by Brett Hershey
We can think about our "directions" as we dance: head releasing off the top of our spine, neck free, back lengthening and widening, knees soft.“I quit.”
That’s what I said a decade ago after trying tango for several months, even traveling to the mecca Buenos Aires. As much as I was infatuated with the dance, I was having serious trouble learning it, my quality of movement was embarrassing and when I danced at the milongas, my body, especially my back, was killing me by the end of the night.
At first I blamed it on nagging athletic injuries from intercollegiate sports. However, when a search for a cure led me to the Alexander Technique, I discovered that it was largely due to poor postural and movement habits. I remember my first AT teacher telling me that my back wasn’t killing me, I was killing my back! This was quite an empowering epiphany, and it put me on the road to good use.
As kids, we tend to move well and without pain. Over time, for various reasons, we develop negative - mostly subconscious – psycho-physical habits: we either over-tense certain areas of our bodies and/or collapse others. We “misuse” our bodies as they are designed. And the greater the misuse, the less movement quality we can enjoy and the higher likelihood of pain or injury.
Alexander Technique is ostensibly an owner’s manual for our bodies. It shows us how we mechanically function. With this knowledge, students report a lightness of being, a sense of freedom, increased subtlety, clarity of thought, less pain, etc.
Especially with more difficult steps and positions, we need to maintain our integrity and not "break" our lines by over-tensing or collapsing.Founder F.M. Alexander elucidated basic tenets for good use, such as the head needs to be balanced and releasing off the spine, our neck must be free, our torso lengthening and widening, etc. He also created a process for improving the use of one self:
- Become aware of our negative habits while doing an activity (like tango).
- Inhibit or subtract those habits.
- Allow the right thing to do itself.
For what he discovered (and many eastern gurus would agree) is that our biggest mistake is that we interfere with our inherent good use; we simply need to become aware of the wrong thing, stop doing it and the body will work as designed. It’s a game of subtraction.
And for tango, by decreasing the habitual tension and collapse in our bodies, not only do we move better and more efficiently, but more of us comes through to our partner. It’s like an actor who drops his stage fright so that more of the character can come through to the audience. Additionally, when we are not as burdened by tension and pain, more comes through to us: our partner, the music the other couples, the atmosphere, etc. There’s just less in the way.
After quitting tango and taking Alexander lessons for six months, I was able to return to tango, learn much more quickly, and dance pain free. Now, not only do I dance tango as life permits, but as an Alexander Technique instructor, I enjoy helping other tangueros - from the beginner to the professional - improve their use and therefore decrease pain, increase performance and dissolve what’s in the way of what we all seek: connection with ourselves and each other.
Brett Hershey is a certified Alexander Technique instructor working in the Los Angeles/Burbank area. He has been studying the Alexander Technique for twelve years and graduated from the Alexander Training Institute of Los Angeles in 2008. He works with students from all walks of life in his private practice, and especially enjoys helping those on the tango journey to find greater ease in their movement.You can find out more about his work at www.alexandertango.com, on facebook at Alexander Technique Los Angeles Burbank and by contacting him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 310-346-7198.