Tango is not only a fascinating dance, but also a fascinating philosophy, culture, and lifestyle. The pursuit of tango is the pursuit of connection, love, unity, beauty, harmony and humanity, i.e., an idealism that is not consistent with the dehumanizing reality of the modern world. The world divides us as individuals, but tango unites us as a people and species. In tango we are not individualists, feminists, nationalists, liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, etc., but interconnected and interdependent members of the human family. Tango calls us to tear down the walls, to build bridges, and to regain humanity through connection, cooperation, reconciliation and compromise. It is a dance that teaches the world to love.
October 24, 2018
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Stepping on the beat and dancing to music are not one and the same thing. The former is the basic of musicality, but it is not the most important and sophisticated. Beats are rhythmic stresses that regulate the speed of music. They are interrupted and unemotional. Stepping on the beat is like jumping, the focus is on the accent, and the movement is broken and dry.
The most important thing in dancing is to express the feelings of the music, which lies not in the beats but in the melody. Melody is the linear, sweet and emotional tone in music that adds feelings, beauty and fluidity to music. Dancing to melody is like driving, the focus is on the linear tone, and the movement is continuous and smooth.
In dancing, we can focus on the beats, or we can focus on the melody, which leads to different dance styes. When we focus on the beats, we wait for the beat to come and step on it with force, the movement is sudden, short and incoherent. Here is an example.
This song, Poema, like most tango songs, is nostalgic and melancholy. "Tango is a sad feeling that is danced." - said Enrique Santos Discepoloo. The lyrics of the song were written by Eduardo Bianco, who played the first violin in the orchestra of Teatro Apolo in 1927. Bianco learned that his wife cheated on him with the pianist of the orchestra and shot his rival to death in a fit of jealousy. The lyrics reflected his pain and regret. Here is the English translation by Alberto Paz.
It was a dream of sweet love,
hours of happiness and loving,
it was the poem of yesterday,
that I dreamed,
of gilded color,
vain chimeras of the heart,
it will not manage to never decipher,
so fleeting nest,
it was a dream of love and adoration.
When the flowers of your rose garden,
bloom again ever so beautiful,
you'll remember my love,
and you will come to know,
all my intense misfortune.
Of that one intoxicating poem,
nothing is left between us,
I say my sad goodbye,
you'll feel the emotion,
of my pain…
The music was composed by Mario Melfi in 1932, which was arranged by Francisco Canaro in 1935. Only the last two stanzas were sung in the Canaro's version, by Roberto Maida.
Dancing to Poema, you need to put yourself in the shoes of the poet - like you were biding sad farewell to your past love. You still need to step on the beat, but you don't do it in a sudden and broken way. Rather, you focus on the emotion of the melody and let your steps be even-paced and continuous. Here is an example.
Notice that the couple in this example did not chase the beats, but danced slowly, as were reluctant to let go each other. Their steps are much more supple, fluid and melodious, matching the melancholy mood of the song.
I often feel my partner still focuses on the beats when I try to lead her dance to the melody, which is not surprising given that most students are only taught to step on the beat. Next time you dance Poema, try to focus on the melody instead of the beats. The key is to control the speed of the movement to let it be even-paced rather than sudden and broken - especially if you are a woman, who represents the melodic or feminine mood of the dance. (See The Characteristics of Classic Tango.)
Self-Centered Leading and Partner-Centered Leading
The Elegance of the Mionguero Style
December 28, 2017
In contrast to other styles that remind me of a bustling casino, the milonguero style of tango reminds me of a Zen garden - an oasis of austerity, peace, serenity and natural beauty for quiet contemplation. The style aims at inward experience, so the look becomes less important. In fact, it is danced in simple and natural steps, very little adornments are used in order to avoid complication and distraction, thus enables the dancers to focus on the feelings.
That, however, does not reduce its aesthetic value. On the contrary, the style possesses a natural, simple and elegant beauty second to none.
Using cadencia to make the dance elegant
The key element responsible for the elegance of the style is cadencia. The woman leans chest-against-chest on the man's torso, and the man uses the connection as the fixed point to swing her torso, which brings the sway of her hip and leg in a chain reaction, causing the movement of her body to look elegant and graceful. Notice that the woman does not use her thigh to move her leg, but lets the leg follow the body to sway. Her focus is on the horizontal lilt of the body instead of the vertical action of stepping down, and she does not rush to chase the beats. Rather, she lets her body take its natural course to swing gracefully in accordance with the tempo and mood of the melody.
Using the hips to highlight her femininity
In doing so she often needs to swivel her hips so she can take advantage of the inertia of the body to sway her free leg. (See Cadencia and the Flow of Tango.) Since she dances around the man, she also needs to swivel her hips in order to step on his side. She needs to swivel her hips in her walk in order to use the hip to move the leg. (See Women's Walk in Tango.) She needs to swivel her hips when she does front ocho and back ocho, and when she turns around him in molinete... (See Dissociation and Gear Effect.) In short, hip rotation is used all the time in the woman's dance, which highlights the beauty of her supple and pliable body. The style does not emphasize the footwork, so she is able to pay attention to the hip movement, controls it to make the swivel gentle, subtle yet noticeable. She does not over turn the hips, but turns them only to a degree necessary to let it look graceful and elegant.
Dancing with simple and natural steps
Another element pertinent to the elegance of the style is using simple and natural steps. Some tango styles are known for their fancy movements and flashy figures, which, although may be beautiful in some way, lack naturalness and elegance. The following is an example.
As you can see, impressive maybe by some standard, a display like this relies on fancy footwork, intricate movements, exaggerated steps, abrupt turns and hasty actions. It looks busy, garish, farfetched and beat-chasing, but lacks the confidence, serenity, ease, simplicity, naturalness and elegance of the milonguero style. And, it does not match the melancholy mood of the music.
In contrast, the first couple use austere steps so that they can concentrate inwardly on quiet contemplation. The man leads by swinging the woman's body. The woman keeps her body tall and straight while swinging it gracefully, allowing its intrinsic, natural beauty manifest itself.
Audrey Hepburn Said, "Elegance is the only beauty that never fades." I am convinced of that.
Self-Centered Leading and Partner-Centered Leading
Dancing to Melody - Poema