Stepping on the beat and dancing to the music are not one and the same thing. The former is the basic of musicality, but it is not the most sophisticated. Beats are rhythmic stresses that regulate the speed of the 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 lie not in the beats but in the melody. Melody is the linear, sweet and emotional tone in music that decides the sentiment, emotion, beauty and fluidity of the song. 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 beats, or we can focus on melody, which leads to different dance styles. When we focus on beats, we wait for the beat to come and step on it with force, the movement is vertical, 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 grief, pain and sorrow. 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 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 emotions of the melody and let your movements be horizontal, even-paced, continuous and fluid. Here is an example.
Notice that in this example the couple did not chase the beats, but danced slowly, as were reluctant to let go each other. Their steps are much more supple, lingering and melodious, matching the melancholy mood of the song. (See The Elegance of the Milonguero Style.)
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 emotions of the melody instead of the beats. The key is to control the speed of the movement to let your steps be even-paced rather than sudden and broken - especially if you are a woman, because who represents the melodic or feminine mood of the music. (See The Characteristics of Classic Tango.)