It's all in the hips . . .
Well, all in my *right* hip - the trouble, that is. I suffered a labral tear in dance class many, many years ago and even though my hip rolled back into place fairly quickly, the damage stuck around for quite awhile. Since I started tango, I've had to learn how to dance on a hip that doesn't pivot right and locks whenever I place my balance over it. When I started doing the physical therapy exercises I remembered from way-back-when, I thought the locking was mostly a case of "guarding behavior' - favoring and protecting the hip that was injured. But as I've tried to work on it, it isn't a matter of just loosening up, or not actively locking the hip - it's a matter of relearning how to move on that hip. Right now I can't do the exercise in tango-blog.com's side step exercise (see video) without my right hip locking. I can unlock it/loosen it when I notice it, but it takes time and attention.
When dancing, I've mostly ignored it and either stepped through to the next movement to get to a more comfortable position (what I do 95% of the time) which often gets me ahead of my leader, or having to rely on my leader to stabilize me (as briefly as possible) until he leads the next movement. Sorry guys. I didn't know how to fix it until now. And even with the information and exercises I have, it's going take a while.
At least now I have a better understanding of my limited range of motion on side steps, especially in molinetes, to my right - as well as balance issues on colgadas that require weight and pivot on my right leg. My hip doesn't hurt at all during those, though sometimes it pops, but it does lock and limit my motion a bit.
Stepping in Style?
I've written before about how strange it is for me to hear that my foot work looks good or that my walk is graceful. I don't know if or when I'll really internalize that information, but it is nice to hear - if only because I work so hard at it. Grisha made favorable comments about my walk, and about having developed my own style.
When I look at my walk, when it's at its best, I see the combination of two teachers, Mardi Brown and Daniela Arcuri. I can't yet call anything I do in this dance "my style" because I can trace nearly everything to a teacher (by which I mean someone who has taught me something important in the dance - not necessarily a teacher in the traditional sense). I don't remember which aspect came from which teacher, but I took what worked from both of their teachings, and have tried to create something that works for me. I work on it constantly and I probably always will. Just as I always concentrate on my embrace. Everything I ever want to do or think about doing in this dance, relies on those two aspects to work.
Here's where I owe Alex Long an apology. I gave him hell over a post where I thought he was being overly critical of followers at a milonga. Alex simply "noticed most of the followers were "stepping". On their toes. With heels elevated."
I wasn't mad because he was wrong, I was mad because he was critiquing at the milonga - even though he really was trying to be helpful. Even as irritated as I was, I couldn't help focusing a little (okay, a lot) more on my steps. Side steps, aside from the hip thing, were pretty good. Forward steps, thanks to Darryl Gaston (Dallas), were coming along nicely. Back steps however, were quite another story. Awkward, sickling under, and stepping with heel elevated. Alex was right - it was making my steps not just look uneven and wobbly, but feel uneven and wobbly to my leaders.
So I practiced in my kitchen with a full length mirror back and forth, and back and forth. I practiced in the stacks of my medical records department. I practiced at the grocery store. You get the idea.
I've also been practicing battement tendu, a ballet training exercise for improving turn-out of the foot. Not only has this smoothed out my strides a great deal, but it also relieves cramping in my, coincidentally right, foot.
When I danced with Grisha during our lesson I knew he would be running down a sort of checklist. That's what I was there for - a kind of diagnostic tune-up. After addressing my locking hip in the side step, he walked me around the room. First short, quick steps, then longer and longer, and longer, steps; then slower steps, and finally a few ocho cortados. When we stopped, he looked down and smiled broadly at me. "Good, I was checking your walk," he'd been watching in the mirror behind me, "you walk well. Very nice style - good!"
I think I managed to gibber something or other, and blush. That's it.
Realizing I wasn't going to contribute anything useful verbally, he embraced me again and started on the rest of the check list (which he explained only after we were done dancing). The rest of the list wasn't as positive, but that's what I was there to work on. (I have a separate post coming about the idea of the "leader's checklist".)
And then the dreaded free leg issue. . .
As it turns out my free leg still hasn't been truly emancipated. I can relax it with leaders I know well, and at milongas I'm very comfortable in - but more than half the time I'm still keeping the free leg tensed. The ironic thing is that I tend to want to keep control of that leg so that I don't accidentally get led (and then follow) something that ends up being dangerous on the dance floor. Yet keeping my left softer, more yielding, makes it easier to pull in movements that there's suddenly no room for. With that leg tense, nearly every sacada turns into a swinging out of my leg, when it could have been a smaller, frequently prettier, leg wrap, for example. When I did manage to free up my free leg, I noticed three things right away.
1.) I got more stable, when I was afraid I would be less stable,
2.) I got fast. I mean really fast. No hesitating, translating, guessing. I actually felt the transition of really giving Grisha control of my free leg.
3.) My movements got smaller and more flexible, not bigger.
So what to do to increase the "free-ness"? Miles on the pista. That's it. I can do wall ochos and the like, but it's just going to take the conscious effort of relaxing (though not completely limp - just more yielding) the leg with every leader I dance with.
So much to work on and that's still not everything we covered in the lesson. I'm so glad I took notes. The lesson was in a residence and the light was poor, so I didn't get to record any of it. Maybe next time.