Saturday, September 27, 2014

[Ask Helaine] How can I relax my free leg?

This question has been raised by a number of people, most recently by a tanguero in New York who's working through one of our home study programs.

He writes:

“I find it difficult to relax my free leg with every step while I’m dancing tango. Can you give me some pointers or suggestions?”

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Thanks for your question!

Some of our other home study members have also reported that they haven’t quite conquered “the relaxed free leg thing”. The absence of that critical elementary mastery can show up and interfere with learning in subsequent modules. I realize that I need to be more explicit about the “how to”.  
There’s a shortcut to relaxing the free leg that works 100% of the time.  I’ve been using it in my own dancing for years. I always make sure that my private coaching clients "get" this before we go on to anything else.

But before I tell you my shortcut, I want to make sure that everyone knows why it’s so important in tango to relax the leg you’re not standing on.

The moment we relax our free leg, our body automatically and effortlessly finds its perfect balance on our standing leg. Bingo!  Instant axis!  Effortless mastery of our axis comes from simply releasing tension in the muscles we’re not using. Ideally, there will be no superfluous effort in your tango.

So here’s the shortcut that should give you 100% success in relaxing your free leg:

You only need to relax the muscles around your hip joint, and that’s all it takes to cause the rest of your leg to relax.  

Don’t try to relax every part of your leg.  There are too many different muscles that can work independently of each other.  If we think about our body’s mechanics while dancing, it only creates an unnatural focus that makes everything we’re trying to do become awkward.  There’s the key in what I just said:  “we’re trying to do”.  

Relaxing the free leg cannot be about trying. Trying to relax all the muscles in your leg will create tension - the opposite of what we want.

All you have to do is soften the muscles around your hip joint, and your entire leg will respond, while maintaining the energy it needs to move beautifully.

Here are a few visualizations that can help:

1) Think of the muscles that surround your hip joint your hip joint as a ripening avocado. Let the muscles soften till it feels they’re at the state of a perfectly ripe avocado. 

2) Imagine sitting in a pleasantly hot bathtub or Jacuzzi.  Feel the muscles around your hip joints soften as you relax in your bath.

3) Now imagine that in the space between your hip socket and the head of your thigh bone a soft breeze passes every time you release the surrounding muscles.

Stand up and try at least one of these visualizations.

Are you able to let go of any muscle contractions around your hip joint?  If it's not easy, consider the fact that we were not brought up in North American or European cultures (nor Asian and others about which I don't know) to keep a looseness about our pelvic area. For some people, it's a loaded topic, though perhaps unconsciously so.  

But let's say you've transcended that underlying taboo.
Here's an extra credit question: 

When you release those muscles, can you also feel a sensation of pleasure?

I do!  I’m a hedonist when I dance tango!  With every step I take, regardless of my communication with my partner, I’m grabbing some private pleasure by automatically releasing all tension in the hip joint of the leg that just became free.  Ahhh . . .

The huge bonus in doing this, aside from the pleasure, is that the resulting muscle release throughout your leg automatically locks you into your infinite axis on your standing leg, so you'll feel rock solid with every step!  Your free leg will swing naturally, like a pendulum, and you'll have smooth and elegant steps.

Let us know if you tried this and how it works for you. Please add your observations or feedback, by posting in the "comments" area below this post!

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Do you have a question or a challenge in your tango that I can answer for you in our no-cost weekly program "Ask Helaine?" 

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