Listen with All of Yourself,
Meld into a Respect-filled Oneness of Being with Another,
Aim for Lightness and Least Effort,
Optimize Self-Organization and Skeletal Support
Embrace and Enjoy the Dance/Movement Moment
I had my first Argentinean tango dance experience in a friend’s living room, standing in stocking feet. He pushed the play button on his iPod and invited me into a salon-style embrace and embodied conversation that I could not intellectually comprehend. As we were dancing, I kept stopping and asking, “How is this possible? I’m following everything you are leading and I’ve never danced tango before in my life.” It was as if my body knew exactly what to do when from each of his clearly led invitations. His friendly and warm response was, “Just shut up and keep dancing. Every time you stop is a harsh interruption.” So I shut up, smiled, and glowed for the remainder of the song. I was hooked! A week later, I was taking three tango lessons a week and attending a weekly practice session, traveling either a half hour or 45 minutes to each one. There’s no Argentinean tango in Sequim where I live. I even bought a pair of low heels so I could look like a dancer and be positioned on my feet in a way that projected my persona and energy towards my dance partner. The fact that I was surviving and thriving in heels was a miracle unto itself. The last time I remember donning heels was some thirty years into the past; the heels being clogs, and I fell while wearing them more than once.
A few months after my first tango experience, I attended a workshop for dancers of all levels, co-taught by Jamie, an experienced lead tango dancer, and Masha, an experienced follow tango dancer who also was a Feldenkrais® practitioner in the Netherlands. I paired up with a lead and danced one of the fundamental steps in tango – the molinete (a step in which the follow, like a planet, does a grapevine step in a circle around the lead who’s the sun). Jamie and Masha watched all our dyads dancing round in circles. Dancing this step with effortless grace and ease, and in synchrony with one’s dance partner, requires uninterrupted breathing; and well-organized balance, timing, and disassociation (a tango term that essentially refers to dancers turning themselves into towels twisted in opposite directions from the two ends in very specific ways). High tonus and poor carriage of the head (Feldenkrais terms) create havoc. After dancing in circles for an entire song, Masha asked us to place the blankets we’d brought on the floor and lie on our backs on the blankets.
“What?” It felt like a strange request to most of us there, but we did what we were asked. Masha then led us through a mini-movement lesson. I now know that these kinds of lessons are called Awareness Through Movement® lessons. After scanning how we were making contact with the floor, we rolled onto our sides and proceeded to do an adapted and shortened version of a classic twisting lesson to bring more freedom of movement into the mid-back. Then we returned to embrace our dance partner and again dance molinetes.
Dancing a molinete was a completely different experience; it was effortless. At no moment did I feel off-balance, tug, or push my lead off his axis. With the tension gone, I was able to reach my back stepping foot in a way that I twisted almost three-quarters around myself. Amazement, joy, and confusion splashed across my entire face. The surprise in the dance hall was palpable. At that moment, I knew that whatever this “Feldenkrais stuff was,” it was something I wanted to know more about.
A couple of years later, I enrolled in the Eugene 1 training program. During my professional Feldenkrais® training program, I went dancing several evenings a week in Eugene’s vibrant tango community. I observed and measured the effects of the hours of Feldenkrais lessons through my dance. For me, the Feldenkrais Method and Argentinean tango were perfect complements. From tango, I brought my ability to be present within myself and listen with my whole being to my Feldenkrais training. From the Feldenkrais Method, I brought heightened awareness to my dance.
Sometimes, my Feldenkrais training days resulted in ecstatic dance filled nights and perfect axis. Other times, my Feldenkrais training days destroyed my dance nights. One episode that always brings chortles, occurred after a day spent turning myself into a pretzel of interlaced fingers, crossed arms, lifting different fingers– completely remapping what was left and right. That night everything ‘felt’ off. I was totally awkward. I perceived that we were stepping to my left to open when we should have been stepping to my right; that my right hand was around his back when it should have been my left; that my left hand was holding his hand when it should have been my right hand. The list of strange sensations was endless. About two-thirds through the evening, completely distraught, I stopped mid-step and mid-song. Vigorously shaking my right hand in the air, I said in despair, “I don’t understand why my left hand is not cooperating.” I kept repeating this sentence until my partner, thankfully a friend, grabbed my hand and put it in front of my face. “Meet your right hand,” he said. Then he took my left hand that was around his back and said, “Meet your left hand.”
“No” I said, “That’s my right hand.” He took each hand, alternately bringing one, then the other, in front of my face, announcing which was which. It took a couple of rounds before it finally dawned on me that my perceptions of left and right were backwards from reality. What a laugh we had! Of course, he wanted to know what had created such a left-right reversal. “Feldenkrais today,” I replied. Another burst of laughter and then we returned to a close embrace. Thankfully, my left-right subjective reality matched objective reality, and cruzadas, rebotes, molinetes, ochos, colgadas, volcadas, barridas, sacadas, enganches, ganchos and boleos felt like familiar movements again.
Today, three years post-graduation from my training, the Feldenkrais Method and Argentinean tango are still perfect complements, and I still consider myself a “student” of both. From tango, I continue to bring my ability to be present within myself and listen with my whole being to my Feldenkrais practice. As a Feldenkrais teacher, one of my intentions is the experience of blending and synchronizing through clarity in touch and trajectory, and optimal self-organization. From the Feldenkrais Method, I use what I’ve learned about biomechanics, skeletal support, and self-organization to dance Argentinean tango with more consistent presence of axis and more complete connection with my partner and the music. I cherish my capacity as a dancer to breathe with my partner, clearly sense my partner’s axis and actual footsteps on the floor, feel how subtle changes in one of our bodies is reflected in the other, and live together in the pauses of the music. I give thanks to my work as a student and teacher in the Feldenkrais Method; I give thanks to the existence of Argentinean tango in my life.
Katherine Wieseman, PhD, GCFP
(originally written in 2017 for Sensability, Feldenkrais Guild of North America’s magazine for the public)