Here's today's message to tangueros and tangueras alike:
STOP COLLECTING . . . DAMMIT!!
(Whew. Sometimes I just have to be emphatic to get everyone to think differently!)
Is this a subversive message, or what?
Little in tango makes makes me angrier than hearing instructors, or more advanced students, telling others "Collect, collect, collect!" Makes me want to tear someone's ear off with my teeth! GRRRRR . . . .
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Has any teacher ever told you, "Collect your feet!"?
One teacher? Several teachers? All your teachers?
Have you, as a good tango student, been obediently disciplining yourself to bring your feet together neatly between every two steps?
UGGHH! I cannot stand even thinking about someone making YOU do this!
What's my problem with collecting one's feet?
Well, who are the people in life who must regularly snap their feet together?
Soldiers. Obedient soldiers who must stand at attention!
Consider the significance of the gesture. Regularly, obligatorily uniting your feet is like constantly repeating a gesture of obedience! Many tangueras snap their ankles together with every step, as their teachers or even their practice partners(!) have instructed them to do. (I know, because I used to do it! Banged my ankles up too, in the beginning.)
Where does a tango instructor get the gall to train an emerging
Tango King or Queen
. . . to be obedient?! It infuriates me! (Roarrrrr.)
In fairness, my colleagues' intentions are good. The purpose of collecting, as I understand it, is ostensibly to help you find your center, your balance, and so that you'll look neat, especially when you pivot. Isn't that what they tell you?
But one reason I'm disturbed by the concept (or worse, the rule!) of collecting feet between steps is that it requires that we use some force to bring our feet or ankles together, which we accomplish by contracting various muscles.
As I teach in my first lessons to tango beginners and veterans alike, contracting muscles in one part of our body, creates compensating contractions elsewhere in our body. The result is that it gets us somewhat out of alignment, and then we must struggle to maintain our balance. Just when we need to be super-stable in our tango, such as during a pivot, uniting our feet by pulling one leg in to meet the other causes us to exert effort to be in balance!
And what about the mental muscle you must employ to keep reminding yourself to collect, collect, collect? One of my long-distance students, a member in my "Tango Improvisation Mastery™"" program, exclaimed when he learned in Module 1 why he should forget about collecting, "What a relief! Not having to keep reminding myself to collect my feet frees up my mind to be more creative in my dancing!"
What most teachers are not telling you is that you can NATURALLY AND EASILY find your perfect balance while standing on one foot by totally relaxing your free leg! By RELEASING all muscle contractions in your leg as it becomes free, from your hip joint down, you allow gravity to naturally make your relaxed leg fall under you, passing very close to your standing leg. When your free leg can swing freely like a pendulum, you gain both balance and grace! (I just love this fact. It's part of what I call "the truth that sets you free!")
I wish you were here in the room with me right now, so I could show you an experiment I often use that demonstrates this perfectly! (I demonstrate the exercise in a video in the "Advanced Tango Fundamentals" section in my "Tango Improvisation Mastery™" online home study program, http://tangoimprovisationmastery.com.)
And here's one more factor that may matter to you: when you collect your feet, your "free" leg is not free while you're collecting, and is not available to you for embellishments! It's busy trying to stick one ankle to the other, so how can it swirl or tap or caress the floor, as the musical nuances are calling you to do?
Collecting makes us sacrifice our expression!
Okay, I'm finished ranting. Now for the juicy, fun part - videos!
Please carefully watch the videos below of three outstanding Villa Urquiza style (Rose Vine Tango!) couples. You'll see that they do not collect their feet between steps, except to change weight, or in rare moments as a stylistic choice. Never do they collect during pivots! Rather, their free legs relax completely and fall under them as they "lock into their Infinite Axis" on each successive step, swinging like a pendulum close to the standing leg. Observe especially how, with both the man and the woman in each video, instead of collecting, their relaxed, free leg is always playing! The artists' adornos (embellishments) are part of their intimate dynamic dialog with their partners. Beautiful salon tango requires a relaxed free leg!
Please enjoy these videos as you observe the "disobedient" free leg of each artist, and how playful and expressive it is:
Geraldin Rojas and Javier Rodriguez dance Canaro's "Poema"
Marita "La Turca" and Jorge Dispari dance Di Sarli's "Anselmo Acuña el Resero"
Amanda and Adrian Costa dance Di Sarli's "Tu, El Cielo y Tu".
Finally, I'll reveal to you one of my favorite secrets:
Seek your greatest degree of pleasure with every single step.
As you take ALL of your weight onto your new standing foot, practice paying attention (till you master this and it comes naturally) to the pleasure you can feel in releasing all the tension in all the muscles around your hip joint.
You'll find yourself in perfect balance with every single step of your tango, and ladies will especially find themselves ready for anything their partners may lead at any moment! And you'll also be stable enough on your standing leg so that you can fluidly and spontaneously create embellishments with your free leg, to your heart's content.
I invite you to write your comments below!