Musicality in Tango Dancing – Part Six

A black and white photo of the Juan D'Arienzo Orchestra

In the fifth part of this series I looked at a popular tune ‘Motivo Sentimental’ recorded by the Carlos Di Sarli Orchestra in 1944, and the lyrical style of Di Sarli in his hay day.

As I promised in Part 5 (a long time ago – thanks for the ‘nudge’ to get part 6 written, James 🙂 ), in this part I will look at a couple of tunes by the Juan D’Arienzo’s Orchestra and I will hopefully show you that you need to dance a little differently to the way you might dance to Di Sarli.

If you listen to ‘La Guardia Vieja’ (the Old Guard) style of tango tunes of the late 19th/early 20th Century, typified by orchestras such as Orchestra Tipica Victor, as well as early D’Arienzo, Enrique Rodriguez, and similar style orchestras, they all exhibit a rhythmical approach to their music. It would be difficult to imagine performing sweeping Lapiz, slow Secadas, or Giro movements to these type of tunes. In fact some of these tango movements hadn’t even been developed at that time.

Florida – Tango

Take a listen to this popular D’Arienzo instrumental version of ‘Florida‘ written by Raimundo Petillo. It has a strong beat giving the tune an urgency to ‘get on and walk’. Even when you hear the more lyrical sections indicating a chance for the followers to do something interesting, there is still a strong background beat which leaders often feel compelled to follow.

You have a strong piano sound as the pianist seemed to really plonk down hard on the keys, coupled with the choppy BandonĂ©on sound, all of which makes you want to walk (march even!). If you ever get chance to see ‘La Juan D’Arienzo Orchestra’ (the longest playing tango orchestra of all time and still touring), take a look at the orchestra make up. That big, strong sound is made up of four BandonĂ©ons, four violins, plus the usual piano and bass. The orchestra has always been like this since the early days, and that is how Juan D’Arienzo got his unique sound. How do they get that strong choppy BandonĂ©on sound? They bounce the bellows of their instruments on their knees to create a stronger intake of air through the BandonĂ©on reeds, just at the beat. You have to hear it live to appreciate the power which that technique generates.

You should be able to hear the traditional ABABC pattern in the tune. It’s there and pretty clear, with repeating phrases in each section. Followers just about get something almost lyrical to work with at the end of the B sections and a little bit of a softer tinkly piano phrase in the C section, but otherwise we’re walking with rhythm pretty much the whole time. With D’Arienzo instrumentals you get little respite from this sense of urgency.

So how to dance this type of tune? Well if leaders are going to mostly walk, there is the obvious stepping beat, plus lots of opportunity for contra-beat rebotĂ©. Any decorations for followers will have to be swift and they should assume perhaps that their leader is going to walk at any time in the tune, and it is probably safer to limit decorations to foot/heel tapping without crossing the feet. As stated, there are just a couple of phrases at the end of sections B which might give the opportunity for movement on the spot, but they don’t last long.

Now compare that tune to the first part of the 1947 song ‘Lenguas de Fuego‘ with singer Armando Laborde, written by Juan D’Arienzo and HĂ©ctor Varela, lyrics by Carlos Waiss.

It starts off in a very ‘un-D’Arienzo’ way (the influence of HĂ©ctor Varela’s co-composition perhaps?) and during section A phrase 1 you might be fooled into thinking D’Arienzo had suddenly gone all soft and lyrical – Nope! By the start of section B the D’Arienzo sound makes it’s comeback. However you have a bit more to work with if you’re not too fond of purely rhythmic tunes. You also get chance to dance to Armando Labordes refrain when he starts to sing. That makes this D’Arienzo tune a little less taxing to dance to.

In both cases (and most other recordings) D’Arienzo stays faithful to the typical tango tune patterns and so there are no suprises for the dancers and it’s relatively easy to anticipate the phrase endings and section endings even when you’ve never hear a particular tune before.

On a final note about tangos, D’Arienzo arrangements tend to have very brisk and twiddly BandonĂ©on phrases stuck in them (especially in the finalĂ© section). How on earth do you dance these? Well, if you are an excellent dancer with ‘fast muscle twitch’, the answer is any way you like. 🙂 For those of us who can’t quite keep up with those eighth/sixteenth notes, my advice is not to try match the rapid melodies. Stick closer to the main stepping beat and contra-beats. I have often seen people try to skip along with fast feet, and although you and your partner may find it fun trying (and often failing mainly due to a poor embrace) to stick to the super fast melody, it don’t look so great as you loose sync and timing. With friends it’s good for a laugh, but otherwise leave it to the show dancers 🙂

Bolada de Aficionado – Milonga

As you would expect given the rhythmical nature of his tangos, D’Arienza has recorded some of the most memorable and popular milonga tunes. A very typical example is the popular 1941 recording of ‘Bolada de Aficionado‘, written by Ángel Villoldo, which is more of a brisk canter than a fast walk.

Again D’Arienzo sticks faithfully to the ABABC pattern and you could use the same rhythmical walking patterns, box steps, change of weight, and rebotĂ© as you would with any of his tangos, with a little added traspiĂ©. Just need to be a little faster and have more ‘milonguero’ verve maybe… 🙂

Tan sĂłlo tĂș – Vals

Juan D’Arienzo has a huge back catalogue of recordings over his long career and the vast majority are tango and milonga tunes, but he did record a few vals tunes. Does he stick to his choppy urgent style with a vals? Not really although you can always hear a strong ‘om pa pa’ rhythm supporting the tune. D’Arienzo vals tunes can be interpreted in dance as any other vals. Have a listen to the 1942 version of ‘Tan sĂłlo tĂș‘ with singer HĂ©ctor MaurĂ©, written by Servando FĂ©lix DomĂ­nguez, lyrics by HĂ©ctor MarcĂł.

Again the typical ABABC pattern is still there, along with the strong underlying beat and the BandonĂ©on twiddly bits making the tune definitely D’Arienzo. However there is the overlying lyrical feel, along with the singer HĂ©ctor MaurĂ©, to base your musicality on as well as the rhythm.

In this part of the series we have introduced the rhythmical tunes of Juan D’Arienzo which need a different approach to dancing than the lyrical Di Sarli we looked at last time.

Next time we’ll examine Osvaldo Pugliese. This is an orchestral arranger and leader who definitely decided to play with the regular tango pattern and go a little ‘off piste’. Some dancers claim that Pugliese is hard to dance to, simply because he throws in extra notes (or misses them out) occasionally. Tricky…

Previous – Musicality in Tango Dancing – Part Five

Next – Musicality in Tango Dancing – Part Seven



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