Elementary Tango Physics (22 nov 2008)

In the many lessons I've taken in the course of my tango studies, one recurring concept I've heard is the active use of the energy from the ground. In other words, to think of the ground as containing a vast amount of potential energy that you draw from in order to power your dance and communicate with your partner. Not being a physics student, I always thought of this as being a useful visualization method but having no real world basis. Turns out that it does, in a very literal manner. I realize that I'm a Johnny Come Lately on this one, but it was only very recently that I came across the concept of the normal force. In a nutshell, the normal force is the energy that works counter to forces such as gravity for objects on a surface, I suppose to create equilibrium. However, normal force is variable, while gravity isn't. So I think the trick, for tango dancers, is to take that energy and manipulate it to amplify it and channel it in a specific way. A very direct example of this is in propelling the walk. One digs into the ground in a way that increases the normal force, then uses their muscles to oppose this force, which consequently sends a more substantial sense of weight transference to the partner. Thus, a clearer and stronger communication.

In turn, if I understand correctly, varying the amount of normal force energy stored and released plays a key role in the dynamic of the dance. As such, a dance at a constant velocity will essentially flatten out the normal force, since the constancy allows the normal force to come to a neutral balance against the opposing energy, and the result (when done well) is a kind of floating sensation. Conversely, a dance with varied velocity keeps the normal force shifting and thereby gives the dancers more of a sense of active engagement with their weight, and the result (when done well) is like being on a well designed roller coaster. It's kind of like standing on a train; when the train starts to move there is a sudden instability which requires active compensation to maintain balance (dynamic force), but when it gets to a constant speed it becomes much easier (flat force).

In the past my problem was, I'm guessing, an excessive flattening of this force (which is why, I surmise, teachers often reiterated that I use the ground more). The risk in this is that the partner doesn't feel the intention as clearly as she should. As one person put it, borrowing a phrase from Gertrude Stein, "There's no there there." My tendency was, and perhaps still is, to bring the energy up rather than down. The result is a decrease in normal force, which then translates to less of a sensation of weight to transfer, and so the partner feels less drive. And as a leader, clarity of intention is one of the two main qualities I strive for (the other being mutual comfort). I'd much rather a follower say positive things about my clarity than, say, the number of tricks I know.

Anyway, since I found out about this concept this is how I've been mulling it over. I guess it's not the most romantic way of conceptualizing the dance but I think cold analysis has its uses, as long as we don't get lost in them and forget why we dance in the first place.


Mate? (12 nov 2008)

The other day I was searching around on the web for information about yerba mate and I came across some troubling news. We all know that for a long time the herb has been touted as a kind of wonder food, full of nutrients and anti-oxidants, and has been rising in popularity in this country as an attractive, healthy alternative to coffee as an energy booster. But apparently, there are some sources that are increasingly making the claim that regular mate ingestion significantly increases the risk of certain cancers, particularly that of the mouth and throat. Proponents of the yerba argue that any statistical rise in throat cancer among mate drinkers is more likely due to excessively hot temperature rather than in the yerba itself. But at least one study that did some chemical analysis on several different brands of yerba claims that, though the figures vary widely from brand to brand, the yerba contains a significant amount of certain chemical compounds known as PAHs, which are carcinogenic.

At this point I figure the data is still pretty sketchy, but I think it's a good idea to be aware of the potential for risk and keep attuned as more research is done, and in the meantime enjoy mate in moderation, which is no problem for me. While I like mate very much, I wouldn't describe myself as a habitual drinker. I'll make a batch only a few times a week, and only drink about two to three infusions at a time. I suppose that's well within the range of safety.

As long as I'm on the subject, I'd like to mention some of the yerbas I've tried over the years. My overall favorite is the special blend variety of Rosamonte, which is a brand known for its particularly strong flavor. The special blend has a kind of velvety undertone that almost makes me think of dark chocolate. Another one that I've really liked is Taragui without stems, which has a richer flavor than the stemmed variety. There's a heartiness about it that reminds me a little of fresh baked bread. However, for some reason it seems that Taragui sometimes doesn't agree with my system too well, so I'm starting to shy away from the brand for a while. Most recently, I bought a bag of Amanda. I've only made one batch so far but my initial impression is that it tastes similar to Taragui but softer. It's a very easy one to drink, so I'm happy with it. I've definitely had some that I wasn't so crazy about. One in particular, which I can't remember the name of, was an organic brand that I got for free. I just remember it came in a white bag and tasted terrible, like someone had pulled weeds from their backyard and ground it into yerba.

Anyway, if anyone wants to share some of their thoughts on mate, I'd be interested in hearing about it :)