Reading the Body

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about teaching and tango, and I found Trudi Schoop’s Won’t You Join the Dance? immensely helpful and inspirational.  I think this book gives great examples of one of the most important skills for us as aspiring teachers: reading the body.

So what is reading the body?  Well, the way I see it, it’s starting by breaking down all the different things we see a person doing with their body.  Are they tense? Are they really loose and malleable?  What are they doing with their hands, their feet, their arms, their eyebrows, their shoulders?  For me it’s nice to start here, without trying to put any emotions or words on top of these physical actions.

From there, we can start trying to build a more complete picture.  What do all these discrete elements mean?  Are they telling one unified story or are they showing me that someone is in conflict, either with themselves, between their body and their emotions, or with whatever the teacher or their partner is saying?

At this point, I think it’s helpful to try another method discussed in this book: put yourself in the other person’s position, physically.  If you think their posture looks strange and you’ve isolated why, try doing it with your own body.  Does this help you to understand why they are struggling with something?  As you move your body into whatever contorted position you are observing, does it make it easier for you to explain how to alter it?  Inhabiting another person’s body language even just for a moment has been a very useful way for me to try and figure out how to vocalize what is happening, and how to help people try other things as they dance.

If anyone else has tried this, I would love to talk to you about it!  This is something I’ve been experimenting with whenever someone in the beginner series asks me a question or expresses frustration, and I have found it very useful for helping to see things from their perspective.

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