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July 5, 2005


The matrix of dance

Have been going through the book The Structure of the Dance Vol.2: The Matrix by Mauricio Castro during my recent trip to Japan. In fact, I had initially started with “Structure of Dance”, which is the first volume in this series, but became a little impatient to go through all the exercises. 🙂

Firstly, some mixed impressions of the man himself. I have never met or taken classes from him, but have heard of his apparent ‘arrogance’ from some who has. Furthermore, I have not been terribly impressed by his exhibition dances at CITA 2003, which, while technically challenging, displayed a certain lack of intensity or emotion that I have come to expect from traditional, quality Tango. This sentiment was also echoed in some discussions on the Tango-L List not too long ago. By the way, reviews on Amazon were quite mixed: you either loved it or hated it utterly. However, my first (and most influential in some sense) teacher Gladys is full of praise of the man, as a teacher and innovator.

Now, onto the book itself.

The title of the book comes the set of partner exercises introduced towards near the end of the book. This is a fix 6-step sequence which both partners start off mirroring each other’s movements and is simple to begin with. As the man cycles through his sequence out of sync (i.e. step 1 with step 2 or step 3, instead of step 1 with step 1) with the woman, this becomes much more challenging because more elaborate combinations are produced. The first set deals with walking and sacadas (and implicitly the turns), the second deals with boleos.

In my opinion, the major short-coming of this book is the fact that the emphasis is placed solely on the steps, aka the movement of the feet/legs, and perhaps torso. As a result, I think this book is not for beginners, contrary to what is stated in the jacket of the book. This is a book about how your steps change as you move with your partner.

However, in order to move as one, you need to be able to lead. The book is seriously lacking in this part, hence I would argue this book is for the more experienced dancers only. Alternatively, if the reader has not been instructed to lead/follow in the correct way, then perhaps with suitable training in gymnastics, he/she may then be able to master the New Tango. After all, steps alone are devoid of the in my opinion the essence of Tango – the connection with your partner.

In addition, some of the language used is quite obscure. Directions such as right or left is actually with respect to your partner. The explanation for boleo also leaves quite a bit to be desired.

Granted my misgivings about the book, my overall impression of the book is still rather good because I feel many interesting ideas were introduced. The simple elaborations of possible sacada combinations will definitely leave you scratching your head in wonder!? Parallel and contrary directions are what can generate the dynamism in the dance. It is a pity this aspect was not elaborated further in the book.

By infusing some analytical structure into something that is as artistic and subjective as a dance, I feel Castro has provided some possibilities to further push the limits of this dance that is still evolving as we speak. Provided the discussions are put in the right perspective, and provided one can truly appreciate the fact that sometimes ‘less is more’, then the combinations – which are nothing but enumerations of all possibilities in a given configuration – can be real eye-openers. Naturally whether one adopts or likes this particular way of dancing is really down to individual’s artistic tastes.

Finally, I will always remember one piece of advice from the book in particular: when you get comfortable with one set of exercise in a session, it’s time to move on to something more challenging. This is definitely something that can help to guard against complacency!

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1 Comment
  1. Jun 7 2006

    A brief interview of the author and his reasoning for writing the first volume can be found here.

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