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.

November 2, 2009

Notes on Musicality

Tango challenges your multi-tasking ability. Among all tasks, listening to music must be your first priority. You dance the music, not the steps. Don't fix your attention only on the steps and forget about the music. Instead, listen to the music and follow it closely. Let the music lead you to dance.

Be calm and unhurried. Take your time to finish the step and don't rush to chase the beats - a common problem for beginners. If you miss a beat, wait for the next. Don't be hesitant to pause, suspend, or dance in slow motion when the music tells you to do so.

Tango music has a lucid rhythm that is crisp, robust, forceful, steady and predictable, accompanied by a melody that is emotional, sentimental, beautiful, fluid and moody. Dancers can choose to follow the rhythm or the melody, or jump from one to another, depending on their interpretation of the music and how they want to express their feelings at the moment. Some dancers are more rhythmic, others are more melodic. They develop different dance styles according to their musicality.

Tango music is quadruple time. It has four beats in each measure, usually played as 1-and, 2-and, 3-and, 4-and rather than 1, 2, 3, 4, thus gives you more possibilities to step on. The first and third beats are strong beats. The second and fourth beats are weak beats. Dancers usually step on the strong beats, but there are many possibilities. For example, you may step on weak beats, or on both strong and weak beats, or add a step between two beats, or take two steps on one beat, or pause to skip few beats, etc.

Musicians often syncopate or spice up the music by shifting the accent (1, 2, 3, 4), extending a note (- -, 4), starting a note on an unaccented beat and continuing it through the next accented beat (1, 2 -, 4), splitting a note and accenting the subdivision (1-and, 2-and, 3-and, 4-and), adding an accent (1, 2, 3, 4), or omitting and replacing a beat with a rest, etc. Syncopation modifies the rhythm and makes the music more challenging and interesting to dance to. (See Tango Music and Its Danceability.)

A small step takes less time. A larger step takes more time. A fast step takes less time. A slow step takes more time. A simple step takes less time. A complex figure takes more time. A 180-degree turn takes more time than a 90-degree turn, but less time than a 360-degree turn. Experienced dancers can use different steps to play with the music.

In general, you need to step exactly on the beat, but sometimes you can step just slight before or after the beat to shorten one step in order to elongate another, or elongate one step in order to shorten another, or to catch up, delay, sustain a pose, adorn a step, etc. However, you must still time the steps so that your dance is in sync to the music.

Tango steps can be divided into two groups: that of main or feature steps, such as the forward step in ohco, the rock step in ocho cortado, etc., and that of ancillary or decorative steps, such as the collection of the leg, the unwinding of the crossed leg, pivot, the swivel of the hips, the switch of the foot, and embellishment, etc. Beginners tend to focus on the featured steps and overlook the ancillary actions. They may be able to step on the beat, but their pivot, hip rotation, weight change and embellishment are often made too slow or too hasty. Experienced dancers, on the other hand, are able to handle the music in an exquisite way that every detail of the body's movement meets the rhythm, melody, tempo and mood of the music exactly. Only in such a way dancing tango becomes a real treat. (See Women''s Common Mistakes in Tango.)

Dancing to music also involves using cadencia - the lilting motion of the body. The foot must land on the beat, but the lilt of the body continues until the other foot lands on the next beat. Dancers need to time both the step and the lilt of the body. By using the inertia to enhance the lilt or cadence of the body in correspondence with the rhythmic flow of the music, you can add a swing like sensation to the dance. The ability to do cadencia is one of the things that mark a good dancer. (See Cadencia.)

Stepping on the beat is the basic of musicality, but it is not the most sophisticated. Beats are rhythmic stresses that regulate the speed of music. They are interrupted and unemotional. Stepping on beats 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 lie not in the beats but in the melody. Melody is the linear, continuous, sweet and emotional tone in the music that adds sentiment, beauty and fluidity to the music. Dancing to melody is like driving, the focus is on the linear tone, and the movement is uninterrupted and smooth. (See Dancing to Melody - Poema.)

Within each piece of music there are different movements. Some are shorter or longer, others are slower or faster. They express different emotions - sad, happy, intimate, romantic, homesick, nostalgic, melancholy, sentimental, etc. "Tango is a sad feeling that is danced." - said Enrique Santos Disccepoloo. Dancing to music does not only mean stepping on the beat. It also means dancing to the changing mood of the music. A good dancer steps on the beat. An excellent dancer dances to the mood of the music.

Tango music is a passionate and elaborate expression of masculinity and femininity. The two opposite moods intertwining and complementing each other is a notable feature of tango music. Dancing tango, you must imagine that you are playing the music with your body. The man and the woman are different instruments. One is like the bandoneon, the other the violin. One is the passion of the drums, the other the beauty of the melody. One is philosophy, the other poem. Each with its unique sound, expresses different emotions. Both are indispensable and irreplaceable and must complement each other and collaborate harmoniously in order to create a beautiful tango. (See The Characteristics of Classic Tango.)

Too many tango students pay too much attention to the visible steps rather than invisible musicality, but what is invisible is more important than what is visible. Steps are the tool that the dancers use to express the feelings stirred by the music. It is the dancers' musicality that decides how they dance. Musicality is an art only few have mastered. Unless you master it you can’t reach excellence.

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