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February 25, 2011

What to dance to

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:

  1. Recognising the beginning and end of each beat.
  2. Attain an inner calmness so that I won’t feel rushed into reaching the next location, step, etc.
  3. 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.

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