What’s new, Buenos Aires? That’s what physical therapist/Pilates instructor Lauren Polivka wanted to find out when she visited the Argentine capital last year. She soon stumbled across “Tango Pilates,” an exercise method that combines elements of the two disciplines.
Participants perform core-strengthening steps on a square apparatus to tango tunes, which encourage a level of calorie burn you don’t typically get from mind-body exercise. But what really hooked Polivka is that, like the dance, it takes two to pull it off. “Working together makes you so much more aware,” she says.
And now, she’s working with Tamara Di Tella, creator of Tango Pilates, to introduce it at Glover Park’s Balance Gym (2121 Wisconsin Ave. NW; 202-965-2121). Although the method is taught around the globe, Balance is one of the first sites in the U.S. to host the classes. So, Di Tella swung by recently to get the program off on the right foot.
“Inventions are like children. They grow,” says Di Tella, who first developed the method in 2004 as a way to rehab Parkinson’s patients. Because coordination was a problem, she paired them one-on-one with instructors so they could mirror each action. After reading some of neurologist Oliver Sacks’ work on how rhythm could motivate movement, she also experimented with various types of music. “It had to be a strong beat. Salsa wouldn’t do. Not New Age. Not cumbia,” she says.
But when she played tango, it clicked — both for patients and the general public. It amazes Di Tella that she never thought of the connection between tango and Pilates before, since both require concentration, perfect posture, balance, coordination and movements that flow from the core. “Tango and Pilates are exactly the same except that the tango came first,” she adds.
Inspired by the findings, she invented her own apparatus: a slightly elevated square base that can be adjusted with a variety of accessories, including long poles, arches and elastic bands. And she developed 1,000 exercises to go along with it.
In a typical private session for a fitness enthusiast, the instructor (such as Polivka) starts by standing on the opposite side of the apparatus and stepping up and down on the base. Even this is challenging to mimic because you’re wearing socks, which will cause you to slip if you’re not engaging your core muscles. She can then segue into step ups combined with kicks, quick side lunges and spins.
The attachments wobble if they’re pulled too hard or incorrectly during the movements, so you’ll get immediate feedback from the apparatus and the instructor if you need to adjust what you’re doing.
There’s also a series to do on traditional Pilates equipment, including the reformer. But instead of holding the straps on your own apparatus, you swap. So as you pull the handle toward your head (to pretend to doff your hat), you’re actually moving the instructor on her machine, and she’s moving you.
“It’s a completely new form of exercise,” says Polivka, who’s offering free demos since you have to experience it to understand it. But anyone who hears the sounds of the bandoneon will immediately want to move, and that’s the first step.
Photos by Lawrence Luk for Express