Tango Barre Workout

For years, people have said that my dance background probably has made me a better tango dancer. It isn’t about the skills involved; it is mainly about strength and flexibility. I have strong feet and ankles, good balance, a strong core, a flexible back, etc. These come from a lifetime of dancing. I started thinking about how I could use that experience to help other dancers. After a lot of deliberation, I decided to try teaching a tango barre workout.

Specifically, it is a class that draws on ballet barre exercises and applies them to tango. (It is not like all of the pilates-based “barre” workouts, many of which have nothing to do with ballet.) Like all new classes, it is taking a while for me to get the feel of the class just right, but I am getting there. It’s a pretty simple approach:

  • Strengthen feet and ankles
  • Improve posture
  • Improve balance
  • Practice fluid motion
  • Build muscle memory
  • Build body awareness
  • Stretch

I think ballet has a lot to offer tango dancers. It is fun to play around with the intersection of ballet and tango, to explore ballet exercises that are so familiar to me and approach them as a tango dancer. Of course, many of these exercises are inspired by conversations and classes with other dancers and teachers, so it isn’t as though I have invented them from scratch. But that doesn’t make it any less fun to play around with them!

If I pulled out my camera and started recording some of the exercises, would anyone be interested in seeing them?

P.S. Contrary to what is stated in a recent post by MIM, ballet does not teach you to lift the free hip. A good ballet dancer will drop the free hip, just like in tango. Unfortunately, this error is often overlooked by teachers and thus not corrected properly. You can lift out of the standing leg and drop the free hip, which allows a nice sway of the hips without “sitting” into the standing leg and ending up with salsa hips. On the other hand, there are differences in the quality of movement in ballet and tango, which is why my class is geared toward tango dancers and isn’t just a normal ballet class.


6 thoughts on “Tango Barre Workout

  1. Yet, there is something about women who have taken ballet. Something magical. I often will ask and find out that my intuition was right that they took ballet “a long time ago.” There is lightness and grace. I also can tell very quickly if the person has had tai chi. Whenever we learn a new dance, however, I think it is important to take the grace and rhythm of the music to the next dance more than any particular movement. It would be an interesting study / blind fold test: Who took ballet? Who is a ballroom dancer? Who loves salsa — all felt in and through the embrace. I am perhaps overconfident, but I think I can feel the difference. What a precious thing to hold someone in my arms and feel the little girl in a pink tutu still in there wanting to dance.

    • “Whenever we learn a new dance, however, I think it is important to take the grace and rhythm of the music to the next dance more than any particular movement.”

      Absolutely. It isn’t so much about taking a particular movement from one dance to the next. It’s about carrying over your body awareness, musicality, strength, and so on.

  2. Thanks for nicely describing the hip issue and for clarifying the point about the “pulled up hip”. I think I meant that ballet teaches (and I was taught) to always “pull up” (through the core, through the legs, etc.) and it is this that can cause a lot of tension in the pelvic area in other dances. As well, ballet definitely teaches dancers to keep their hips level – that is why part of the ballet uniform (in my day)included wearing a white elastic around the waist. Meanwhile in tango you don’t want to keep your hips perfectly level.

    By the way, your exercises sound great!


    • Yes, I know what you mean. I blame all of the teachers who repeat “pull up” over and over without looking at what the students are doing. 😉 I had a pointe teacher who was constantly telling everyone to push farther onto their toes—it wasn’t until I took a class somewhere else that someone told me I was going too far over my point. (I think this happens in all dance classes to some extent. It seems to be a matter of teachers repeating the same instructions regardless of how their students respond to those instructions.)

      But you are right, ballet does teach dancers to keep their hips level. Dropping the hip in ballet usually just prevents it from lifting up, whereas dropping the hip in tango actually means dropping it below the other hip. To me, it feels like the same intention but with different effects—like when I tendu a la seconde: I let my ankle relax and my free hip drop in tango, whereas I keep my ankle strong and “drop” my free hip (which actually just levels my hips) in ballet. Hard to describe in words.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. I’d definitely be interested in seeing what you come up with…

    Going along with what Mark said, I often get asked if I’ve done ballet even though I haven’t (I’ve taken a few intro classes but that’s it). Although I did have some experience in a couple other forms, I typically find that even experienced instructors don’t guess them correctly. There is one woman in my community who I have a strong feeling would be great at salsa because she naturally moves her hips in a salsa-like way even though she’s never tried the dance. Usually I can tell ballet dancers more from their musculature and the frame of their upper body than from their overall quality of movement. Sounds like a fun experiment. Makes me think of the people who listen to tapes of people speaking and can tell (or make extremely educated guesses about) where they grew up, studied, and lived, what their socioeconomic and cultural background is, etc. Our speech and movement patterns are so complex…

    • Well then, I’ll see if I can get help taking video of some of the exercises. They aren’t earth-shattering, but maybe they’ll be helpful!

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