Musicality in Tango Dancing – Part Five

In the fourth part of this series I looked at a popular tune ‘Mimosa’ recorded by the Francisco Canaro Orchestra in 1929, and proceeded to break down the structure of the tango tune in some detail.

I showed how the structure broke down into musical phrases, sections, and other components, and how these components repeated with variation, and described how a dancer could predict phrases of music and better interpret a tune even if not familiar with the tune.

So for in this and future parts of the Musicality series I will start looking at other Orchestras and their musical differences. I will look at a typical tango tune, and a vals and milonga by the same orchestra (where available – not all orchestras recorded vals and milonga tunes).

So in this Part 5 I am going to look at the ever popular Carlos Di Sarli Orchestra. Carlos Di Sarli’s music is often described as romantic, lyrical, smooth, and so on, but Di Sarli didn’t always sound like this. His early arrangements for quartets, sextets and so on, were far more traditional, compared to his hey day when he had finally found his own style.

However by 1944 when he and his Orchestra recorded the tune I am going to analyse now, he had established the well known Di Sarli style. The tune is ‘Motivo Sentimental‘ written by Emilio Brameri, with the marvellous voice of Alberto Podestá singing the lyrics of Carlos Bahr.

In this post I’m not going to break down the tune using pictorial representations like last time so we can dive straight into the music.

Tango – Motivo Sentimental

Here is the entire tune to listen to first. See if you can pick out the repetition of the different sections and phrases within each section, then I’ll break it down.

The first thing to notice is that this tune has 5 sections of approx 34 seconds each, resulting in an overall tune length of 2:50 minutes. This is very similar timing to Canaros recording of ‘Mimosa’ that we looked at last time, so even though there are 15 years between these two recordings, the same basic tune structure creates the same basic tune timing.

Now what follows are the different sections to listen to.

‘Motivo Sentimental’ Section A

You’ll notice Section A has one phrase repeated twice with a slight variation in the repeat which sounds a little more staccato. Also listen out for the ‘pom pom’ at the end of the section. It is a lot softer and less obvious than in ‘Mimosa’ but it is there. Remember that the ‘pom pom’s signal a dancer that the section has finished and a different melody is about to start.

‘Motivo Sentimental’ Section B

In Section B we have a different phrase repeated with slight variation again. The repeat sounds a little more staccato as did the second phrase of Section A. This time at the end of Section B there is no obvious ‘pom pom’ but there is a little 5 note trill played on the piano that helps to signal the end of the section. At the end of Section B we are just over a minute in and no sign of singer Alberto Podestá yet, so all musicality has had to developed using the tune only so far.

‘Motivo Sentimental’ Section A variation 1

Now Alberto Podestá starts to earn his crust with his fine voice, and Section A is repeated. This time it is the singer who is carrying the melody. The Orchestra is now just accompanying Alberto. So again, although it is the singer carrying the melody, you have already heard the melody before in this tune, so for this 34 sec section, you know what’s coming even if you’d never heard the tune before. Again we have a ‘pom pom’ at the end, but very quiet and gentle.

‘Motivo Sentimental’ Section B variation 1

This is a repeat of Section B but with Alberto Podestá carrying the previous refrain. The second phrase in this section does not sound as staccato as the instrumental version in Section A, but sounds a more regular ‘tic toc’ timing. This maybe simply that the previous sharp attack on the staccato notes would not have complimented the singers voice, because Alberto holds his notes as he sings. Finally there is a 4 note trill on the piano to signify the end of the section.

‘Motivo Sentimental’ Section A variation 2

In the final section, variant 2 of Section A, Alberto stops singing in the first phrase and we go back to a more staccato arrangement. Finally we have a much more obvious ‘pom pom’ at the end of the tune to signify the finish.

Listen again to the full tune with all the sections in the correct order and imagine how you might interpret this tune in your dance expression.

Carlos Di Sarli’s recorded output was mainly tango tunes, but he did record a few Milonga and Vals tunes so we will have a listen to one of each to see if the pattern of sections (ABABA) still holds for tunes with a different tempo.

Vals – Un Momento

Lets listen to the lovely romantic Vals called ‘Un Momento‘ written by Héctor Stamponi and recorded in 1952 with the singer Oscar Serpo. Here’s the whole tune before I break it down.

As you can hear, this is typical romantic Di Sarli at his best, and if you imagine your dance interpretation to this Vals, I doubt if you would use decoration or tango movement which was too staccato. You would want to keep this dance flowing elegantly to the music.

So does the ABABA pattern still hold true for a Vals? Well first thing to note is that this Vals is nearly 2 mins 57 seconds long so only a few seconds longer than the previous Di Sarli recording. So allowing for technical factors such as turntable speed variation etc. this is about the typical length of previous tango tunes we’ve looked at.

Now what follows are the different sections to listen to.

‘Un Momento’ Section A

The first section A contains two phrases which are slightly different. Not much change there. Again no ‘pom poms’ with this Di Sarli Vals to signify the end of the section, but a three note slow trill from high to low. This makes it pretty easy to detect the end of the section.

‘Un Momento’ Section B

Section B is a new melody but the Di Sarli arrangement keeps it flowing nicely from the previous section.

‘Un Momento’ Section A variation 1

In this repeat of section A with variation we have the singer Oscar Serpo taking over the melody and the Orchestra goes into accompaniment mode providing some extra emotion with trills and runs of the open chords they play.

‘Un Momento’ Section B variation 1

In this repeat section B with variation the singer is still carrying the tune and the Orchestras accompaniment goes into some fairly playful ‘punctuation’ elements. A dancer would be able to anticipate how this section is going to sound overall, because the singer Oscar is repeating the refrain from the earlier sections of the tune. However, this is the first time we hear this playful ‘punctuation’ element, so if a dancer hadn’t heard this tune before (or this arrangement) they may not be able to use this element first time out. On next hearing though, it is interesting enough that you would probably recognise the tune early enough to remember the playful elements before they start.

‘Un Momento’ Section A variation 2

In the final section we revert back to a repeat of section A but with a nice mix of the first phrase being instrumental and the second phrase reintroducing the singer Oscar Serpo to finish off the tune. Again we have no ‘pom pom’ to fish off, but we have a lovely change of tempo as the music and the singer’s voice slows down for the last long elongated note. This easily signals the end of the whole tune.

So from that we can say that (at least for these Di Sarli arrangements) this ABABA pattern broadly holds true whether for tango or vals. This is very helpful to the dancer.

Milonga – Zorzal

Finally lets listen to a milonga tune. Di Sarli didn’t seem to record too many milongas and this may have been because he seemed to like the romantic arrangement of tunes. Milongas are happy tunes but don’t lend themselves well to the ‘romantic’ type arrangement. However in 1941 Di Sarli recorded a milonga called ‘Zorzal‘ with the help of singer Roberto Rufino. It was written by Dorita Zárate.

Now we start to hear something a little interesting because the pattern has changed slightly. Before breaking this pattern down, please have a listen to the whole tune

If you listen carefully there seems to be three different basic repeating patterns not just two. The AB sections are there but this time repeated 3 times for the pair of sections in an ABABAB type pattern, but there is also something else in between the AB sections. There is a shorter intro, two interludes and an outro sections which are all basically the same melody, so the composer is playing with the ‘standard’ ABABA format to form something a little more musically complex.

Also those of you already familiar with the milonga style of music and dance will hear that we still have typical Di Sarli lyrical strings and a fairly smooth feel to this milonga tune. This might lend itself to perhaps less of a ‘traspie’ (stumble) interpretation and more of a ‘liso’ (smooth) interpretation.

‘Zorzal’ Intro

This Introductory phrase is just 11 seconds long but it introduces the dancer to the faster milonga rhythm immediately. Milongas tend to be quicker rhythms to dance to and are often a bit shorter duration than a tango tune, so you don’t want to waste the first 15 – 20 seconds trying to work out what the rhythm is! This intro gives you that information pretty much immediately. It is also repeated 3 more times in the tune.

‘Zorzal’ Part A

Then we hear the Part A section with two repeating phrases. Again a slightly faster pace and a shorter overall section, and it’s instrumental.

‘Zorzal’ Part B

With Part B we hear two different phrases just for added interest, and the overall Part B is a different melody to Part A. Still brisk, still instrumental but the first section is classic Di Sarli smooth strings.

‘Zorzal’ Interlude 1

Now the composer inserts an interlude which is basically a repeat of the intro. This acts as an anchor point for the dancer because they’ve heard it once already, plus the two sections immediately after. Now the dancer broadly knows what’s coming next (even with variations) and can better interpret the music.

‘Zorzal’ Part A variation 1

Now we have the voice of Roberto Rufino supplying the melody while the Orchestra plays accompaniment, but it’s basically the same as the previous Part A, so no great surprises here and the dancers should be able to start playing with their interpretaion of the tune.

‘Zorzal’ Part B variation 1

This Part B variation is pretty much the same as the first Part B but again Roberto Rufino carries the melody. Dancers can carry on playing with a now familiar refrain.

‘Zorzal’ Interlude 2

As the second variations come to an end, another anchor point is introduced with another familiar interlude. We’ve already heard it twice, so it tells the dancer that the second AB pair is over and another is about to begin.

‘Zorzal’ Part A variation 2

‘Zorzal’ Part B variation 2

With the final repetitions of Parts A and B, the singer continues singing, but the rhythm and melody stays the same as before. Again, no big surprises for the dancers, because if the composer threw in a dramatic change of pace, section duration, or mood of melody, the milonga is so fast that the dancers wouldn’t be able to cope with big changes quickly enough. The tune enhances the dance, by not ‘getting in the way’.

‘Zorzal’ Outro

The final outro is simply the melody of the intro and interludes repeated for a final time, but with our old friend the ‘pom pom’ stuck on the end to signify the end of the tune. Happy dancers! 🙂

So in this part of the series, we have seen that for some new tunes with a different orchestral arrangement, the ABABA pattern can still be present, but that some composers and arrangers can also play with that basic pattern by inserting interludes, intros and outros. Providing they don’t mess up the dancers rhythm too much and give the dancers chance to ‘learn’ the tune by the end of the first AB pair, then the dancers will remain happy 🙂

In Part 6 I will look at Juan D’Arienzo’s Orchestral arrangements, which are quite a different feel to Di Sarli. We will still be on the look out for the ABABA pattern but may (or may not 🙂 ) come across something different.

By the way: For those of you beginning to think

‘Well of course all these tunes are exhibiting a common pattern, Steve, because you’re selecting the tunes that fit the pattern to prove your point. What about the thousands of other tunes out there?’,

it is true that I am currently illustrating a point, but there are plenty of Argentine Tango tunes, by plenty of different orchestras, out there on music and video websites, so get listening and see if I’m basically right or not 🙂

Previous – Musicality in Tango Dancing – Part 4

Musicality in Tango Dancing – Part Four

Mimosa FlowersIn the third part of this series we looked at the Orchesta Tipica, the instruments and how they express different elements of the music. Now we can look at the structure of a tango tune in more detail.

I will look at one popular tune ‘Mimosa’ recorded by the Francisco Canaro Orchestra in 1929, hence the lovely picture above… but maybe the tune was named after the orange and champagne drink? 🙂 I will show how the structure breaks down into musical phrases, sections, and other components, and how these components often repeat (with variation). This means that even if a dancer is not familiar with a tune, they can predict (guess?) what the music is likely to sound like once they’ve heard the first couple of sections, and so better interpret the second half of a tune with their dancing.

OK so we are going to listen to ‘Mimosa’, and the different sections of that tune, so we can compare the different parts, but first I’d like to show you a pictorial representation of the tune so you can more easily visualise the elements of a tune.Mimosa by Francisco Canaro, showing the different repeating sections to the musicThe first thing to notice is that this tune has 5 sections of approx 34 seconds each, resulting in an overall tune length of 2:50 minutes.

I’ve labelled each section and you’ll notice that there are only really 2 sections of differing melody, A and B, but in the sections labelled A+ and B+ there are some variations. The middle section A+looks different from the other Section A’s but that’s really only because the overall volume of that section is reduced. The waveform shapes are still similar.

The overall melody within two similar sections stays the same, but often different instruments play the melody in different sections. Sometimes (but not in Mimosa) there is a key change when a section is repeated. These variation to make it less boring to listen to.

Here is the entire tune to listen to first. See if you can pick out the repetition.

Now what follows are the different sections to listen to.

‘Mimosa’ Section A

You’ll notice in the diagram, Section A has one phrase repeated. Each phrase also contains a repeated refrain. Also listen out for the ‘pom pom’ at the end of the section. It tells a dancer that the section has finished and a different melody is about to start.

‘Mimosa’ Section B

In Section B we have two different phrases with each phrase containing a different repeated refrain and the whole Section B being a different melody to Section A. Also we have the ‘pom pom’ at the end of the section.

‘Mimosa’ Section A variation 1

In Section A var 1, it sounds like you have a new melody (the guitar) and this is true, but if you listen to the background the guitar is over-layed onto the melody from Section A, so you still have that ‘anchor’ to something you’ve already heard. Again we have the ‘pom pom’ at the end.

‘Mimosa’ Section B variation 1

In Section B variant 1 the ‘Phrase 1’ of the variation has the Bandoneon playing a slightly different refrain from the original Section B, but ‘Phrase 2’ is pretty much identical as played in the first Section B. Again we have the ‘pom pom’ at the end.

‘Mimosa’ Section A variation 2

In the final section variant 2 of Section A, we now have a new melody played by violins, but again listening to the background, the refrain is Section A again. Finally we have a more dramatic ‘pom pom’ at the end of the tune.

Listen again to the full tune with all the sections in the correct order and imagine how you might interpret this tune in your dance expression.

Is this the standard for writing tango tunes?

If you’ve ever wondered why so many tango tunes seem to be between 2:30 to 3:00 minutes long, the reason is that composers would create a walking beat of approximately 64 per minute (or 32 bars of music per min in 4/4 time). This would be 2 of the sections shown.

If a composer sticks to the ‘5 section’ tango format then the length of a tango will be about 2:30 min. This would be 80 bars of music and a total of 320 music beats.

For a fast tango at a tempo of 160 musical beats per minute, the 80 bars of music are finished in 2 mins. For a slow tango at a tempo of 110 musical beats per minute the 80 bars of music lasts 2:54 mins. It’s basically just maths 🙂

So, it look like we have a standard tango tune format?

Well yes and no. Many composers and orchestra arrangers did indeed stick to the ‘5 section’ tango format over many years, but we are discussing music, an art form, so there are other variations to this ‘standard’. Indeed Francisco Canaro later in his career introduced the prelude, interlude, and longer endings into his music. However hidden inside all the ‘extras’ you will find enough repetition of sections and phrases to make it easier for you to interpret tunes for your dancing.

In the next section of this series I will begin to examine different popular orchestras so we can understand that different tunes perhaps need different dance interpretation.

Previous – Musicality in Tango Dancing – Part 3

Next – Musicality in Tango Dancing – Part 5

How long does it take to learn tango?

Recently one of my new students asked this very reasonable question. However the answer is not easy to state. It’s a bit like asking how long is a piece of string. Even if you put some ‘way points’ in the question such as ‘how long does it take to become average/good/excellent…’ you are still left with defining what average/good/excellent means, or deciding who should make that definition.

However I thought I’d put my engineers mind to it and see if I could shed some light with my own experience, thoughts and opinion. I am not aware of any hard facts or research on ‘tango expertise’, but if anyone knows of such data let me know.

Let’s first look at the main components of the tango dance (in no particular order of importance);

  • Choreography – the walk, the classic figures, the ‘tango steps’ which would be recognisably tango to all tango dancers.
  • Technique – the dissociation, maintaining your own axis, the timing, foot shaping etc. The components recognisable by most tango dancers above beginners level, even if those dancers have not yet mastered them.
  • Musicality – stepping on the strong beat, decorating using the melody and so on. Again most dancers except new beginners would be aware of the possibilities of enhancing a dance with musicality, even if they were not yet adept.

To become expert at tango, we need to excel in all three of these areas at the very least.

There are also many other parameters which may influence how quickly we learn tango such as our own innate abilities, our teachers capabilities and so on, but lets stick to what is perhaps more easily judged for the ‘average’ new starter.

We then come onto defining levels of expertise. The words ‘beginner’, ‘improver’, ‘intermediate’, ‘advanced’, ‘professional’, ‘world champion’ etc. are used throughout the tango world to describe the level of a dancer, but what do they actually mean?

Well, apart from the obvious ones at the far ends of the spectrum (‘beginner’ and ‘world champion’) the others are a little more difficult to pin down.

Some tango schools classify by calendar duration. For example a beginner is someone who has danced less than 6 months, or an intermediate is someone dancing for a minimum of 2 years. In my experience this is a fairly blunt tool to define a persons actual capability. I’ve danced with people who ‘feel’ like they’ve been dancing a couple of years, to be told they’ve only been dancing 6 months (but taking 5 classes and attending a couple of milongas each week of those 6 months). Equally I’ve danced with people who ‘feel’ like they are beginners, to be told that they’ve been dancing tango ’10 years, on and off’. So the simple passage of calendar time is not necessarily a good measure of progress or capability.

There is a school of thought (and empirical research across many fields lends support) that to become an ‘expert’ in any subject takes 10 years of deliberate practice, i.e. taking classes, practising with specific purpose, and performing while taking feedback.

This “10 year rule” was first proposed based on research about the amount of deliberate practice it took for someone to become a chess master, but since then has been found to be fairly consistent across many subject areas. This translates into thousands of hours of effort expended for the sole purpose of mastering a craft or activity.

By age twenty the best violinists are estimated to have engaged in deliberate practice for at least 10,000 hours. Expert performers arrange their lives around a commitment to daily practice. For example, expert musicians have been found to engage in deliberate practice approximately four hours per day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

This would imply that if you go to a 1hr tango class once a week and do no more, it will take you 200 years to become expert! Equally it implies that if you work in a job where you spend 30-40 hours a week doing the same thing week in week out, then you would become an expert in about 6 years.

This makes sense, and explains why some people seem ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than they ‘should be’. If you put in a greater number of hours, regularly and consistently, you are more likely to be perceived as ‘better’, compared to someone doing a few hours here and there with many long gaps in between.

Varying the type of subject performance is also critical to achievement. You can go to as many tango classes and practise sessions as you like, but you may still feel out of your depth during your first social dance simply because the safe learning environment is different from the performance environment.

You can’t really know how good you are at any point in your learning until you put yourself to the test. This applies both in class (where you might eagerly volunteer to be the teachers demonstrator instead of hiding at the back), as well as at a social dance where, as nervous as you may feel, you just have to get up and do it.

The trick to dealing with the inevitable mistakes in both class and milonga is simply to use the mistake as a learning tool, always looking for the useful learning points. In that way you make progress even when things feel uncomfortable.

So if you’ve read this far and are thinking you might never be any good at tango and you might as well give it up, take heart, because as yet I haven’t discussed another important parameter, which is your own objectives in learning tango.

What do you want out of tango?

Some people only want to do enough to be able to mug along at some occasional tangoesque type event. Some people want to challenge themselves to see how good they can become, and of course some people may dream of being a national or international champion. These objectives require different levels of committent and determination.

So in a nut-shell:-

1. Unless you intend to enter the World Championships or perform on stage, you don’t need to be ‘expert’ at tango to enjoy social dancing, but in order to get lots of dances you need to be acknowledged as ‘reasonably good’ within your tango community, so some time and effort is required. Maybe not 10,000 hours, but certainly many hundreds to the odd thousand or so hours.

2. I believe that the act of learning the components of tango is something like the illustration below:

Learning Tango - an illustration of how long it might take

Before you all get up in arms about how ‘inaccurate’ this is, one should take it with a healthy dose of standard deviation, and your experience may well be different. This is based on my personal experience, what I observe of dancers around my community, and a smidgeon of thought and logical deduction. For example, why do the three parameters stop below the level of ‘World Champion’? Well, it’s my opinion that World Champions have some other harder to define ‘je ne se quoi’. It may be inspiration, or luck on the day, but it’s unlikely to be lack of technique, musicality or choreographic ability at that level.

So the chart shows that you may learn a fair bit of choreography reasonably quickly, but technique and musicality take longer. It also shows that the path to tango nirvana is never a straight smooth line. Sometimes you plateau and think you’ll never make further progress. That is the time to seek out input from someone much further along the curve.

3. If you want to compress the learning curve(s) then you need to do more work, more often and develop a commitment to deliberate practise each day, even if you can only manage 15 minutes instead of the 4 hours of experts. It should make a positive difference to your tango provided you’re practising how to become better, rather than just re-enforcing bad habits. In other words really listen to the advice your teachers give you, and practice the good stuff.

So how long does it take to learn tango? Well, first you need a find a piece of string… 🙂

The Anatomy of the Tango Embrace

Rudolf Valentino in an embraceEl Abrazo – The Embrace. Even the name conjures up nice, warm, comfortable feelings 🙂

It is an important aspect of Argentine tango. It is the channel through which a leader communicates intent, silently, with their partner. Many tango teachers and dancers will talk about ‘connection’. Sometimes they refer to the physical connection, and sometimes they will refer to being ‘in tune’ with your partner. It is a complex mix of physical, musical, and emotional elements. Get it right and you can achieve that sublime feeling when you feel fully in tune with your partner and at the end both agree that you had a ‘perfect’ dance.

However the embrace must still start with the physical connection, without which the non physical aspects are difficult if not impossible to achieve, so here are a few tips to enhance your embrace.

1. The embrace should be flexible and able to open/close as the dance dictates. Since the leader is creating the broad structure of the dance the decision to open/close the embrace will mainly be down to them.

  • A closed embrace is good for walking. The feedback between leader and follower is virtually instant.
  • An open embrace is good for figures where the legs need room to move.

In any given dance the embrace will be moving from closed to open and back again as the leader invites the follower to move.

2. When placing hands on followers back, or on leaders shoulder blades etc. it is useful to have a slight pressure there. In this way, when the leader stops moving the follower will feel slight extra pressure on her back and a slight extra pressure in her hand on leaders shoulder blade. When leader moves again it will be the other way round, a slight relief of pressure (in a walk for example). This will add one more avenue of feedback, as well as visual, and other body contact feedback.

3. No squeezing hard please! Leaders, do not grab your follower in a bear hug. They have to be able to breathe to dance. Followers, do not clamp the leaders arm tightly under yours especially in open embrace. This will restrict the leaders ability to lead and you will miss out on all that potential tango goodness.

4. Leaders, create a frame in which the follower is comfortable, but when necessary can move freely within the frame. When moving the frame, the arms and chest should be considered as one unit. If you rotate to one side or the other, the arms do not move independently of the chest (most of the time… there are always exceptions 🙂 )

5. If you feel your connection is failing, then examine your embrace from a communications point of view. Every communication has a transmitter (the leader indicating intent), a communication medium (the embrace), and a receiver (the follower receiving the intent and responding correctly). A communication can fail if any of those elements break down, or even just stop performing at optimum.

The transmitter stops transmitting. This would equate to the leader not transmitting intent clearly enough. Note; ‘clearly’ does not mean forcibly. The leader is not trying to push or pull his partner into position. The leader can ‘invite without option’ by inviting the follower to step in one direction, but at the same time limiting the choice of other directions. If leaders master this technique they won’t need to pull or push.

The communications medium breaks down. In this case the embrace is not clearly transmitting the lead. This results in a lack of connection. It will more often happen in open embrace where the connection is by definition, less secure and more compromised, so leaders need to be as clear as possible, and followers need to use other senses and mechanisms for detecting the lead, more so than in close embrace.

The receiver stops receiving. The follower is not tuned in and is not receptive to the lead, even though it’s clear and the embrace is fine. In this case followers, it’s either time to wake up and tune in, or if you’re tired it’s time to stop dancing.

All of these things can happen sometime in a milonga, especially near the end after 4 or 5 hours dancing when everybody is pleasantly tired but no longer concentrating.

6. Once you have the physical connection in place you can then start to consider the musical connection. After all, you are both dancing to the same tune, and presumably hearing the same beats, melody, opportunities for syncopation, and so forth. To achieve this musical connection both dancers need to be familiar with the tune, and there is no easy way to make yourselves familiar with tango music except to listen to lots of it.

Once you both start really hearing and dancing to the tune, you will be able to add another layer onto your connection because a follower will be able to ‘anticipate’ (I know – not supposed to 🙂 ) what a leader may be about to lead because of the musical phrase both dancers know is coming up next. The music tells both of you what to do! This may seem like anticipation but may simply be both dancers instinctively knowing ‘the most appropriate movement’ for that musical phrase, because of hundreds of hours dancing and listening to tango music.

7. Then we have the emotional connection. This is the hardest to achieve because emotions are personal to each dancer. This implies that to achieve an emotional connection one of you has to be perceptive, sympathetic, or empathetic to the others mood and be willing to give up your own emotional need in that time, in order to adopt a similar mood.

So to review Leaders must be skilled in how to lead the movement, and clearly transmit the intent. The embrace must be relaxed but firm enough to allow the physical movement of leading to be quickly picked up, and the follower must be attentive and tuned in (or as a bare minimum, awake 🙂 ). You must both be really listening to the music, and for a dance with ’emotional cohesion’ you both must be roughly in the same mood.

It’s a lot to ask for, which is why we perhaps don’t have many (if any) ‘perfect’ dances in any single milonga, but when you get one… that’s what keeps you coming back for more 🙂

How to dance more musically

Musicality in your dance is 50% of the work. Knowing figures and decorations is one thing, but applying them to a given tango tune in a musical fashion which enhances not only the external look of the dance to your audience, but also enhances your own enjoyment of the dance, is another important factor.

So how can you improve your musicality and improve your Argentine Tango interpretation?

1. The most obvious thing is to listen to lots of tango music… traditional tango music… every day… until you begin to recognise all the popular tunes you hear at milongas. This will take time, but will tune your ear to the rhythms and structure of typical tango tunes.

If you don’t have the money to buy tracks/CD’s you can listen to tango tunes from your favourite video service or music streaming website, and if you have on-line radio, there are some good tango stations out there who stream hours of tango music to listeners. So, no excuses! You can squeeze in 1/2 hour of tango music while travelling to/from work, walking the dog, out running, etc. every day 🙂

2. Learn the structure of what you’re listening to. Most Argentine tango tunes (especially those from the Golden Age (early 1930’s – late 1950’s) do have a recognisable structure.

You need to be able to listen to the music and react to it rather than just hearing it as a background noise. Typically, tango tunes are split into phrases which are repeated (with variation) through out the tune. There are often two or three musical themes repeated also, in an ‘A-B-A-B-A’ or ‘A-B-A-B-C’type pattern.

So as well as getting to recognise popular tunes off by heart, knowing the typical structure of a tango tune allows you to anticipate how you might dance to tunes you’ve never heard before as you begin to listen to the first phrases of the tune.

3. Practise dancing musically, of course! When you are in a Practica, don’t be afraid of trying out steps such as rock steps and rebounds to accentuate not just the stepping beat but half beats too. Try out your adornments in a similar manner, and don’t forget to use pauses as well. Smooth elegant tango dancing will always have some pauses in it. Music is written in phrases and sections. Singers have to draw breath. Each of these elements will result in a natural pause in the music, so use them.

In conclusion, if you make a regular habit of listening to tango music, understanding it’s structure and practising your interpretation at Practica, your dancing will become more musical, and your partners will notice 🙂

For more information about dancing with musicality read our new series called ‘Musicality in Tango Dancing