Here are some thoughts from early last year – finally seeing the light of day!!
During a workshop, someone in all seriousness asked, “We can do all these exercises while you are here. How does one improve one’s musicality when you are not around?”
The teacher’s suggestion was (paraphrasing) “Spend more time listening to music, and watching videos on Youtube for examples of people dancing to different types of music. But watch less of the figures.”
I think this is very sound advice. The desire/need to improve musicality is a serious problem for many smallish communities outside of Buenos Aires. I mean, it is one thing to lament the lack of “musicality” – however you may choose to define it – of the gringos, European, Asian or otherwise, it’s another to offer concrete advice on how to head in the right direction.
Personally, I have found the oft-quoted routine advice of “listening to more music” to be lacking. After all, many of us lack the language or cultural context to connect well with music written and played more than half a century ago, no? In order to elicit an emotional response, you’d need to have some feelings towards a particular piece of music and, well, some prejudices about the style of dancing!?
On the other hand, watching ordinary people (middle-aged couples, not teachers or even well-known milongueros) dance in the milongas during my trip to Buenos Aires was really inspirational. Seeing the joy on people’s faces, the engagement and commitment to each other on the dance floor, and also the passion to the music they were dancing, it was not difficult to “feel” different parts of the music after a while. Naturally, being already familiar with most of tracks helped too. However, while seeing happy faces often meant good connections, it did not always imply good technique and, for me, it didn’t matter…
Recently, perhaps with the left half of my brain being more dominant lately, I have started to ponder yet again the question: what (part of music) are people trying to dance to?
I think, at the most fundamental level, we can’t escape from the beat/rhythm* – the so-called skeletal fabric of tango music. I think this is most important for beginners and up to intermediate level. Without being judgmental, I believe it’s also fine if one never progresses beyond dancing exclusively on and to the beat of the music. Frankly, very often I still see people having problems recognising the rhythm of a piece of music, let alone move to the beat!
For me, and somewhat in hindsight, after progressing past the stage of “being able to consistently move to the beat”, ideally the next few personal milestones would be:
- Recognising the beginning and end of each beat.
- Attain an inner calmness so that I won’t feel rushed into reaching the next location, step, etc.
- Discovering ways of expressing the melody.
There is no “mystical revelation” here, just a simple calmness to soak in the music and have confidence in myself (after hours of workshops and self-practice…) to have the physical control to move freely to it, at my own pace that is compatible to the music. After all, we don’t need to be enslaved by the music being played, no?
My favourite quote comes Hsueh-tze Lee (paraphrased, obviously):
Express the melody with the torso, and the rhythm with the legs/feet.
Sadly, there aren’t many good examples of this available for us to learn from nowadays.
* Here I am implicitly talking about music from the Golden Age of 1930′s-mid 1940s.
Back when I started collecting music (and made heavily use of Stephen Brown’s excellent website) I quickly took a liking to the Anibal Troilo/Francisco Fiorentino combination. Over the intervening years I was to learn that due to the complexity inherent in Troilo’s music, it is in general more difficult to dance well to Troilo. This has also been borne out by my personal experiences and observations over. I suppose, perhaps as a result, and in conjunction with changes in musical taste, Troilo gradually fell out of favour, to be replaced by either the more rhythmic orchestras such as D’Arienzo, Biagi, and Rodriguez or the lyrical orchestras such as Di Sarli or Donato. However, and ironically, as I tried to put the advice of from a recent class with Javier into practice, namely to dance slower, I am rediscovering a liking for the syncopations of Troilo, albeit leaning more to the instrumental pieces (from early to mid 1940s) this time round.
This is not the first time that I have noticed this. It seems often that when a interesting song appears in one performance, all of a sudden you will find a number of couples choosing the same song!? The song in question is “Tu Corazon”, by Donato Racciatti’s orchestra.
I first heard of this song from the Seoul performance (May 2009, number 2 below). Here are three couples offering their interpretations to the same song – take, for example, the different treatments at around the 1:50-2:00 mark. The first one is perhaps more “conventional”, the next two extremely playful, and the final softer and more romantic. That is part of the reason why I like tango, because the same piece of music can sometimes trigger a range of musical expressions.
Are there more examples using this song?
* Actually I prefer their performance at Tangocool which I have already posted here but didn’t want to repeat the same clip. I guess perhaps they were a little overawed by the occasion at Sunderland!? To be fair, this seemed more like an impromptu guest appearance rather than a pre-arranged performance.