Twisted Body Dance Theory of Argentine Tango

by Igor Polk, June 5, 2016 - May 19, 2014

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Origins of Movement in Pelvis Region

In the pelvis region, which I will shortly call "pelvis", there are powerful muscles which act, create torque as if there is a twist in pelvis. This is used in many physical activities including dancing. I do not know the exact mechanism, but the torque feels like it is a twist. A twist within the pelvis. It seems it is useful in understanding, so I'd like to maintain the analogy to the torso twists. The energy and pose produced by this torque is the source of the characteristic Argentine Tango look, feel, movement energy, and figures. It is the source of the long and powerful steps and, on another hand, allows compact but full-fledged dance on a crowded dance floor. The technique of using pelvis allows all tango figures, no matter how complex they are, to be performed in the tight close embrace when the bodies and legs of partners are interweaving each other. At the same time, it creates an illusion of simplicity. Observers do not see the moves and do not understand where the energy comes from. And often they conclude that indeed nothing is happening and all the fancy stuff is "just like walking". It is not. It is all inside the body. Power within, in the torque.

Let me tell you how to create the "twisting" torque within pelvis. Knowing well how the same thing works in torso helps in understanding. Put your hands on the pelvis bones (hips) to be able to feel the movement. Extend the L leg forward. Look directly in front. Then twist the pelvis to the left as much as possible until you knees and thighs come tight together. Usually, the right side of pelvis will feel tension and will be up, and left side will feel relaxation and go down. You will feel that your tailbone (TB) goes very much to the right. Now imagine that someone straightens you by taking your tailbone and turns it to the left. It means pelvis is turned to the right as the result, so that the tail comes exactly behind. Pelvis is now facing the direction of your extended toes. Knees and thighs must, and this is important, stay tightly together. Now your pelvis will face directly forward, sides of pelvis will be on the same level and you will feel very tight inside and in your butt. The muscles which are within pelvis are active now.

We have created the lower body position which can be arbitrarily called "twisted pelvis to the left" even though visually pelvis may stay directly to the front. This particular position along with the similar position when a leg is back is directly applicable to dancing tango. It is required during so called "tango forward walk". In most other tango figures the tailbone correction may not be needed. This pelvis position of advanced dancing allows for a compact accumulation of huge energy. With this technique it is possible to produce F or B walks while the pelvis appears calm, while in fact the huge torque forces oscillate inside in both directions.

Sometimes we will need to show the position of feet. The W (woman's) feet and M (man's) feet have their characteristic look. A darkened "foot" denotes the standing leg, while a white foot is a free or a working leg.

Starting from a neutral position when feet are together, when you put the pelvis into twisting position, say to the left, a free leg will experience tendency to extend forward creating a certain characteristic Tango look. It is the man's position on the picture. If the free leg is slightly extended back, behind the standing leg, it also creates a characteristic look of Tango as it is shown with woman's feet. Also the knees have a tendency to come together.

Overall, the position of the feet is very important in tango. Correct feet positioning is the result of correct pelvis and torso preparations. Observing foot positions is one of the few ways to judge the body technique. If a free foot is relaxed and near the standing leg on the side or a knee is stuck out, it is a sign that pelvis is not twisted, not active, not ready for dance, not ready for an action.

Now you understand what I mean when I say that the pelvis may act as a "twisted in a certain direction" body part even though it may not appear as such. For our theoretical reasoning, I will abbreviate the pelvis turned to the left or to the right explicitly like it is shown on the picture (again, even though in actuality it may not appear this way).

Direction of pelvis is important. Any torso position asks for the corresponding, most suitable and convenient position of the pelvis. By controlling his pelvis, a dancer may produce powerful dance figures. In general, it is sufficient to distinguish three pelvis positions as shown on the picture.
a). Neutral;
b). Turned to the Left;
c). Turned to the Right.
It is drawn on diagrams with the pelvis symbol turned to the left or to the right in relation to the vertical line.

I will call what has been presented so far, a twisted pelvis position, a "Crossed position" of the pelvis or simply "Crossed Pelvis". The muscle tensions within the pelvis create the same feeling as muscle tensions within upper torso and lower torso when they are twisted in opposite directions. Two Crossed Pelvis positions, to the right and to the left, are presented in the upper row of the picture below. A darker short line presents a "direction where the tail is twisted to". The tail is twisted in the opposite direction in relation to "upper" pelvis. The result is a pelvis which is visually flat, facing forward. This is analogous to "Twisted" position of torso.

There is another way to charge the pelvis, the energy however is different. It is presented in the middle row on the picture. I will call it "Open position" of the pelvis, or simply "Open Pelvis". The feeling is the same like when upper torso and lower torso are twisted in the same direction. So here, Pelvis and Tail are "twisted" in the same direction, but still there is a torque between them. Tail "is twisted" more (in the same direction). It is easier to achieve when the free leg is directed side, but it is possible when the leg is extended F or B. This is an analogues to "Overtwisted" position of torso.

"Crossed Pelvis" keeps the leg closer to the body, but an "Open Pelvis" position keeps the free leg very far away when it is back, it keeps the pelvis visibly twisted a lot when it is forward. That is why I call it open. The term sounds misleading, since the pelvis is twisted as well, but I could not come out with a better name. "Open" is a good word, since the legs in Open Pelvis are open. The first term should be named "Closed Twisted Pelvis", and the second one "Open Twisted Pelvis". With Closed Twisted Pelvis, knees and thighs touch each other and it is called "Knees Together". The leg can be extended F, S, or B in any position, but some directions are more comfortable.

In short:
Closed Twisted Position of pelvis, "Crossed Pelvis" is analogous to Twisted position of Torso.
Open Twisted Position of pelvis, "Open Pelvis" is analogues to Overtwisted position of Torso.

Usually, there is no need for a special graphical abbreviation of the "Tail" since from the context it is usually clear what it should be. In case it is needed, I am going to use it. The abbreviation is a short thick line crossing the pelvis line. It is useful to think about it as a Tail. A strong powerful tail, like a dinosaur tail.

Practice the feeling the tail. Extend the leg to the side and stretch it. Charge the tail in one direction. Then release the tension. With it you should feel and see how the pelvis rebound in the opposite direction.

To distinguish a position when the pelvis is not "twisted" in any way staying neutral, I will call it Side Position of Pelvis. It is a very common position which happens after a side step. When tail is charged, the position will be called Tail-Charged Neutral. Side position of pelvis is similar to the Neutral position of the torso. There is no need for the tail symbol for the Tail-Charged Neutral. If no special symbol of the tail is present on a diagram, I will assume Crossed Pelvis or Side position are used. These are by far the most common pelvis positions of Tango. As in the case with torso, a side position of pelvis does not mean it is relaxed. No. Muscles in both directions have tonus, the leg is stretched. You should feel it. It is a position when movement in any direction is possible only not as powerful as when the pelvis is twisted. It corresponds to the neutral position in torso when arms are stretched to sides.

Summarizing, we have Crossed and Open positions of the pelvis. Crossed and Open positions are charged with the tail. In Crossed position tail "is twisted" contrary, in Open position - to the same direction. Neutral position can be charged or not. Charged Neutral position is similar to Open. Non-Charged Neutral position is called Side Position.

On the picture:

  • Upper row. Crossed Pelvis. On the left picture pelvis is "turned" right, tail is turned left, therefore overall pelvis position will be perpendicular to the front direction. Knees will be together no matter on what leg you are standing.
    On the right picture it is opposite.
  • Middle row. Open Pelvis. On the left picture pelvis is "turned" right, tail also is turned right which makes legs and pelvis very "open" standing on any leg, knees have tendency to go away from each other in any position of free leg. On the right picture it is opposite.
  • Bottom row. Tail-Charged Neutral. It is a neutral position of the pelvis like after a side step with the tail charging it to the right and left. This will slightly move the butt to the right or left.

More abbreviations: for a standing leg and free leg and its direction.

If a dancer is standing on the L leg, like it is shown with a special abbreviation here meaning "on the ground", the Crossed and Open Pelvis positions to the left will be like in the picture. A free leg can be extended anywhere but the preferred, "natural" way , when the leg "asks itself to come to" position will be Forward for Crossed, and Back or Side for Open. The free leg direction is shown with the white arrow.

This is another source of the Lead-and-Follow game in dancing. As in the case with Torso, pelvis tensions and positions are clearly felt by a partner. If a dancer is trying to match his pelvis with his partner, the leg will "go" in a certain way. So, there is lead with Torso and there is lead with Pelvis. Both can be used in dancing.

Abdomen Area as a Direction Stabilizer. Extra Twist to a Dance

All body areas we considered so far, including the lower torso area, are able to twist independently. There is one more area of interest which is able to twist independently of the neighboring areas of lower torso and pelvis. It is an "abdomen area" (of spine), the area on the level of navel. With some practice you will be able to twist lower torso independently of abdomen area. Touch the navel and pelvis with the fingers of the same hand and move lower torso in such way that fingers do not feel any move. What you are twisting is the lower torso area. Similarly you can make the twist when navel moves to the left or to the right - that is an abdomen area twist. Therefore, if navel moves, it is abdomen twist. If it does not, it is torso twist. Abdomen area may move in the direction contrary to lower torso.

The main purpose of abdomen area movement is this. When lower torso is twisted, the center of torso is deviated away from the frontal direction. This is not always desirable, for example, in the forward walk. The abdomen area may twist in the opposite direction to correct it. This indeed makes the straight forward walk the most complex figure in tango since in all other elements this correction is not required. But it adds the great pleasure to the dance since you introduce one more part and two more "dissociation" planes which brings their number to 5 including the neck. Indeed the tango body is like a snake. With the walk, all the twists twist in opposite direction on every step.

Moving abdomen area may be done completely independently, but it is more difficult. The easiest way is to move the abdomen when all body parts above move together with it. This movement and the energy charge which comes with it is important in tango, but by itself does not define a figure. On the graphics, the abdomen area is shown with a triangle on the right or on the left depending on where it is turned. If it is not turned, or if it is unimportant for the current topic, the triangle is omitted.

On the left picture the abdomen and all body parts above are turned to the left. On the right picture, the abdomen area is twisted to the right, but lower torso is facing front by mean of twisting contrary to the left. On the middle picture, the lower torso area is not twisted, but the abdomen area is twisted right. To preserve the forward position of the nose, the lower torso will feel a slight twist. This twist is between the lower torso and abdomen area. This position is somewhat unstable and very difficult to achieve. It is best to assume it does not exists.

When one is trying to experience different twists with abdomen area and lower torso area, one may think that they are interconnected, like twisting to L of abdomen is equal to twisting of lower torso in a certain direction. This is not so: the lower torso will still be able to create torque in relation to the abdomen area to R or to L in extreme abdomen positions. The difference however is very small. That is why for now I prefer to separate these two entities. Indeed, the twist in the abdomen area may affect feeling in lower torso. I will persue further developments in theory before I say more about it. As of now it seems to me, the most important is the twist between upper and lower torso. Abdomen area twist serves as an adjusting function, the function of maintaining the whole torso in a certain direction, to L or to R. It does not seem to be used in the production of energy for dance movements and therefore its role is one of serving. Let us assume that for now.

While abdomen area as a separate entity for twisting serves a supporting role, the twist between lower torso and pelvis with the torque between them is powerful and is widely used. It is an important, useful, pleasant and beautiful twist. Unfortunately it is not the most important twist for a dance like "Close Embrace Argentine Tango", especially if it is the only twist which a dancer creates. The torso and pelvis twists are the most important, and they define all the figures of the dance as I will show you later.