19th April 2009

(More Next Steps articles.)


"The follow shouldn't attempt to embellish the dance until she knows the piece of music well enough to at last hum it"

In tango the same pieces are played over and over again. If you dance Nuevo, you will hear Gotan and Otros Aires. In MJ, the DJ's tend to play the same track for a few months. You can listen music on the radio while you drive, or burn cds of tango music, listen to your iPod etc.

There are "rules" about how music is structured. But there are also exceptions...

Known and unknown

There are differing viewpoints on this, but personally I'm of the belief that musicality is best used to allow a dancer to express music that they already know. By understanding that at this point the music is doing such and such, allows you to "hear" more and more things within it. Of course you still need to agree with your partner about which bits you're dancing to. A particularly interesting idea is for the leader to interpret a different instrument of the music to the follower.

You can listen to pieces of music and consider what elements are present and how you could express them, or indeed watch them on YouTube and see how different Leaders and Followers have expressed them.

It can also be used to "get by" with unknown music as a way of predicting what will come next. You'll still fall foul of the exceptions to the rule, but the more you understand the guidelines and the more music you've listened to, the better the odds shift in your favour.


Lyrics are an interesting problem.

I don't speak Spanish and neither do a considerable number of tango dancers in London. It's not always clear from the tone of voice what the singer is on about. Some nuevo music seems to make helpful suggestions to the leader eg "giro sacada". But there have been times when I had no idea if the singer was full of the joys of spring or deeply depressed.

Now as long as the follower doesn't know either, that's fine. I can ignore the lyrics and dance to the music. This seems to be the best solution.


Traditional Tango orchestras are evil.

They muck around with the endings. The same piece can have multiple variations and endings, often which make no sense and leave you with a feeling of "where did the final note go?". Or you finish beautifully on the final note, there's a pause and then the blasted pianist adds a couple more.


"Do you want Cornflakes or Weetabix for breakfast" is a much sneakier question than "Do you want cereal for breakfast?" which can be answered with "No, I want chocolate ice cream with sprinkles!". In the first, either way the child gets cereal.

I'm adapting this to take advantage of the natural pause in embrace the dancers make after a song has finished. So far my best solution to this is to "end" one note early, but mentally I'm just pausing. If there is no more music, then that pause is end-of-dance pause. If the last note does appear I'm ready for it with something simple like a collect.

It's surprising how clean a pose to collect works to end a dance. And if it's a flurry of notes I can do the collect in several stages. Doesn't have to be a collect, seems to apply to anything as long as you've physically got somewhere to go.

Final thoughts

Downstairs at Negracha they often show a film of professionals dancing tango, but without sound. It's remarkable how often what they're doing matches the music being played. To a certain extent, because there is so much going on in tango music, you'll probably match something regardless...

 - Christopher O'Shea, 19th April 2009

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