Tango Walking - confusing cause and effect

8th May 2010

"Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought." ~ Matsuo Basho


Warning - this is just a theory. It's an interesting theory, but it may well be completely wrong...

"The tango walk is just like walking naturally" ~ many tango teachers.

To which my response has always been "Why on earth would you walk like that naturally?!"

However there comes a point where a significant number of people who are clearly very good at walking in tango have said the same thing that you have to start looking for a deeper meaning.

My first thought was simply that they'd forgotten what it's like to be a beginner - happens to a lot of teachers in any subject. Sure that's how they walk naturally now, but I'll bet they didn't when they started

But I've had an interesting lightbulb moment. Shortly after saying "The tango walk is just like walking naturally" they'll go onto to give a specific example "It's like you're late for an important appointment. Not late enough to actually run, but enough to be walking fast". There's a whole range of these. The weird thing is not once have I heard them give a description of a situation that I'd consider to be walking normally. I amble given the choice, I certainly don't walk like I'm late or my dog just died.

Cause and effect

Various people, myself included, have looked at great detail at the mechanics of the tango walk. What I'm beginning to suspect however is that when non-teachers do this we confuse cause and effect. Say you freeze a video of a skilled teacher halfway through a step and their leg is turned out. It's reasonable to think to yourself, I should make sure my leg is turned out halfway through a step.

What I've consistently found is that this approach causes more and more problems. It's like a Rubic's cube. In getting one square to where you want it, you muck up the rest of the cube.

A different approach

What if instead of trying to adjust the mechanics of how you walk, you instead walked normally, but changed the mechanics of your body?

If you look at the way people way in everyday life, few people could actually be described as walking naturally. Sitting hunched over at desks takes it toil. So first it makes sense to try and sort out your basic posture.

However then I go back to this

"The weird thing is not once have I heard them give a description of a situation where I'd be walking normally."

What actually changes when you're walking as if you're late? It's not really the mechanics of the walk, you don't start turning your feet out or anything like that. What changes for want of a better word is the relative amounts of tension and relaxation in your body.

If I amble, I'm completely relaxed. Which means I tend to sink into my hips. I could solve the problem by tensing my hips - considering my hips to be the cause of the problem. Or I can leave my hips as they are and concentrate on making just my torso more "up" (the common analogy used is imagining a string on the top of your head being pulled up) which will in turn prevent my hips from sinking - considering my hips to be the effect of the problem.

If I'm right, this makes learning to walk in tango considerably easier. Instead of focusing on 57 minutia, what you need to do is practice on getting the various parts of your body in the correct tension / relaxation / direction. The distinct benefit of this it will apply to everything you do in tango, not just your walk.

I'd advise going to a teacher and getting them to explain what the correct tension / relaxation / directions are. I doubt it's something you could figure out from observation.

~ Christopher O'Shea, 8th May 2010

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