Yes, well at least that's what I thought when an acquaintance of mine commented approvingly about my posture. "You should check out Argentine tango or at least rent the video of the show Forever Tango," she told me. I thought to myself, "I'm a martial artist, not a dancer." It took me some time to come around, but eventually I realized that I had nothing to lose and opened the dance section of my Yellow Pages.
Before I jump too far ahead, let me tell you a little bit about myself and my martial arts background. I am an Israeli artist living in Los Angeles. Like many people I know, my first introduction to martial arts was through watching the most recent Kung Fu action film with my dad and my little brother. After emerging out of the theatre my brother and I would try to imitate the moves that we had just seen (especially the sounds!). Despite that early fascination with the martial arts, I didn't pursue it until I completed my service in the Israeli army. Needless to say, once I tried it I was hooked. That was more then twelve years ago.
In the intervening time, I tried many styles- Tai Chi, Karate, Capoeira and Krav Maga before I found the one that fit me the best, Muay Thai (Thai kickboxing). Personaly, I find that Muay Thai has a combination that many other styles are lacking; a deep rooted tradition and a very practical way of applying the moves (kicks,punches, knees, elbows, etc...) to a fight. I found Kru Vut Kamnark as my teacher and felt the "Martial art gods" smiled upon me to find him.
The gods smiled upon me again in my pursuit of Argentine Tango and I found myself studying with Michael Espinoza and Yolanda Rossi who are among the top teachers and dancers in Los Angeles.
I have been dancing Argentine tango for over three years (with average of five to seven days a week at least for three hours, sometime even eight). The more I dance, the more I see the similarities between Muay Thai and Argentine tango: reaction time, the mental challenge, and the sense of rhythm and musicality. I strongly believe that I am a better tango dancer because of my Muay Thai training and a better fighter because of my tango dancing.
In Muay Thai a fighter has to be able to read his opponent's body movements, interpret them, react, hide his own intentions and simultaneously telegraph false intentions: and all of this at a fraction of a second. Similarly in tango the reaction time has to be very fast for both the male and the female dancers. Except for choreographed shows, the dance is entirely improvised while at the same time it is a complex weave of intertwined and kicking legs where the man and the women are often moving separately, yet interdependently. in order to keep the dance smooth and flowing it is crucial for both dancers to be able to follow each other. The only way to make it look effortless is by reading each other body language and reacting as fast as possible. The major difference between the martial arts and the dance is of course the sending of any "fake" signals, which would disturb the oneness of the couple that is at the heart of the tango.
After the initial round of my first fight Kru Vut came to my corner and yelled "what are you doing"? "I dont know" I answered. This brings me to the next parallel between the martial art and the dance. In a ring, as on the dance floor it is crucial to think!!! (well, at least for the leader). In a fight, each of the opponents has to figure out the weaknesses and strong points that the person he is facing has. I see it as a physical game of chess ("when I kick, do I get the same reaction every time? And if so, then what should I do?). To be a good fighter one has to be able to think on his feet. Similarly, in tango when the leader initiates a move he has to be aware of the rest of the couples around him, and move accordingly. He also needs to be sensitive to the follower's skill. If the dancer is experienced the leader can feel free to lead more complicated steps and vice versa; but to find out the experience level, the leader goes through a gentler version of testing out his opponent.
In Argentine tango the goal is for the two individuals to become a single entity that "floats" to the music. The dance
can't be done without the music; it is in a way the third and silent partner. Tango music is intricate and allows every
dancer to create his own rhythm and interpret it in his or her own way. The idea is that ultimately the music will
tell the dancers how to dance to it. Like a dancer, the fighter has to create his own rhythm: unlike a dancer, a fighter simultaneously tries to take his opponent out of rhythm. If the fighting is taking place at a Thai ring where the traditional music is played, the fighter can use the Thai music as a base to create his rhythm. And as in tango, where the intensity of the music inspires the intensity of the dance, traditional Thai music tends to speed up and intensify as the fight progresses
There are few places that my Muay Thai training helps my tango dancing and vice versa. For example, practicing Muay Thai kicks helps me develop a great sense of balance and strong legs. I can use it to execute more challenging tango moves: leading the follow to stand on one leg, tilt him or her and slide them across the floor, or lift the follow completely of the ground and then raise one of my legs in the air. Also thanks to the awareness of my opponents unpredictable movements in a boxing ring, I'm able to make a quick change of direction to avoid contact with other couples on the dance floor. On the other hand, skills that I acquired dancing assist me in fighting. For example, the ability to lead a dance partner with my center can be utilized to mislead a fight partner. The dance is done in a way that emphasizes doing every move to both the left and the right sides: this can contribute to th.e ability to fight on either side. When evaluating those points, I realize that the mental challenge and this body-awareness makes me a rounder fighter and a better dancer.
Ultimately, it would be great if there was a way to combine tango and Muay Thai. you might think that this is impossible, I disagree. For example; The other day or shall I say the other night, I was dancing with a very good dancer and I was connected to the music. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a friend who stood very close to the dance floor and I overheard him making a remark about my dancing to another person. Imagine his surprise when my left leg did a flyby in front of his face while I was still dancing. Now that's what I call fun.
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