Sunday, November 13, 2011

Your feet, your walk, your happiness

Often on Wednesdays, I listen to Dr. Christiane Northrup's internet radio show,"Flourish", at  Several weeks ago I loved her talk about feet. (Dancers think a lot about feet.)  I took lots of notes with asterisks for further research.

One thing Dr. Northrup talked about was the swing time of our gait, and how formal studies have shown that a longer swing of the leg is an indication of a happier person! This fascinated me.  In my own classes I have found that my students of all levels seem to get addicted to our walking exercise at the beginning of every lesson and practica, and newbies get entranced by practicing the tango walk too.  I have observed this for years, even back in Italy.  

For 3-4 tangos, I watch from the sideline, and call out, or go tell them privately, suggestions to improve their walks, or I compliment them when they're doing something particularly well. As the months go by they all develop beautiful walks and much better musicality.  I've observed that at all levels, starting the session with 10-12 minutes of what I call "walking consciously" actually guarantees that they'll dance smoothly, with better focus and better balance!

My goals for my students in this initial walking exercise include:

   1) their taking longer, smoother strides, both forward and backward, letting their free leg swing like a pendulum,

   2) their initiating the leg swing from the upper body, using their natural "spiral", which we normally perceive as the opposite-arm-swing in a healthy walk,

- and one of my "secret weapons", an essential for dancing outstanding tango,

   3) their practicing "the split-second difference in your tango", which means taking that extra mini-moment to relax their free leg and ground themselves on their standing leg, thereby locking into their "Infinite Axis", between every two steps.  The deliberate grounding in between steps reinforces our psychological sense of "I AM HERE" (rather than "I'm going, I'm going, I'm going"), which we automatically convey to our partner, so it's also a very important relational part of our tango.  My walking element #3 is what changes a good street walk to a great tango walk.  Earlier I spoke about "the split-second difference in your tango" earlier this year, calling it "the interval" or "the gap" between two dynamic elements (e.g., steps). I explained how more communication happens between partners during "the gap", than occurs during any dynamic movement.

This focused grounding between steps also allows us to walk backward withlonger steps and greater confidence. This is obviously important for women, who in tango walk backward 70-80% of the time.  But I also maintain that training tango men to develop skillful, elegant and grounded backward walking  (though they hardly walk backward in social tango) helps ingrain in a man's body a well-rounded vocabulary of tango movements that will begin to help him easily execute any figure in his improvisation.

Inspired for the last year about Dr. Northrup's discussion of the "healing power of pleasure" in our lives, I now share with my students something I personally enjoy in the moment of grounding:  the brief sensation of deep pleasure we can get from completely relaxing all the muscles in the groin of the leg we release, as we feel the "space" between our pelvis and our thigh.  What a way to master your balance:  feel the pleasure in around your hip joint as you release any tension there!  Aaaahhh . . .  You have no idea how much adding this one little awareness can uplevel your dancing, in addition to subtly increasing your enjoyment of dancing.  That split second of "Aaaahhh" in our hip joint gives our partner an unconscious reassurance that we are stable, and it increases the pleasure within the couple.

Also for many years, I have compared the sensation of reaching back withour free leg as we walk backwards to the pleasure we feel when we stretch our arms and upper bodies - that great feeling in our anterior deltoid muscle (where the front of our shoulder meets or armpit) and inside our elbows when we stretch is similar to what we can feel in the anterior muscles of our hip/thigh connection (ileopsoas) and behind our knee, as we stretch our free leg back!  Aaaaahhhh . . .!  

"Walking consciously" at the beginning of my lessons seems to get everyone high and happy, and when they've done our walking exercise, their dancing is always better than when they start dancing "cold".  And we're doing it in leather-soled shoes, which Dr. Northrup said in her radio show are superior to synthetic-soled shoes for healthy walking, because leather soles allow us greater energetic (did she say electro-magnetic?) connection with the earth.

I would wager that the "happiness indicator" of the long stride Dr. Northrupdescribed, also works in reverse - that is, by developing longer strides with a free swing, we can bring more happiness into our lives.  It certainly works during or our walking exercises and has lasting effects in the dancing that follows!

* * * * * *

Now here's a man with a beautiful walk, Jorge Dispari.

Jorge's wife Marita, whom you see with him in this video, is a great tango dancer, but specifically for a woman's walk I prefer Amanda Costa's (see her with husband Adrian, also a fabulous walker, on my blog at:, and a few others, including Jorge and Marita's two daughters Geraldin Rojas and Samantha Dispari.  (They've got the gliiide, that I'll tell you about in another article!)

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