Friday, November 18, 2011

The Power in Your Gap

I’ve just started a new practice of meditating - this time, only 15 minutes a day.  I think that in the past I had difficulty maintaining a meditation practice in my life because it was a long process.  I'd start by watching my thoughts bounce around like multitudes of ping-pong balls and often it would take me 20-30 minutes just to have fewer balls bouncing.  Then I'd get the sensation of descending by elevator one floor down to a shallow part of the sea, where I’d feel more peaceful, and now watch the fishies (no longer ping pong balls) swim by in moderate numbers. After another 15-20 minutes or so, I'd descend yet another level (with that same elevator sensation) to where the fish were very sparse and the creatures were more sedentary, and I’d finally feel a deep sense of quiet and peace.

What I’m noticing now in my 15-minute meditations is that as the ping-pong balls dart around and I focus on breathing in a particular pattern (3 counts in, 5 counts out), to the music of a guided meditation CD by Abraham-Hicks, is a recurring moment where I experience a great sense of relief, regardless of any racing thoughts:  It is in the GAP between the exhalation and the next inhalation. 

In that one still, silent second I become aware of a delicious sense of wellbeing, of calm, of perfection.  It doesn’t matter that it occurs in the midst of active thoughts, because in the desire to hold on to that surprising sense of perfect peace, I begin to ignore my thoughts, and they start to fall away.  The interval between my breaths when I’ve emptied my lungs feels so good mentally that I want to stay there.  

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I've written a number of articles over the last year in which I mention "The Gap", "The Interval", and "The Split Second Difference in your Tango".  It's all the same thing.  I've updated one of those articles from my archives today, because in my recent teaching I've found it to be a concept worth revisiting. I think you'll see why. 

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My sculpture teacher in Paris in 1974, the late George Spaventa from New York, talked about what he called the "Interval", or sometimes the "Interstice", and once gave an illustration that I have never forgotten, with photos in a book on early 20th century modern sculpture.  Over the years, my awareness of "the interval" grew, when I looked at art, or in other contexts, and it finally occurred to me during several private tango lessons with my students last year, that this same concept applies to our dance; the interval is essential to dancing meaningful tango. 

What do I mean by "interval"?

I'd define it as the "breathing space" between two active parts, the space that sets them apart from each other, and in doing so gives each part more life. If you focus on the intervals in the image of the "Belvedere Torso" (see photo), that is, the divisions between any two adjacent forms on the figure, you'll see that they're not just lines on the surface, but rather narrow planes that help to contour the edges of each volume, or that act as a valley between the forms. The intervals help to define the form, and if not for the intervals, the forms would rather blur together. Instead, each muscle-form on this famous sculpture is clearly defined and full of life. 

Belvedere Torso, Vatican Museum, Rome

An interval is also the breath we take between phrases when we sing a song:
"Happy birthday to you. . . (breathe); "Happy birthday to you. . . (breathe).

An interval is the punctuation in our sentences when we write.

So where is "the interval" in tango, and why is it important?

I call the interval in tango-walking, "The split second difference in your tango".  It is a fleeting pause, during which I advise you to momentarily ground yourself on your standing leg, locking into your "infinite vertical axis" for a split second, as the leg of your free leg reaches the lowest point of its "pendulum swing". 

One of my students refers to it as "the pause that isn't".  He got it.

The interval, if you choose to employ it, makes a huge difference in your balance and in your self confidence when you dance. I can tell you after many years of teaching tango that good balance and self-confidence go hand in hand.

The interval should also occur in the woman's molinete, when she walks around the man (traditionally taught with a forward, side, back, side sequence of steps, punctuated by pivots). She can, and should, articulate her pivots with the split-second interval in her infinite axis. She can also repeatedly claim that split-second when she "passes through her center" between her steps around the man, rather than falling from one location to the next, which we see too frequently in not-yet-enlightened dancers!  

And for both partners, creating brief or longer intervals between any two movements, rather falling from step to step through a sequence, allows you to ARTICULATE your tango, as if you were saying to each other, "I'm here. . . and I'm here . . .  and now I'm here."  

The GAP is where the tango dancer can feel most secure, and enjoy the greatest communication with his/her partner.  The great connection happens not so much in the dynamic movements, but in the momentary silent intervals between them!

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In the video below, I show you an illustration of "the interval" in Tango-walking, pointing out where to watch for it.  (I teach you how to accomplish this in your very first introductory lesson.)  Claiming this interval with every step, by the way, assures even beginner men that they will never step on the woman's feet!

Here's how you can see what I'm talking about:  In the following video with Sebastian Arce and Mariana Montes, in the segment between 17 and 30  seconds, the segment in which the violins are playing the melody and the bandoneons are marking the downbeat (accented beat) and the upbeat (unaccented beat), notice where the couple is on every upbeat.  They grab it as an interval. They each remain still, "in axis", for a fraction of a second, exactly timed with the downbeat. 

Sebastian Arce and Mariana Montes, dancing to Buscandote, by the orchestra of Osvaldo Fresedo.

Again, notice the moment of interval between steps in the segment between 17 and 30 seconds.  Afterward, notice how often Sebastian is still, when he seems to be doing nothing; he is "painting with her feet", marking the music by leading Mariana's steps.  During other intervals, Mariana paints the air with her free leg.  If there were no interval, she would have no time to beautify their tango with her very musical embellishments, which must be done while she is solidly grounded, or locked in to her Infinite Axis.

Please watch this tango a few times and see all the places where you can indentify the interval (mainly pivots and pauses)!

And please post your comments here. I would love to hear your thoughts!

1 comment:

  1. Good Afternoon Helaine, What an inspiration Sebastian and Mariana's tango is for me. So very beautiful!! and Yes, I see exactly what you are referring to by the intervals...and I relate to your comparison of the interval in breathing out during meditation. I sometimes feel like I never have to take another breath, I am so at peace. I love to dance, and this video has totally inspired me to enhance my Tango. You are an inspiration...
    Bonniedaye of FoxyTrotters