Tango Argentino > Teaching Musicality

Discussion in 'Tango Argentino' started by AndaBien, Aug 8, 2012.

  1. AndaBien

    AndaBien Well-Known Member

    [FONT=Calibri, sans-serif]Musicality in dance is one of my strong interests, since I see so many leaders evidently having little awareness of it. I've been told by some partners that I have a good sense of it. (Just reporting the facts). Although I know how I dance, I have no sense of how other leaders dance to the music, except for what I can see. Many times it doesn't look good, when I see leaders dance straight through obvious pauses and even fail to recognize the end of the music. [/FONT]

    [FONT=Calibri, sans-serif]Of course, you can't teach musicality if you can't say what it is. I'd love to learn the experiences and thoughts of various followers. I just wanted to write out my thoughts about how I do it. My way is not the right way, it's just mine. I'd like to know how other leaders compose their dance, if they do – maybe they don't.[/FONT]

    [FONT=Calibri, sans-serif]I attribute my understanding of musicality to my early education in playing music, and to my experience as a folk dancer, where every dance is choreographed to fit to the music.[/FONT]

    [FONT=Calibri, sans-serif]I learned to play music in the 4th grade and played for several years. My music education is rudimentary, but it gave me a clear understanding of the structure of music, especially simpler music such as marches, school fight songs and dance music. As a dance teacher I have observed that many people have no such understanding. Even music appreciation courses may not explain how music has A and B parts that are repeated alternately and have 1st and 2nd endings. I've given classes a few times on how music is structured, playing a familiar tune and showing how it relates to the sheet music. Sometimes this has been an eye-opener for people.[/FONT]

    [FONT=Calibri, sans-serif]However, many dancers know as much or more about music than I do, but they may not have an idea of how to use that knowledge in creating a dance. I call it instant choreography; I think in ballroom dancing it's called building amalgamations. [/FONT]

    [FONT=Calibri, sans-serif]In my late teens and early 20's I was an avid folk dancer. In that realm every dance has a specific choreography and specific recording that goes with it. When folk dancers hear the first few beats of a tune, they instantly know what the dance is and recall the sequence. Something like Country Western, I think. The choreography is usually not complicated at all. A typical one would be a simple 8-bar sequence repeated 2 or 4 times for the A part. When the music changes to the B part, they do a different sequence until the A part is played again. For me, this gives an ingrained concept of dancing a particular theme for a portion of the music, then changing it to something else when the music changes. In tango I'm certainly not doing memorized sequences and repeating them, but I am making an effort to fit my instant choreography, in some way, to the emotion and structure of the music that I am hearing. I realize some principles of visual design are also found in folk choreography: repetition, variation, contrast.[/FONT]

    [FONT=Calibri, sans-serif]To summarize, I have an understanding of the structure of dance music, and I have experience in knowing how to create choreographic structure that, in some way, coincides with the musical structure. I also want the emotion of the dance to suit the emotion of the music. The reason I do all of this is, partly, it's just how I dance, but I also want to give my partner a concept of what my intention is, so she can have a better idea of what we're doing. I think it allows her to be more comfortable, and it just creates a more interesting and enjoyable dance for both of us.[/FONT]

    [FONT=Calibri, sans-serif]Questions: [/FONT]
    [FONT=Calibri, sans-serif]When amalgamations are taught in ballroom dancing, what do they teach?[/FONT]
    [FONT=Calibri, sans-serif]Excluding the idea of becoming a folk dancer for a few years, how can choreographic ideas be taught?[/FONT]
    [FONT=Calibri, sans-serif]Would teaching choreographic ideas be useful?[/FONT]

    [FONT=Calibri, sans-serif](Sorry for the long post).
  2. toothlesstiger

    toothlesstiger Well-Known Member

    Very ambitious, AB, considering that most of the leaders I watch can't even find the beat. ;-)

    I find for myself that any sort of such matching the choreography to the music can only start for me when (a) I am very familiar with the music already and (b) when I am so comfortable with the figures that I normally use that I don't have to think about them, and I am playing with how I execute them according to the music.

    This happens for me sometimes with Salsa, and very occasionally with WC Swing. I've been dancing International Ballroom too short a time for it to start happening there.
  3. AndaBien

    AndaBien Well-Known Member

    I totally agree on both points.

    A good reason to understand the structure of the music is to become familiar with it. That phrase that they just played? They will play it again, starting right here!

    I advocate using very simple and easy steps. That way I can exert the most control over them. When steps are complicated or difficult, I'm doing well to just get through them. Forget about adding any subtlety or expression.
  4. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    Blair teaches for 32 count phrases.
    First learn about phrasing in music and corresponding "counts."
    For what? AT? Knowing pharsing and counts, yes. "choreographic ideas" for social AT? not so much. The "stage"? sure
  5. AndaBien

    AndaBien Well-Known Member

    32 counts, or 32 bars? 32 bars, a full music phrase, is way more than I'm thinking about. I'm thinking about 16 counts, maybe only 8.

    I agree. If you know that the current phrase will end in 8 counts, (not because you're counting, but because you know the structure) and you know how to dance something that will take 8 counts, you can absolutely hit the end of that phrase and punch the beginning of the next phrase.

    I'm not thinking about anything that would be suitable for stage, except maybe the bare minimum performance.

    As a possible example: if the music seems to indicate strutting, strut for 4 counts, then something to contrast with strutting, maybe ocho cortado. Follow that with 4 more counts of strutting, contrasted with another ocho cortado or something else instead. Total segment is 16 counts with a strutting theme, but contrasted with something else. After that, for variation and interest, develop a dance idea based around giros, as a contrast to strutting.

    I'm not talking about fancy or complex choreographic ideas, just bare minimum, which would be far more than many leaders dance seem to dance with. I'm thinking about, how do I, 1) get a choreographic idea, or a theme, and 2) how do I convey that idea to my partner, so she can understand it actively and confidently contribute to it.
  6. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    8-Beat Mini-phrase

    She (Blair) has a whole system that she has worked out since she started teaching circa 1954.

    She also firmly advocates training yourself to feel the phrasing by practicing, and yes, counting along. It then become internalized. It does even if you don't count, I think, but instruction and practice facilitate learning.

    And then there's that bit about rolling count, etc.

    I have to say, that, as someone who has never had formal training until Blair, what she writes hangs together for me. I've written before that I wish she would apply her stuff to AT.
    But then ATers are so free spirited, aren't we? Sort of like people who dance West Coast Swing. Hey, wait a muinute!

    BTW The vast majority of line dances pretty much ignore the phrasing in music. So, for instance in the new Blake Shelton version of Footloose, you dance right through those breaks in the song. (the Kenny Loggins version did the same thing.) I do my best to work something in there, but I can't stand to dance that way.
    There ARE phrased line dances, and I like those. But the woman who teaches where I dance thinks they are "too hard."
    Anyhow, rant over.
  7. Dancelf

    Dancelf Member

    When I attended her workshop - beats. 8 measures of 4.

    Choreography-on-the-fly is the term I use; I picked it up from Robert Royston after he crossed over into west coast swing.

    Musicality is: changing your dance to match the music that you hear.

    I think the hardest step is persuading the novice lead that learning musicality is more important than learning another pattern. Once the student accepts that being able to execute a pattern without thinking about it the beginning of learning it, rather than the end.

    In the swing world, I would discourage amalgamating in favor of adapting. There are lessons to learn about placing patterns in sequence that will improve a student's ability to dance to the music, but I don't believe that the return justifies promoting this lesson over teaching students different ways to adapt patterns to the music.

    I'd also rather see floor craft taught ahead of amalgamations. (and a pony, while I'm at it).

    Standard Westie disclaimer applies.
  8. bordertangoman

    bordertangoman Well-Known Member

    My experience. A friend of mine wanted to do a performance for a charity event, using Evaristo Carriego; her mothod was to write down what she was hearing as shapes on paper ( you might want to look at Murat Erdemsel's animation of tango music on youtube)

    this gave us a visual framework for deciding what we would use where. As I am not experienced at remembering choreography (although my partner was); we decided on putting in certain things at certain points, but between times it would be simply lead and follow - and we would have to adapt to the space available at the venue and be conscious of where the audience were (all around you, or in front)
  9. opendoor

    opendoor Well-Known Member

    Re: Teaching amalgamation

    Thanks for posting, AndaBien!

    You are to talk folk dance down! But indeed you actually described how people all over the world encounter folk music, folk and country dances. But this reduces folk music and dancing to puppetry. Folk dances today actually are conveyed by choreographies but no one is forced to comply. I learned tango prior to folk dances and so I really could break up this Snow White's coffin. A genuine dancer cannot but finding out the gist of a dance, what the characteristics of the music are, the core moves, and of course how to stitch the vocabulary together differently to increase the characteristics, or simply to cool it down to the line of dance!
    This is a choreographed mazurka http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-4YGQxvPc8
    this an improvized one http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpYdSjl_cm8

    Don´t worry AndaBien: these poor guys don´t even have the ability to use their knowledge and experience as trained musicians for simply creating music right off the bat. So why do you ever start thinking of their dancing?

    Sorry, I have never entered a BR class. But for me ballrooming only resembles that unwinding of choreographed sequences in traditional folk dances. I have a lot of friends in the BR scene but the first time they ever think of what you call amalgamation is the moment they choose a piece of music for their first competition program. Their competitions replaces what we do socially every night on the dance floor.
  10. bordertangoman

    bordertangoman Well-Known Member

  11. AndaBien

    AndaBien Well-Known Member

    I think that's a good definition, as far as it goes, but is there something missing, or maybe implied? In other words, reversing the equation, I think musicality is achieved by your definition, but does your definition always achieve musicality. Can a leader change his dance to match the music, and not achieve musicality?

    A related question I've been thinking about is, why is musicality considered a good thing? For me, a partial answer is subjective; I just like it. But I also think that it makes my dance more enjoyable for my partner, if I can convey the musicality to her. And why is it more enjoyable? Because it's more understandable or coherent, I guess. From that other thread, an understandable dance allows followers to contribute their own expression more easily.

    I'd love for some followers to say why they like musicality.
  12. opendoor

    opendoor Well-Known Member

    I also like the "matching" approach because it covers the style and the historic knowledge as well. It simply is a question of education. A dancer should know which orchestra requires apilado, which V-, or open hold. The musicality item on the other hand can only be learned to some degree: I can teach to recognize some typical sections of a peace and how to decide for corridas, doublings, for volcadas, enrosques or poses. But I cannot teach to position oneself when the melody of the singer addresses something different than the groove of the orchestra. The dancer alone should feel such tension and should be able to deal with it. So my didactics for musicality goes this way:

    -dancing to the rhythm
    (recognize signature and meter, to abstract from the melody, counting, walking in half, normal or double time, paradas and traspies, sincopas y marcattos...)
    -dancing to the melody
    (to abstract form the rhythm, to accelerate and to slow down, pauses and poses, dancing on the spot, adding of expression, breathing and so on..)
    -dancing to the music
    (to point out discrepancies between instruments, voices, melody and rhythm, to point out synergies between the said components, hearing the words and the meaning of the music, to invite to leave the traditional form or dancing behind, to express oneself beyond the conventional set of rules of that certain dance and to communicate without limitations between other dancers...)
  13. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    I think that musicality, is hard to talk about because there are (at least) two different parts to it:

    1) craft, which is essentially mechanical, like walking on the beat, and following the phrasing, and the A-B-A

    2) art, expressing ones personal experience

    And in some ways these two are contradicting each other, as opendoor pointed out in another thread - my experience is not bound by the rhythm, and when the phrase ends it doesn't end, and when the orchestra returns to the A part my experience does not repeat.

    On the other hand the mechanical structure is not set up at random - composers have decided to use these structures on a whim, but because that is what humans enjoy listening to, which is why a lot of this is independent of what music or dance we are talking about.

    Currently i feel like we are doing false advertising when we talk about tango leaders completely freely interpreting the the music, and not needing to count and learn choreographies. We might not count, and learn no choreography, but to be good tango dancers we end up following the same structures. I often think beginning tango leaders would be better served if we stopped talking about musicality as "experiencing the music" and instead said something like "you are not allowed to do any interpretation - stay on the beat, and every 8th step there will be something interesting happening in the music so make sure that you do something interesting there, too".

    As a leader i have the freedom of a tightrope walker - as long as i stay on the rope i can do whatever i want - as soon as i stray i will loose my follower. And the follower has the the same, or even less freedom - while my rope is the music, she has two ropes -me, and the music, and if those two diverge she is forced to followe me and not the music.

    I think the mechanical part of musicality are essential for followers to actually being able to dance - if i as a leader mark erratically off the beat the follower will not be able to walk with me. In the same vein, if i "choreograph" off the phrasing she will not be able to be musical in her interpretation of my choreography. If she is good she will still be able to follow, and look beautiful, but her dance has become completely ursuped by me.

    I used to be much more about the freedom in tango, but the more i dance and listen the more i think that being in agreement with the person i dance with what the basic structure of our dance will be is a much easier way to get those great dances where everything is just bliss than hoping to be in the exact same emotional and interpretive state and have this agreement spontaneously happen.

    I don't think one has to count out everything - just by listening to a lot of tango one becomes familiar with the basic structure of all tango, but i think for people who are new to tango, or who don't spend too much time with the music outside of milongas it can be helpful to sit down and count out the phrases and accents of a few songs. (that is actually one of the few redeeming qualities of the 8 count basic - it fits the standard phrasing of tango with the accents on the cross at the 4 and the pause at the 8, and somebody could do much worse musically than just repeating the 8 count basic)

    And ironically i got a lot of this from learning argentinean folkdances - they are all on one hand rigidly choreographed, and on the other hand if you dance with somebody who is also willing to play you can go off the choreography as much as you want, because you both trust that you know where your partner and you are going to roughly end up at the end of the phrase. There is a big difference between watching zamba danced by a dance troupe that tries to maximise uniformity to show off their skill and dancing it for fun. (that is one of the things that i miss when i do chacarera in the US - nobody seems to notice how flirtatious and playful the whole thing is, and how much you are "allowed" to mess with the pattern - i guess that is also one of the reasons why i have never seen a zamba at a milonga here)

  14. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    I don't think it is possible to leave the traditional form of dancing completely behind, because it is based on the traditional form of the music. I think part of the implicit contract in dance is that by choosing a piece of music we are willing to obey or at least acknowledge the same set of conventional rules that the composer and musician were willing to obey when they created the piece of music.

    I think of dancing more as being an artisan, not an artist - to be able to dance with a partner we have to agree on a set of physics, just like a glassblower has to accept the physics of glass, and the design limitation of what will still be usable as a wine glass at the end.

    It is possible to do things outside of this, by dancing without or against the music, just like the composers can step out of the form, but then it is something different - which is not a bad thing, but if i agree with my partner to write a sonnet together it will cause friction when i suddely switch to another form.

  15. opendoor

    opendoor Well-Known Member

    No, I think totally different: The dancing has to follow the music. But surely not the other way round ("..rules that the composer......")

    Four deep changes in the way of composing tango music allowed the development of four new dancing styles in our dance history. But the dancing styles did not bring new styles of composing along. I think that the composers surely did react with irritations. The music rules the dancing style. But the interpretation is down to the dancers. The composer and musicians initiated a development they cannot control afterwards.

    Why not then? Why restrict yourself? Why not answer traditionally on a provoking challenge. This would be a dialogue. By the way, leaving an out-dated form behind was meant didactically in my post. One should be able to do so, but you must not!
  16. AndaBien

    AndaBien Well-Known Member

    I agree, but as you said, where do you draw the line? Simply hitting the beats does not create musicality, although it might be a great improvement in that direction. Following the phrasing would imply that the leader is actually aware of it and responding to it. If a leader simply stopped and started at phrase breaks, that would be marginal, but if he/she finished off the prior phrase nicely and began the next phrase with an opening of some sort, I would definitely call that good musicality.

    Your experience is your awareness, and that comes from your mind. You can be aware of the music, or not. You can be aware of your partner, or not. I think teaching musicality means helping dancers to be more aware of the music, first, and then teaching them ways to respond to it. If a dancer prefers to be aware of something other than the music, then that is their own choice.
  17. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    Sorry, i was not clear - what i was thinking about when i said "the rules the composers obey" i meant things like having a reasonably consistent beat, having phrases, using a call-answer scheme, doing A-B-A - there is no particular reasons for any of these things to exist in a piece of music, but the composer decided to include them.

    In a way i think there are limits to how far one can push the boundaries of a form and expect people to accompany one. Sure, i can claim that Cage's 4'33" is a tango, but breaking the classical form, but i think i would have a hard time to convince a dancefloor of it if i played it, maybe in a tanda together with 4'34" and 4'35" - in the same way i think that if i tried to dance to a tanda by not embracing and moving i would get a very unhappy follower.

    I am trying to set up a parallel argument - in the same way that a certain degree of predictability of the music helps a leader to dance does a certain degree of predictability of the leader help a follower to dance.

    I am not talking about perfect predicatbility and adherence to a fixed form - the same way that a tango is more than 3 minutes of a metronome, but less than random noise.
  18. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    For me what i am currently thinking about (and this is just because it is something i am working on) is not my musicality - it is my followers musicality. So if a leader finished the prior phrase nicely, and begins the next phrase with an opening it tells me nothing about the musicality of their dance - it tells me something about their personal musicality. If they finish and begin the next phrase in a similar way so that the follower can fully use the space they expect to have at the phrase ending because they trust the music and their experience of the realtionship of the leader with the music then i would say they have good musicality.

    If the follower does not have to either steal or be given the space for their dance in the couples dance, but simply has all the space in the world because it is clear from the music and the leaders musicality there is good musicality.

    The main question is always the followers musicality.

    Hyperbolically: As a leader i can dance like i dance alone, and be solely aware of the music and how it moves me. The follower has no such choice - they can not prefer to be aware of the music or not - they first and foremost have to be aware of the leader.. But they are dancers - they are also aware of the music, and they want to respond to it. If these two awarenesses collide then usually the awareness of the leader wins out - no musical interpretation is worth being run over by somebody who is twice as heavy as you are.

    I don't want a follower to dance to dance just following me - i would like her to be able to dance to her awareness of the music.

    My main thesis at the moment is that there has to be a certain degree of predicatbility and conventionality of the leaders response to the music to give a follower the freedom to dance her response to the music, and not just her response to the leaders response to the music.

    I don't think this is an absolute, and i have no real idea where the limits of what is "predictable" are, but i think musicality for leaders should encompass beyond awareness of the music and responding to it a strong element of facilitation of the followers response to the music, and the idea that there is a shared "conventional" awareness of the music (as opposed to the "personal, ideosyncratic" awareness of the music) that facitilates a leaders understanding of the followers responses and the followers understanding of the leaders responses

  19. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    Added after the 5 min limit for edits was over - i apologize for being longwinded.

    The leader is in some ways an obstacle for the followers musicality. If she danced alone she could express everything she wanted. For a leader the freedom of expression when dancing alone, and when dancing with a follower is not that different, especially when the follower is a great follower.

    Musicality for leaders means at the moment for me to try to turn from an obstacle for the followers musicality into an asset of the followers musicality. My current idea is that to do that requires conscious attention to what the follower is aware of in the music, and, unless we know each other well, or have one of the magic telepathic moments that we all crave, this mean mostly respecting and working with the more crude mechanical features of the songs, and not solely with emotions.

  20. AndaBien

    AndaBien Well-Known Member

    GSSH, I think we are agreeing on almost everything.

    A leader must have a response to the music, and he must convey it to his partner. A follower must have a response to the music and be allowed to express it. By understanding, to a decent degree, what the leaders musicality is in that moment, it allows her to include hers more confidently.

    There are some times, for example, the end of a D'Arienzo tune, that I may feel like just cranking some rhythmical patterns and I would want my partner to just stick with me. But, I'm sure that earlier in the dance I would have provided plenty of opportunity for her to contribute.

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