Gokhale.
After experiencing crippling back pain during her first pregnancy and unsuccessful back surgery, Gokhale began her lifelong crusade to vanquish back pain. Her studies at the Aplomb Institute in Paris and years of research in Brazil, India, Portugal and elsewhere led her to develop the Gokhale Method, a unique, systematic approach to help people find their bodies way back to pain-free living.
In May 2013, The New York Times featured Esther in an article giving her the title, The Posture Guru of Silicon Valley.
1978 Deans honor list at Harvard University
2008 Foreword Silver Award for best health book
2009 Nautilus Gold Award for best Pilates/Tai Qi/Yoga/bodywork book
2009 Ippy Bronze Award for best health book
How I Found The Gokhale Method
First off, I would encourage any serious tango teacher or dancer to take the Gokhale workshops. You can find her classes here: https://gokhalemethod.com/class_locations
The reason I took Esther’s class was because one of my dear students sent me a video of Esther describing how we, first world people, do not use our glutes, while walking, as they were intended. After watching this video I tried using my glutes not only to walk in life, but walk in tango. What an amazing discovery. I had gained stability and strength. This video was the best tango lesson I had taken in years. Because of this video, my student and I decided to hire a Gokhale teacher to teach us the Gokhale method.
Gokhale for Tango
After taking the course, my student and I worked on making this our tango posture. After all, I believe that everything we do in tango should be how we would do it naturally. Hence I don’t believe in toe walking for leaders, I don’t think followers should push off with their toes as we would not walk backward naturally in this way.
Starting out we want to figure out what to do with our hips. The best way to get into this is to take a seat in a chair. When you sit in the chair you want to sit on the edge of the chair sitting onto your sitz bones, also known as the ischial tuberosity. This part of your pelvis can be found by pushing into the flesh at the base of your bottom. Find these bones and stick them behind you as you prepare to sit on them. When you take the seat you want to make sure that you do not allow the fleshy parts of your bottom to roll under your sitz bones. If it has, you can pull it out from under you. You will find that when you sit onto these bones, you will feel like you are sitting very tall and upright.
The trick to keep a tall body is when you stand up you need to keep your hips at the exact angle as they are when you were sitting on them. Try not to tuck your hips under as you stand. This position will keep your hips in a more natural position. As you can see in the photo on the left, all the vertebral discs are shaped in a hockey puck type fashion except that last vertebral disc. This one is shaped like a wedge. When we tuck our hips we make this last vertebrae more like a hockey puck and less like a wedge. We need to maintain the structural integrity of this joint and standing from the seated position I described does exactly that.
Now that you are standing we can look at the rest of the posture. When you look in a mirror your hips should have a downward angle to them. As you can see from my belt, my hips are tilted. When people feel this tilt they often feel that they have some low back pressure. This can be attributed to one
of two things. The first being that you might have pushed your hips too far back, causing a hyperlordotic curve. To make sure you didn’t create this curve, take a seat again and stand back up. If you are still feeling it then it is probably the second reason. Most of us are not used to lifting our weight off of our hips. We need to create traction in the spine and create distance from the low ribs and the hips. You want to open up each vertebrae lineally. Some people imagine they are hanging from a string. This is not a bad image, just don’t let your body relax like it’s hanging, you want to engage your muscles in a way that lifts your weight up off of the hips and creating traction in your spine. You want to create distance in your hips in all three dimensions of your being, not just in the front. Don’t forget about your back.
In this video is a girl from Instagram. What I appreciate about this video is that she starts with tucked hips and all of her weight on her hips. She then pulls her hips back into the position they should be in and she lifts her weight off of her hips. The result is one of inner core strength.
Moving up the body we need to draw some attention to our ribs. When we think about having good tango posture many of us imagine our mothers telling us to “sit up straight.” Often times we would sit up tall and pop our ribs out in front of us. This is not what we want to do. When you stick your ribs out you are putting a lot of curve into your thoracic spine which then creates a hyperlordotic curve in the lumbar region. We want our spine to be more straight than that. The way to find your ribs in the correct position is to think about knitting your ribs. You want to feel that your ribs are in the same alignment as your stomach and not pushing out away from your stomach. At the same time, be careful not to curve your chest in.
Our shoulders are a contentious topic for many. Most every leader will roll their right shoulder forward in order to reach around the follower more. Followers tend not to like this but say nothing because most teachers teach that the leader is supposed to reach to the other side of the follower.
If you reach to the other side of the follower then pull your shoulder back into place, you will find that your hand is going to land about in the middle over the follower’s back. With this position the follower will feel that she has much more room to move, especially when taking forward steps around the leader to the closed side.
To practice getting your shoulders into the correct position, take one shoulder and roll it a little forward, a little up, and then roll it all the way back and down. Now, keeping that shoulder in place, do the same with the other. This will place your shoulders onto your back (as yoga teachers describe it). We want to maintain our shoulders and shoulder blades in this position as we dance. We do not want to let them raise up out of this position.
The elbows, as you can see for both leader and follower, are at about the same height as one another. Also I keep my elbows a bit away from my body and not in close to my body. Think like you are opening your wings. The shoulder blades would get closer together as you draw back your wings to flap again. You can see how my shirt folds in the back
The hands play a role in our tango posture as well. Mostly we can affect our partners balance and posture. I have written on this topic and made a couple of videos outlining what we should do and not do on the open side of the embrace.
The article is here: https://tangowithadam.com/the-infamous-hand-crank/
The leader’s video is here and the follower’s video is here.
5. The Head:
Lastly in our posture we have our head. The head is another sticking point. Many people want to throw their heads forward to connect with their partner through the temple or forehead. Touching
in the head is not a mandatory thing but only a consequence. Often times I see people touching in the head and the arms but not the chest. When is the last time you gave someone a hug and you just touched in the head and arms? Our chest connection is what is important. So, with our head we want to move your head like you are closing a drawer in the kitchen. Keep your head level and do not tilt it as you draw it backward. Due to our daily life activities (i.e. computer work, desk work, etc) we can often find our weighty heads in front of our chest. We ALL know that this is wrong but we do it anyway. Then we come to tango, we get ready to get into close embrace and after we touch each other with our hands, we find ourselves touching in the head second and sometimes never make it as far as connecting in the chest. We need to pull the head back over our axis to keep us on balance. The head weighs a lot, and if you let it be in front of your body, it is going to trend your weight forward. In the pictures to the left and right you can see that my hips are back and anteverted. My chest is forward toward my partner, my shoulders are back and down, my head is pulled back and not leaned forward. Imagine that you are going to hug your grandmother. Instinctively you would give her your chest and not your hips. You would not put your weight onto your grandmother. You would hold your own weight (which means do not lean into the balls of your feet). In the photos to the left and right I have picked up my elbows a bit more than where I would hold them so that you can see more of my chest and stomach.
6. Feet and Knees:
Brushing quickly over the feet and knees, I believe that your knees should be soft while standing still, never locked. Your knees should be facing forward. When we are moving, I would suggest bending your knees more than you do. We gain strength and stability from bending our knees. In the feet, I like to align the center of my kneecap with the center of my second toe. Esther Gohkale suggests that your feet would be turned out only about 5-10 degrees from straight. This is what she found in her research.
We should not be using the ideas of ballet in tango. To turn your feet outward a lot is actually not helpful. The shape you are creating is a triangle, which is very stable if we were to stand on two feet. The problem is that in tango we often stand only on one foot. A quick trick to try is to turn your foot outward, then pick up your other leg and see if you feel stable. Almost always people will relax the tension and their hips will align to point in the direction their standing foot is pointing.
What Not To Do:
Here are some examples of what many people do and I would suggest that you do not do.
In summary, our tango posture should be a natural thing. The problem with “natural” is that we have deviated as a society away from how our bodies are intended to be. With the tips above, try not to let your partner change your good tango posture technique. Work at making your technique straight and connected. Abrazos – Adam