Saturday, December 13, 2014

The single most important thing I can tell you about your tango

December 11, 2014

Today is the International Day of Tango, and I have an important message about YOUR tango. But I'll approach it a bit sideways:

When I meditate, I first observe my thoughts darting around like hundreds of ping-pong balls. Then I start to focus on my breathing. When I focus in this simple way, there’s a recurring moment in which I experience a great sense of relief, regardless of any racing thoughts:  that moment is in the GAP between every exhalation and the next inhalation. 

In that one still, silent second between breaths, I become aware of a delicious sense of wellbeing, of calm, of perfection.  It doesn’t matter that it happens in the midst of active thoughts bouncing around, 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" or "gap" between my breaths when I’ve emptied my lungs feels so good that I want to stay there.  

What does this have to do with tango?

Today on the International Day of Tango, I want to give you the greatest gift I have to give you.  It's just one piece of critical information.

Today I'll tell you the one thing you can do that will have the greatest impact on your dancing, your connection, and your confidence on the dance floor.  From the moment you implement this, you'll be dancing on a completely different level, and this magic will stay with you the rest of your life, whenever you dance.

Here it is:

Even if you never learn anything else, learn to master "the gap" in your tango.

* * * * * *

I've published a number of articles over the years in which I mention "The Gap", "The Interval", “The Micro-Pause”, and "The Split Second Difference in your Tango".  It's all the same thing!  I use the words interchangeably.

Here's how I made the discovery:

Back in the 1970's, my sculpture teacher in New York, the late George Spaventa, talked about a concept he called "the interval", or sometimes "the interstice".  He 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, whether I was looking at art, or in other contexts.

It finally occurred to me while teaching a tango class some years back, that “the interval” is just as critical to dancing good tango as it is to good art, music, speaking, and more. 

What do I mean by "interval" or “gap”?

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. 

Let’s let that sink in:

The “interval” or “gap” is the breathing space between any two active, adjacent parts, the space that sets them apart from each other, and in doing so gives each part more life. 

Going back to the sculpture example:
Belvedere Torso, Vatican Museum, Rome
Belvedere Torso, Vatican Museum, Rome
If you could look closely at the “intervals” in Michelangelo’s  "Belvedere Torso" (photo above)that is, the divisions between any two adjacent forms on the figure, you'd see that they're not just lines on the surface, but rather narrow planes that act as valleys between the forms.

The intervals help to define each 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. 

* * * * *
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, most easily identified 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 weight-bearing leg, locking into your "infinite vertical axis" for a split second, as the foot of your free leg reaches the lowest point of its "pendulum swing".

Don't worry. It doesn't take great effort to coordinate this. You'll see that it quickly becomes natural and effortless.

The interval, if you choose to employ it, makes a huge difference in your balance and in your self confidence when you dance.  Good balance and self-confidence go hand in hand.

The interval should occur in the woman's molinete, when she walks around her partner.  She can, and should, articulate all her steps and pivots with the split-second interval in her Infinite Axis. She should 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 with not-yet-enlightened dancers!  

But not only should our tanguera employ the "Split Second Difference" during the molinete.  She should always use it, between every two steps, between every step and pivot, between every pivot and step.

Tangueros too.  Use this micro-pause!

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", rather than "I'm going, I'm going, I'm going".  

The "gap" is where we tango dancers can feel most secure because it's the moment in which we're most grounded, and where we can enjoy the greatest communication with our partner.  The great tango connection happens not so much in the dynamic movements, but in the momentary silent intervals between them!

In fact, I've come to think of "the gap" as the actual dynamic moment in tango, more so than the moments of transit or pivot!  "The gap" is when we are most empowered, because it ensures our stability.

I urge you to start practicing "the gap" when you dance tango, and filling the gap with your presence.  Your tango experience will start to quickly change, and you'll notice greater appreciation from your partners.

I believe that tango novices should be taught this in their very first lesson. (Every beginner who came to my studio over the last few years acquired this skill right away.) Claiming this interval with every step, by the way, assures even beginner men that they will never step on their partner's feet, and more importantly, it will grow their confidence from the inside out, starting on their first day of tango!

* * * * *
Here's a video example of using "the gap".  I've used this example other times, because the dancers make it so clear!

In the video below, with Sebastian Arce and Mariana Montes, there is a clear illustration of "the gap" or the "Split Second Difference" in tango-walking.  

In the segment between 0:17 and 0:30, the segment in which the violins are playing the melody and the bandoneons are marking the downbeat (strong beat) and the upbeat (weak 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 upbeat.  

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

After you've observed the moments of interval between steps in the segment between 17 and 30 seconds, please 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, locked in to her Infinite Axis.

(You can also enjoy some of Sebastian's wicked enrosques as the tango progresses!)

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

* * * * *

Buenos Aires news:
Mastering the Gap is one important skill you'll get quickly when you study with me in Buenos Aires. I'll be making several trips in 2015, and will work privately with very few people.

If you want to know more, email us at and my assistant can answer some of your questions. If you think you're interested in being one of the few people who work with me live in the coming year, in having me as your guide to tango life in Buenos Aires, you can ask Cindy to set up a time for us to talk and send you an application.

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