Musicality for Ceroc-ers Five: Vals

25th September 2010

Part of a series of articles on Tango Musicality.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four - Milonga


Master Po: [after easily defeating the boy in combat] Ha, ha, never assume because a man has no eyes he cannot see. Close your eyes. What do you hear?
Young Caine: I hear the water, I hear the birds.
Master Po: Do you hear your own heartbeat?
Young Caine: No.
Master Po: Do you hear the grasshopper that is at your feet?
Young Caine: [looking down and seeing the insect] Old man, how is it that you hear these things?
Master Po: Young man, how is it that you do not?

This article is focused on dancing vals socially. If you're reading this hoping to be able to dance rather than sit when vals come on, you've come to the right place. Get a mug or glass of your favourite libation and let's begin.

Ok In the previous article, I recommend dancing like it's a D'Arienzo tango to get you through a milonga.

To get through a vals, I recommend dancing like it's a Di Sarli. Nice long elegant steps and pivots.

Begin at the beginning

"Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop" ~ Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

The most common thing you'll hear about in vals is the 3 count. For now forget about it.

All you're interested in is walking like it's Di Sarli. So let's start with this, in particular the nice simple walk at the beginning.

Just try walking to the same pace along with Detlef to that part.

Problem No 1

In Tango, Milonga and MJ you can count the beats in sets of 4s. Here it's helpfully counted out for you.

The first fundamental shift is that Vals is counted out in 3s. Amelie has the 1,2,3 "bombombom" played right from the beginning:

Right let's go back to Detlef

Now, listen carefully to the music and you can (hopefully hear) two things going on in the music.

There's the melody, which is stronger being played over the top.

But more quietly underneath it is a constant "bombombom" going on during each step.

Listen even more carefully, and you'll notice the first note is stronger so it's more "bombombom". It's this first note you want to step on each time. For now ignore the rest of the music. Given the speed of this vals I think it's easier to say "bombombombombombombombombom" as you walk.

To a slower vals you could do "OneTwoThreeOneTwoThree". What it isn't, is "one, two, three". Or "one, two-three" etc. The beats are evenly spaced.

Vals Double-time

[as a grenade lands at his feet] "And everything seemed to be going so well." ~ Sin City

"Being a grown-up means you can eat dessert at the beginning of the meal"

Why do we eat dessert at the end of a meal? Social convention. There's nothing really stopping you from eating it first. I know a guy who just orders three desserts instead of a starter, main course and dessert.

Where am I going with this? Well although it's perfectly reasonable for the so called vals double-time to be half-way between the normal time steps, it isn't. Why, because that's what people decided, and who am I to change it?

Don't try this outside of home

"Now open your mind and read, understand and experience, and when you have reached that point, discard the book. The pages are best used for cleaning up a mess - as you will see." ~ Linda Lee, The Tao of Jeet Kune Do.

Please don't use this next piece of terminology out-loud; at best you'll cause confusion and at worst be told you're wrong. I'm using it simply because it makes it easier to understand

So, purely for this article, I'm going to rename vals double-time as "vals traspie". If you're not happy about "traspie" please have a look at the previous milonga article. But basically, I'm going to use it to mean "stepping as fast as you can and involving another beat as well as the One we've been using so far".

Again there are two types. First you can step on the 1 and the 2. I recommend doing this in three stages. First just walk with Detlef to the beginning of the above video and count out loud "one" every time you step. When you're happy with that take a few steps and then as you take a step, collect as fast as you can and stop saying "OneTwo". Once you're happy with that do the same thing, but then take another normal step on the next one.

So something like

  • One, One, OneTwo, One, One, One

And so on.

The next option is to step on the One and the Three. This is going to sound like semantics, but in practice what you're actually doing is stepping on the Three and the One. This is important because it means the beats are together.

So it would look something like

  • One, ThreeOne, ThreeOne, One, One

And so on.

An example

Here's Detlef and Melina dancing another vals

Hopefully you can see the "vals traspie" happening at 26 secs and another couple around 30 secs. I'll leave you to watch the rest of it :o)

And basically that's it. A final word of warning. If you want to use moves that are normally tango double-time like crosses and rebounds, be aware you need to tweak the timing a bit so you land on the 2 or the 3 rather than halfway between the 1s.

Really don't try this outside of home

"The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club." ~ Fight Club

Remember, it's "vals double-time", there's no such thing as "vals traspie".

If you know a woman who understands vals I'd highly recommend doing the Hedgehog Exercise with her - you can make it easier by having her sing / say out loud the notes she's hitting.

Bonus postscript

Given that MJ and Vals use different structures finding cross-overs is not the easiest of things to do. Thanks to BorderTangoMan for the following suggestions of music that is either written in vals time or at least has the right feel and tempo to dance vals too.

Come Away with Me by Norah Jones:

A Few of My Favourite Things Kenny G.:

Dance me to the End of Love, Leonard Cohen:

C'est pas d'amour by Rupa and the April Fishes:

Beirut: Mount Wroclai:

VaI Vedrai; Cirque du Soleil:

Imelda May:

 - Christopher O' Shea, 25th September 2010

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