Musicality for Ceroc-ers Two: Different Orchestras

15th September 2010

(See Musicality for Cerocers - One for a basic introduction)


You just danced to Pugliese like you were dancing to D'Arienzo

So what should I have done?

Let's consider three orchestras:

I think they work well to contrast each other and show what not to do, as well as what to do. I'm not going to try and give a definitive answer; rather I'm going to explain a way of approaching it that works for me. Then it's up to you to try it and make it your own.

A Ceroc point of view

So now you've got to learn different ways of dancing to different orchestras - isn't tango hard enough already? Well thankfully there's hidden benefits that make it worthwhile, more about them later. However just considering dancing different ways to different orchestras from an MJ viewpoint, hopefully you'd dance differently to these three songs:

The Ghost of Sex and You

This is more bluesy. You can easily pause, stretch and compress moves. You could even fuse in tango if you wanted. If you tried to do standard Ceroc it would probably look like you were doing it in slow motion.

I Kissed a Girl

This is more standard MJ not quite so easy to do the above, but now standard Ceroc "moves" will work fine.

Crazy Little Thing Called Love

This is quite a bit faster... at this point a lot of moves taught in intermediate classes won't work. It becomes much more about using a few simple, clean and fast things, probably mainly "beginner" moves.

And now for the tango bit...

So, it's not so unreasonable that tango's gone a similar route. But what are the differences?

As well as the above, have a quick look at the first minute of this video of Gabrielle Roth explaining different ways of moving. The verbal descriptions are in the right order, but start to lag a bit behind what's happening in the video. Obviously I'm not advocating doing this at milongas, I just want to get across the idea that you don't have to always move the same way in tango.


"Captain Picard, Jellyfish, Butoh Dancers, Marlon Brando, Pyramids of Giza, Yoda, Thich Nhat Hahn" ~ some of Gabrielle Roth's examples of Stillness

Strangely I'm going to start with Pugliese rather than Di Sarli. It'll make more sense this way, but bear in mind I am technically starting at Advanced and working my way back, so don't panic when you see it.

This is too extreme, but I think it's a good starting point. It's a video of contact tango.

Forget about the lifts (and lack of clothing) - focus more on the combined feeling of moving through water or tar and stillness. It's a fluid feeling. The leader is more concerned with taking steps that keep him balanced, able to pivot and able to support the follower, than say long elegant steps or lots of quick ones. The follower has a lot more freedom of expression and a lot more time for each movement.

Now, have a look at Carlos Gavito dancing to Pugliese. Keep the contact tango example above in mind and Gabrielle Roth's definition of "Stillness"

See how it's got an even more pronounced feel of almost stillness and moving through water, yet staying fluid. There's always some motion somewhere. Likewise there's not a lot of progression or even walking going on. It's the sort of thing that makes sense downstairs in Negracha when you're stuck behind a couple who are talking or dancing Salsa.

But what about the music? Surely it would make more sense to hit all those flurries of notes? Isn't he just, well, standing there?

Again, what follows isn't dogma, it's just intended to help you get your head around it.

Ignoring the music

It's not unusual to see tango leaders ignore flurries of notes, especially if they come at the end of a phrase. Instead they pause, or do small adornments. You'll see this with pop music when there's a flurry on the drums near the end of a phrase; again you don't try to dance to it.

Alternatively, they dance to an instrument that is hitting a more practical tango rhythm. So in pop music, you might ignore the wild guitar riff in the instrumental break and keep dancing to the steady drumbeat instead. The exception is choreographies / performances where obviously you can dance to flurries if you want, but for social dancing, not so much. So it could be argued that he's not dancing to the flurries because you don't in tango. When he does a move he's following the rhythms you'd find in tango - 2.16 to 2.30 is a good example of this. He's stepping to the cake rather than the icing.

But what about the follower? Well a mathematical answer is the circle. Most sane people will tell you that a circle is a single curved line. Mathematicians will argue that in fact a circle is made up of many tiny straight lines all slightly titled away from each other. What this means (for a given value of "means") is that in tango curved movements are a good way to deal with flurries of music because you're technically dancing many small tiny steps even if you think you're doing one curving one. You can think of them as sweeping up the notes if that helps.

Pugliese as Blues

Loosely speaking, Pugliese is probably closest to Blues dancing. There's much more scope for the follower to express herself through her movements. There's not a lot of speed or progression. It's more like someone decided to shift dancing tango to the connection end of the spectrum.

Here's another example of Javier and Andrea dancing first to Pugliese and then to D'Arienzo


"Flamenco, Mick Jagger on stage, jackhammers, New York Stock Exchange Rice Crispies, Charlie Chaplin, Kung fu, Karate, 1812 Overture, Lightning" ~ some of Gabrielle Roth's examples of Staccato

D'Arienzo is more at the other end of the spectrum. It's sharper, faster, cleaner (sounds familiar?). "Staccato" in Gabrielle Roth's video. While Pugliese is a more fluid feeling, the sharpness of D'Arienzo is also probably a little different to what you probably think of as tango.

While this fight scene is pure Hollywood (and takes about 1.30 to actually get started), this a way of thinking about the more staccato nature you want to use

D'Arienzo Grammar

To be able to dance to D'Arienzo you need to have got to grips with the grammar of tango and how to transition between the different timings (if you haven't, please see the previous musicality articles).

In D'Arienzo, the notes are pronounced enough that you can hit a lot of them, although again there may be flurries over the top of them. So unlike Pugliese, you're going to be in much more pronounced motion most of the time, but probably more compact on the whole than if you were dancing to Di Sarli (which we'll get into in a moment).

Homer's done a video on it that's worth a look:

Di Sarli

"Kite moving through sky, Great wall of China, single autumn leaf falling from maple tree, ice skating Argentinan tango, Botticelli's Venus, the swelling skirt of a dancing dervish, calligraphy" ~ some of Gabrielle Roth's examples of Flowing

Finally Di Sarli - "flowing" in Gabrielle Roth's parlance. When you think of tango walking this is probably what comes to mind; Long graceful steps and elegant pivots. It's worth noting that the above options used in D'Aienzo and Pugliese are largely absent.

First have a look at this clip of an Olympic ice skater. Particularly notice how much of the time she's literally just gliding along.

Consider switching her pivots for single pivots or adornments and then watch Javier and Andrea dancing to Di Sarli

And here's Carlos Gavito dancing to Di Sarli:

Hidden benefits of Di Sarli

So what are the hidden benefits? Well let's consider a problem first. If you've read the previous musicality articles, then you could reasonably think you could use any of these approaches to any song (as long as it fits the music). Indeed you could use all of these approaches in the same song. Now you're options are more limited, won't it get boring?

Provided both you and your partner are aware of these conventions then social dancing becomes much easier.

Think about it from the follower's viewpoint. Say you're dancing to Pugliese; she knows to really concentrate on the connection. She knows that she's going to have room to express herself, but that also she mustn't suddenly fly off into auto-giros or whatever. By limiting your options and agreeing to those limitations you can dance better. Likewise as a leader you can take this as a "Get Out of Jail card" for boredom.

Look again at the videos, they're not doing an awful lot and these are technically performances. The emphasis changes from trying to lead lots of different things to staying within the form / feeling of the music.

It's up to the DJ to play a mixture of orchestras so that you get to use the different expressions.

And now some dancing

"The fox condemns the trap, not himself" ~ William Blake

"I know you said it wouldn't be fun if it was easy, but does it have to be THIS much fun?" ~ Torque

So you're at a milonga and you know the tanda being played is Pugliese. Maybe you recognize the songs, maybe you quietly asked the DJ, whatever, let's just assume you're right. And let's just assume a woman wants to dance with you (be nice if you could do this in Real Life).

So, lots of flurries of notes, nothing really going on in terms of cake, all icing. So you start to lead a sloooooooooow pivot. And woosh she's around and stepped forward. What the heck?! For once in tango, it's not your fault.

The short answer is she's probably not aware of the idea of moving in different ways to different orchestras. You'll probably find she dances the same way to all of them.

"Are you deliberately alternating fast and slow pieces of music?"
"Yes, I want to see how big a difference I can get between them before all those people actually stop dancing exactly the same way to every single song"

~ a conversation with a frustrated Ceroc DJ

A Ceroc example is something like All That Jazz

You should be able to think of a number of people you could dance this to who would dance to it the same way (rhythm / tempo / feeling, whatever word works best for you) the whole way through (unless you physically restrain them!)

Gabrielle Roth found that people tend to favour a certain way of moving (though this can sometimes change depending on their mood, the weather etc). What this means is that some people will be better at dancing to D'Arienzo than Pugliese and so on.

So what do you do?

The harsh option is simply don't dance with those people! This is tango, not Ceroc after all.

A somewhat less harsh option is to dance to certain orchestras with certain people. Again you'll find this in Ceroc. If the DJ puts on something with breaks or good musicality, I look for women I know who can do that. If it's something slow and bluesy or crazy fast, again I look for women that match.

The Ceroc option is to dance with them anyway, but do so knowing that you're going to be dancing a watered down version. Thankfully the tango police restrict their activities to ranting online, so if you want to dance with someone to D'Arienzo and you spend the whole dance moving like you're underwater, as long as you're both happy, good luck to you! Just don't beat yourself up if you're trying to lead in a specific way and you find it's basically impossible.

A final option for women is to somewhat ignore the lead and give helpful hints in the way they move. Personally I think this is a really bad idea, but I've been told it can work well (though this was from the woman's perspective - how thrilled the guys she does this to is unknown....)

MsHedgehog is pondering something similar here...

Into the unknown

The Unknown, by Donald Rumsfeld

"As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know."

Probably the biggest obstacle to learning this at the moment in London is, ironically, the milongas. You would think you could learn this by watching the dancefloor, after all when Pugliese comes on it should look very different to D'Arienzo. Um, not so much, no.

I think it's fair to say for most London dancers at the moment this idea is an unknown unknown. That is, not only do they not know it, they're also not aware they don't know it (another analogy is the four stages of competence model - in terms of varying musicality to fit the orchestras, most dancers are probably at the "unconscious incompetence" level).

However some do, so if you look around selectively, hopefully you'll be able to find them.

My advice for now would be to look at Youtube videos (or ask your teacher), but focus on the above ideas.

Stay away from dancing to flurries and obviously don't bother with lifts etc. Think of them more like traffic lights. Pause, Get Ready, Go. Try practicing with simple steps and pivots that you're comfortable with and are suitable for social dancing. Gradually you'll know the unknowns, or at the very least be able to write incoherent poetry.

 - Christopher O' Shea, 15th September 2010

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