Three Powerlifting Cues I Use for Tangoing

Three Lifting Cues I Use for Tango

I started dancing tango about 7 months ago. I had done a bit in college, something like 5 years ago, but not enough to really count. I was never a great dancer, in fact, during choreography for “Kiss me, Kate” I was politely told to just stand still after attempting something simple at the prompting of the choreographer. Something changed between my college attempts and now however. When I reinitiated tangoing, I suddenly felt like I was very comfortable, relaxed, and was learning quickly. I’m sure there’s something to be said for reminiscence of previously attempted motor skills, but as the moves progressed far beyond what I had ever attempted previously and the ease of comprehension stayed high, that argument seemed less likely.

I suspect that I can attribute my improvement in dancing capabilities to one thing: picking up heavy objects. Learning to train CrossFit and subsequently working a lot with movement patterns both in myself and others, I started to become aware of common faults in my own movement and mobility. While watching someone lift and watching someone tango may not seem very closely related, both activities inform one another, and illuminate movement deficiencies in each other that may not be so easily observable in the alternate modality.

As I (or my teachers) notice these movement problems, I have begun to apply my old lifting cues to help myself improve. Here are the three most frequent cues I’ve transferred from lifting to tangoing.

Knees Out: 

I don’t know how many times I’ve used this cue while watching them lift. This is a common fault which can lead to pain and decreased power. Collapsing inwards causes weird stresses on various parts of the knee. When bending in a weight bearing positions, knees should be out and feet flat.

Much to my dismay however, my tango teacher pointed out that I was collapsing inwards which performing multiple movements, both rebounds and sacadas. That was a huge facepalm moment for me. My knees had been bugging me a bit, but I’d failed to translate what I knew about lifting into another type of body movement. Luckily, now I’m aware and have begun to override this bad habit.

Shoulders Back and Externally rotated:

Another tango teacher literally did this same movement to illustrate how to get into proper posture for the embrace. I was letting my shoulders collapse inwards, leading to a fallen chest and loose arms, two things which are highly detrimental to tangoing. The lead needs to be relaxed, but firm, with a high chest and shoulders back and down. Isn’t if funny how setting up for a max effort shoulder press and embracing a beautiful woman to tango both start out with the same proper posture?

Brace your core and keep the back flat:

I say this to myself before I deadlift. Turns out it works for tangoing too. Posture is crucial, and sloppy stabilization leads to sloppy performance. Arching my back forward or backwards while tangoing (or deadlifting for that matter) is going to lead to stress and pain in my back over time. After spending an hour or two dancing, My posture often starts to falter and my back starts to get sore.

As an added bonus, good posture makes the lead much simpler to follow. It provides the body with a relaxed tension which makes communication of intention much easier between leader and follower.


Even more so than with lifting, tango takes an immense amount of concentration. I’m so busy not running into other people, and trying to figure out what I want to do next, and trying not to kick my partner, that I don’t really have time to think about all of these things while I’m dancing. How then do I improve these faults? Two ways:

Mindful practice: I will frequently decide to work in one move or work on one issue for a given song. Maybe for one song I’ll try to work on keeping my knees out during sacadas, or perhaps for the next one I’ll be sure to keep my shoulders back. (If you have a helpful partner, you can ask them to tell you if they spot you doing any of your bad habits too.)

Entering the Tunnel: Kelly Starrett of talks about entering the tunnel in a lift as being the beginning of tension in a lift. Once you have entered the tunnel, your movement pattern for the lift has been set. If you forgot to brace your core and back, you can’t go back now without resetting the lift. On the other hand, if you set your shoulders properly, it’s a fairly simple matter to complete the lift with good position. With tangoing, I try to be mindful of my posture from the first embrace onwards. Granted, I may lose it during the song, but often I can find time for a slight pause to reset myself if I notice I’ve lost it.

That’s it: knees out, shoulders back, core braced.

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