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March 12, 2008

Musicality: when?

This is a rather long-overdue response to a question posed by Kim Soon here, where it was asked

“at which time should the concept of musicality be introduced/emphasised and worked on?”

In the following, I will attempt to answer it mainly from the leader’s perspective.

Firstly, I have to say that since I generally try to stick to the KISS principle – think Occam’s Razor – so I prefer to think of musicality as meaning simply “to be able to dance to the music”. Now, in order to do this, there are two major components, in roughly progressive order of difficulty:

  1. The structure: beat, rhythm (timing/duration), pauses, energy, the undertones/overtones expressed by the various instruments, etc.
  2. The emotional content: melody, energy, how it resonates with you as a dancer?

Note that this list goes much beyond than being able to name the orchestras and make broad generalisations about their styles, which is what is commonly taught when discussing musicality.

From my personal experience as a dancer and having guided many beginners in the past 2 years, I feel that, for a leader, some form of musicality should be incorporated into his studies as soon as he has demonstrated competence in the basic *mechanics of Tango but not before. For example, listening to the beat while walking should be introduced and emphasized in the first few lessons; however, syncopation probably can wait till after 4-5 lessons assuming a weekly class and practica. The more abstract concepts such as varying the intensity and duration can come in after 2-3 months or later because I am wary of over-loading the beginning leaders, i.e. confusing the mechanics with trying to express too much without the necessary skills. For someone with better coordination and intuitive feel, this can occur sooner of course.

As a follower – not that I am a qualified follower, by the way! – I feel that much of the more abstract concepts can come in slightly later than leaders, the reason being that often it is too easy for (beginning) followers to get carried away and thereby lose the connection in the dance. It’s better for the followers to learn patience and follow well before they start to inject their own voice into the dance.

The length of time naturally depends on a number of external factors too. For example, how often one attends classes, practicas and milongas. And most importantly, is there anyone capable of introducing the right ideas and at the right levels?

*By “mechanics”, I meant walking with intention and good posture, able to lead pivots reasonably smoothly and some degree of confidence, and not sacadas, etc.

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