What is the TangoForge Pedagogy?
Our pedagogy is a toolbox of functions which constitute every tango movement. We specify these functions using anatomy and other relevant sciences. We describe motion in terms of position and action of joints, and contraction of muscles. We use scientific terms to describe communication between the bodies and the science of animal gaits to describe the various ways four legs can move along.
The toolbox of functions
The most profound concern of tango dancers is how to maintain CONNECTION. ‘Axis’ tells us nothing about this, nor gives any clues as to how to find or maintain it at varying force and velocity. Instead of ‘axis’ we use ‘arch of connection’. The arch of connection is an architecture of the two skeletons – each forming an arc whose direction is constantly readjusted as we change position. Crucial to the structural integrity of the arch is that the base legs and all the shoulders are held in external rotation at all times by contraction of the hip stabilizers (including the piriformis) and shoulder cuff muscles. Specific muscle contractions (transverse abdominus, psoas, triceps, and internal obliques when in torsion) trigger muscle chains that keep the arch taut, yet flexible, as we move. All the crosses and changes of foot are executed by redirecting the arch to the new base leg.
PROJECTION is what enables the Mark to express fine control over the timing and shape of the Revel’s movement. Projection is created at the start of each movement.
- The Mark shows intention for the next direction with a movement no larger than 2mm.Marks should not worry about the orientation of either of the partners’ bodies, which foot the Revel is on, or whether she will take front, back, or side projection, He should focus on clear communication of direction with no confusing tension in the embrace. There are four directions for projection:
- Toward the Mark: he contracts the base leg(s)’ psoas to flex the hips pulling his chest a few mm away from the Revel.
- Away from the Mark: he contracts the base leg(s)’ psoas to flex the hips pushing his chest a few mm toward the Revel.
- Lateral to the Mark: he contracts the external oblique muscles corresponding to the desired direction.
- Vertical: lifting and lowering her free leg.
- The Revel prepares her body for that direction by contracting her psoas muscle to maintain the current position of her arc while beginning to extend her free leg in his desired direction. She prepares her base leg for the next direction by contracting her oblique muscles to pivot her base so that her base leg is in external rotation relative to the line of the projection. Pivots are always part of the preparation for a step, not an automatic conclusion. (Excessive unmarked pivoting is the most disruptive thing a Revel can do.)
- Any projection can be intensified by adding stronger muscle contractions. The difference between a lateral open/side step and an ocho is a stronger contraction of both partners’ oblique muscles.
- Every step ends with a second projection of the newly-freed old base leg toward its former position, offering opportunities for redirection and special effects before a new projection is created.
- Barrida is a special projection in which direction is communicated through the foot or any part of the leg (Pulpeades), with flexion of hte free leg’s hip and knee joints allowing for fluid movement. Of course the Revel is responsible for not breaking contact to her free leg, just as she is responsible for not breaking the arch.
To create special effects with the Revel’s free leg, the Mark adds POWER to her projection and the Revel responds with fluid joint motion.
- He does this by intensifying muscle contractions, using what is called “co-contraction” – the simultaneous contraction of two muscles in a pair. To create elasticity, voleos, and ganchos, the muscle pair is quadriceps+hamstrings. To create blocking movements (patada and rebote cadera), in addition to the co-contraction in the legs, we also co-contract the biceps+triceps. (These intense co-contractions trigger muscle chains that convey the power through the two bodies.)
- Fluid motion is sequential motion of the joints. Special effects with the free leg are beautiful when they originate from and are stabilized by muscle power in the base leg (co-contraction). To make her leg fly, the Revel co-contracts her base leg’s quadriceps+hamstrings, then moves the hip joint to its maximum position and, finally, flexes the knee joint. To exit the motion, she first extends her knee joint, then the hip joint. (This sequential release makes possible the Mark’s full control over her free leg so he can create unusual exits, such as Pulpeades.)
- Front voleo/gancho: the hip flexes (and adducts in circular voleo), then the knee flexes.
- Back voleo/gancho: the hip extends, then the knee flexes.
- Side voleo-linear: the hip abducts, then the knee flexes.
When the partners are moving in the same direction, the embrace is static (the amount of flexion of shoulder and elbow joints must not change). The many movements which involve moving in different directions require mastery of three different kinds of CHANGE OF EMBRACE.
- When the partners change the distance of the embrace (from “open” to “close” embrace) the shoulder joints’ flexion changes vertically.
- When the partners move in contra directions (sacada, double-giro, contra rebote, contra voleo, contra gancho), the shoulder joints’ flexion changes laterally.
- When the partners enter leaning moves (volcada or colgada), the flexion of the elbow joints changes (extending for colgada, flexing for volcada) – followed by a co-contraction of biceps+triceps to stabilize the arm joints under increased load.
Movements have geometries. When we walk, we use animal gaits (pace, trot, and, rarely, amble). Sacadas are perpendicular. Voleos require the Mark to deliver power while moving on a perimeter around the Revel. Ganchos are intersections….
For each movement the Mark defines and generates a particular amount of power, which is expressed as a combination of force and velocity. The Revel must counter some of his force so that she does not fall over. Additional force is transmitted through her projection into special effects. When we want to use our power to move at higher velocity, we must reduce the amount of force of the movement so that the Revel does not slow down to use her power to counter the force.
A gancho is specified by a series of projections (up to three), one co-contraction, geometry, and three changes of embrace. But that’s all we need! We don’t need a lot of special terminology and technique for this gancho. We just need to analyze the functions and make sure the arch is in the right place and taut.
Improvisation skills are essential to navigating crowded dance floors and dancing on diverse music.
There are 25 distinct tango movements (see the lexicon), each with a number of variations ranging from 5-100. We can do any iteration with a number of different dynamics bringing our total expressive possibilities to roughly 1000. But the technique is consistent across the variations, so all we need to learn is how the functions work to create the 25 movements, how to go looking for variations, and how to move with different dynamics. The TangoForge KnowledgeBase specifies the technique for each movement, along with systems for finding variations (the short answer to this is try it with a front, back, and side step, and with both feet).
Dynamic variation is made possible by understanding the transfer of weight as a control system.
- We vary knee and hip flexion at the start of a movement to vary the power, size, and drama of the step.
- We arrest the flexion and extension of joints to stop the transfer of weight at any point (parada).
- We can add co-contraction to make any movement elastic, and we can conserve co-contraction to drive power from one movement to the next.
Another aspect of improvisation is the tango pathway – the way we travel on the dance floor. These pathways enable us to continue dancing in soltada.
- Lines (for moving along in the line of dance): front walk, back walk, molinete lineal
- Circles (for dancing more or less in place): double-giro, single-giro, calesita.
- Side-to-side (open steps and ochos).