Tango Argentino > Teaching Musicality

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

  1. gyb

    gyb Member

    Building up musical interpretation does not equate building up sequences of steps.

    Besides other reasons tango music is great for dancing because it provides an excellent mix of the predictable and the unforeseen. This mixture allows us to get carried away with the flow without getting bored by repetitiveness. My approach to dancing have been to mimic this mixture by being somewhat predictable in building up the musical interpretation (over the course of several steps) while keeping the way how I implement this musical interpretation via steps variable and unrepetitive. Providing a consistent and somewhat predictable musical interpretation, I believe, is the key to allow followers to exploit their own musical freedom in the dance. Trying to carefully avoid that the recurring elements of the musical interpretation get implemented in the same steps is the key to keep followers from getting bored (not to mention that acquiring the confidence of putting the steps together on the spot also allows us to adapt to the floor conditions).

    This mixture can be achieved. Equating "not planning steps ahead" with "not planning musical interpretation ahead" is a fallacy.
  2. JohnEm

    JohnEm Well-Known Member

    Not sure about about all of this.
    The consistency for the woman is stepping or marking the rhythm in some
    way, that doesn't necessarily mean the man - it means the woman feels
    the man is marking the music by means of what she is being asked to do.

    The musical interpretation for the lady is how she feels the man is
    responding and the responses in her. It comes from changes in intensity
    of movement, extent and type of movement, the way you use your body
    to communicate what you feel or the melody or tone of the music to her.
    The better dancer you are, the quality of the connection/embrace, the
    better the dancer your partner is, the range and choice of movement you
    both have all influence the dance. Do you for instance dance in three
    dimensions, do you you use your entire body, your entire being even,
    when you dance? As Ricardo Vidort is reputed to have said do you:
    "Put All the Meat on the Fire", a very Argentine way of saying it.

    None of which has anything to do with sequences.

    I would modify that:
    Equating "not planning steps ahead" with "no musical interpretation"
    is a fallacy.
  3. gyb

    gyb Member

    Not sure what you are disagreeing about.

    Building up the musical interpretation in my view also has to do with, as you write, "changes in intensity of movement, extent and type of movement, the way you use your body to communicate what you feel or the melody or tone of the music to her". I'd only subtract from this description the "type of movement", ie whether it is an ocho cortado, a sidestep, a rock-step etc. For me that directionality is spontaneous and fitted to the floor condition, while the manner it is executed - or more precisely, the manner of how a shorter or longer sequence of these steps is executed -, including response to the melody through the embrace and the rhytmical pattern it follows, leads to the musical interpretation. But this musical interpretation can be, according to my intention, somewhat foreseen.

    Maybe using the word "planning" was misfortune as it connotes with consciousness of decisions too much.
  4. JohnEm

    JohnEm Well-Known Member

    We are much closer now although I do not think of sequences; even if an
    observer sees sequences.

    For me "type of movement" didn't imply particular movements but how
    they were used to express the movements. Types of movement as you are
    describing, meaning say flowing or repeating or rebounding, even pausing
    while conveying the rhythm in some way, come about from the floor
    conditions, the partner and even the movement before, spontaneously.
    It takes time and much practise to get there.

  5. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    This sort of illustrates why it's difficult to communicate with you. You use words that we use, but your meanings of the words are so different from ours, that we really don't know what each other is saying. Thus you draw some strange conclusions that sometimes have little to do with what we've actually said.

    Also, your usage of the word "think" and putting it in italics they way you did, would appear to imply that some of us don't know how to fit steps to the music. You can legitimately claim that you don't know how to do something, if that's your opinion of yourself. However, criticizing people/things you don't know anything about like that, makes you come across as both rude and foolish (it makes it difficult to take what you say as serious and thoughtful). Like I've said before, your posts are difficult to understand, so it's possible that wasn't your intent, but that's the message you sent.

    If nothing else, when you detect that we don't understand you, also consider that you also don't understand us.
  6. JohnEm

    JohnEm Well-Known Member

    No I am stating that, based on what has been said, you and others are
    thinking out the dance rather than dancing in a way that enables you not
    to have to think. Or to put it another way my dance does not require me
    to work out how to fit the steps to the music as you have just implied
    yours does. My musicality is both deeper than that yet simpler than that.
  7. Subliminal

    Subliminal Well-Known Member


    I'm actually getting married too. Tomorrow in fact! :shock:

    er... back on topic... yes, I think musicality can be taught. It is all about giving context to people who don't have it.

    Some people are born with a natural talent for understanding musical patterns. Some are born with none, and need a little more guidance than "listen to the music". The truth is, if the tango community is to grow, it needs multiple approaches to teaching musicality that suit many different kinds of students.
  8. Subliminal

    Subliminal Well-Known Member

    Attempting to define what others feel or think without actually being them is not constructive to the forum. A thread about musicality in a tango thread should include discussion about all forms of tango and include discussion for teaching many forms of students who have different abilities to understand music. Dismissing others' dancing styles as inferior or proclaiming your own musicality as "deeper" is also not constructive.
  9. fascination

    fascination Site Moderator Staff Member

    and some think they have musicality but are truly a blight on the social scene and a burden unto their compassionate partners...

    as an important aside; I think it would be prudent for folks to maintain a tone that is sufficiently civil so as to not discourage others and lurkers from participating...thanks
  10. bastet

    bastet Active Member

    Thank you Sub! And congrats to you as well! :bouncy:

    Back on (or off) topic again. I do think that whether or not thinking about what you want to lead (several steps?) in advance or working out how to fit things in the music constitutes choreography versus just being able to automatically fit your steps to the music are actually related. My own opinion is that the second one stems (necessarily even) from the first and includes several components:

    -familiarity with the music
    -really good body awareness

    All these things can be learned, but number 3 is the hardest, IMO. It's really really hard to teach a person who is not very physically active, other than when they dance, about body awareness.

    The first part I think is something many people who are developing musicality go through (and maybe should go through) to get to as dchester would put it, an unconscious command of their body's movement. To me, they are just 2 sides of one coin and not really worth arguing about. Maybe discussing how to get from one to the other is a good thing but that doesn't seem to be where the thread has headed and I certainly don't see working out how to fit things to music as wrong. IMO it may even be a necessary part of the experience.

  11. bastet

    bastet Active Member

    ETA- my 5 minutes was up- I do think you are right about some people having a natural talent with understanding music patterns, but for me at least, it goes deeper and is linked to body awareness. For example, I am not a musician and have little musical training other than what I had to do when I was little (piano). However, I have very good body awareness, and have always danced and moved and done activities where body awareness was needed (ex Tai Chi, Tai Kwon Do, ballet). Hubs is a classically trained musician, but has very little body awareness and very little activity where that would be needed, so he has a very hard time figuring out how to translate his dance vocabulary to what he hears, though he hears and understands teh structure much much better than I do, yet I can lead and "hit" things with much more regularity than he can. (We are working on that....body awareness is slowly developing.)
  12. In my experience, sequences held me back for years learning AT, I think because my mind didn't have the framework for them. Sequences are definitely not a necessary part of the learning experience and the first teacher able to teach me social dance, was Muma, a Molinguera who just had me walk and feel the music and then after I mastered that, she then taught me several little things like ocho cortadas (just the cortada piece which can be on the right or left), weight changes, double times, check steps, trespies, ocho steps, various turns, back steps, crosses and back crosses which can all be done in an amazing variety of ways.

    I actually think that most people like me, unable to learn from sequences, end up dropping out and quiting tango and the only reason why I never gave up is because I was extremely stubborn. I actually thought that I had a learning disability until I met Muma and she straightened me out ridiculously fast. I know that some people have minds with a frameworks such that sequences work well for them and I have nothing against that. I see it as intuition vs. intellectual ways of dancing and I can respect both, but intuitive dancing feels much better to me personally. It is a real shame that there are so few teachers that can teach to intuitive minds like mine. Robert Hauk is one of the only teachers within 100's of miles of me that I can actually learn from, and kinesthetic learners like me mostly leave tango and never come back. I have talked to a lot of other people (artist types) who were unable to learn tango from sequences and I think sequences are much better teaching aids for analytical people like programmers, engineers, or mechanics, which is why there are not many artist types dancing tango.

    I understand how John feels, because it is much like how I dance. He is having trouble communicating it, but I will try: It is dancing purely in the moment and does not require any thinking, yet it is musical because the feeling that I get from the music translates directly to my movement without having to go through any thought filters and all of those musical devices that I feel in the song: rhythms, tensions, resolutions, melodies, build ups, accents etc., are automatically reflected in my movement. Every movement that I make is a reaction to the music (and my partner) and therefore, sequences feel rigid to me. Sequences imply a constant default movement, but in my dance there is no default movement, because my body is a free and empty vessel to be filled by the music and movement of my partner and any movement that comes from me optimizes the motions of the music and my partner. Preconception [such as from sequences] would just interfere with what is the most musical motion that would feel good to my partner at that moment.

    That said, in the past year, I have departed from the above description at times to communicate other emotions or feelings to my partner, using things such as predictability, unpredictability, and repetition, as a meta framework for my dancing. Dancing in the moment is still my basis for AT though.
  13. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    Maybe that's why you dance so well.


    I almost forgot. Congrats!!!
  14. JohnEm

    JohnEm Well-Known Member

    There is no such proclamation, this is a Forum, a place for exchange of ideas,
    and that was no more than an explanation that there is more to musicality
    than steps. If you generalise to all kinds of tango, such discussions become
    meaningless. It seems to discomfort people that others believe that there
    is more to musicality than sequences of steps and all the other contrivances
    which may be better suited to performance than the social dance floor.

    Simply put (too simplistic maybe), feel the music.
  15. JohnEm

    JohnEm Well-Known Member

    Yes - and thanks.
  16. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    Who said (other than you) that any one else's dance does require that? What logic did you use to determine that you know anything at all about the musicality of people whose dance you haven't seen? What did I say that implied what you have claimed (or have you simply made up your own definition for implied, like you did for choreography)? Should I be claiming that your statements implied that you simply are not capable of thinking ahead any farther than one step (whether at a conscious or subconscious level)?

    We clearly are not communicating, as you appear to understand very little of what's being posted.
  17. bastet

    bastet Active Member

    Aww- shucks! :kissme: And thank you!
    Sub- I hope you had a GREAT wedding, and a fun bachelor party too!

    MTS- I do understand what you are saying about sequences, and I still think everyone is splitting hairs about what they basically mean as the same thing. I have never condoned 8CB as a functional piece of dance vocabulary, for example. However, some people would even say that a set piece of movement like ocho cortado is a sequence and I would agree, if you can't break it apart in some way in your dance.

    What I have inferred from Anda and dchester and Peaches and others is to say that thinking ahead in your movement (even by a few steps) isn't wrong (and I don't consider it choreography) and IMO can be a necessary part of the experience. Maybe some people don't ever have to go through that part and are fantastic at just feeling it and applying a movement (have yet to meet anyone who fits that category). However, hearing something in the music and then trying to fit something to it you know on the fly during a dance, IMO isn't the kind of choreography that I think you are referring to. I would suspect that many people I have danced with may operate by thinking a few steps ahead at what they might LIKE to do (floor willing) but are always willing and able to bail should conditions manifest.

    I just think everyone seems to be THINKING about the same idea, but saying it differently. It's not really a white or black issue, nothing ever is. My guess would be if everyone were in action on the dance floor, this would all become a moot point. I've danced with dchester, and can tell you he doesn't choreograph...but then again, for my defintiion, choreography implies the people involved ALL know what is going to happen and have rehearsed and specifically practiced whatever it is they are planning on doing. For example, long ago, when I did ballroom, there was a couple that would come every weekend and dance their competition choreography during the dances. it was very obvious and very silly.

    The main trouble I have seen with people that teach and or advocate a "just feel the music" approach is that not everyone understands how to translate what they know in to something that works with the music, especially leaders (even though it is my belief that ultimately EVERY step you make can be made to fit the music both qualitatively and dynamically, but it's a pretty advanced skill). Therefore, accessing and developing the ability to really dance without thinking has to come by way of that other side of the coin I was talking about. In fact, in almost every class I have been in where the teacher's only indication of how to dance to the music was "just feel the music" does NOT, in fact, lead most leaders to better, more musical dancing (unfortunately, some of them remain unaware of this fact....) but the opposite. They often dance in a confused, disjointed fashion with steps happening willy-nilly and that actually DON'T really fit the music all that well. I believe gssh covered it in another thread recently as to why that may be happening and I agree with him wholeheartedly.
  18. JohnEm

    JohnEm Well-Known Member

    I can only assume that you are purposefully trying to blur and confuse
    a message that you don't want to hear. I am basing such comments
    on what you yourself has written about your own dance beliefs and
    which you have just implied again.

    I don't care whether you think I can or cannot think more than one step
    ahead because in fact I don't consciously do so nor want to do so.

    Instead of making pointless accusations why don't you clearly explain
    what you consider your musicality is? Just in case I've got it wrong.

  19. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    The idea of "sequences" and "choreographies" is a tricky one to me - i don't believe in them, and for myself i don't organize my dance with them, but they are a powerful tool to communicate essentially uncommunicably things about what will probably feel good for my partner, and how to fit accents into ones dance and so on.

    I would compare them to some extent to katas in martial arts. I started to supplement boxing with wing chun dummy work, and doing something that massivly choreographed was very unpleasant to me, but over time i have come to appreciate the oppotunity that doing something choreographed gives to refine positional and tactical muscle memory that is not usually possible in even light sparring.

    I started learnign tango in a purely nuevo framework - no sequences, almost no steps, no counting, only "the core of tango is stepping in 8 directions, with either foot, and that every step can follow every other step, and this is an example of what happens when you chain X with Z - go, try, discuss and play with this", and we didn't talk about the structure of the music beyond "do what you feel". And this framework served me very well to find my own tango, and the opportunities and puitfalls of different embraces, and dancing a lot, and listening to a lot of tango music over time let me feel the music so that the rhythms and patterns of tango were part of my dance.

    But a lot of the people i started with are not there anymore, and i wonder if this process of having to become familiar with the music so that one embodies the structures intuitively can be shortened. The one thing i noticed when taking privates with teachers who insisted on counting everything was that i really didn't have to count the music, when i counted myself i got exactle the same thing - i danced the 4's, and the 8's and the 32's - i didn't know them as that, but i danced them because that was what i heard and felt in the music, and i heard and felt that in the music because that is what is in the music, the structure that the composers and orchestras have put in place.

    I personally think this process of finding tango music in my dance on my own before learning/studying what and why i had found it was really good for me. It reassured me about my dance, and my musicality.

    But i look at the dancefloor, and i remember what i used to do on the dancefloor the first few years, and i feel sorry for the followers. I am at the moment convinced that a leaders musicality is the key to facilitate a followers musicality and enjoyment of the dance - the leader does not make the follower musical, but he certainly can keep her from being musical, experienceing the music and expressing it in the dance.

    My current position is that having and drilling basic "sequences" like "there is usually accent on the 8 - do something there" is a good way for leaders to at least "fake" musicality to the extent that it allows the follower to have a connection with the music and dance her dance. This is just like theaching a step, like "start a giro to the left from a sidestep to the left" or "start a giro to the right from a rockstep" - these are stupid rules, and just serve to "fake" really knowing how to lead and how a couple moves, and if it lead to leaders slavishly follow this, and never thing about starting a giro from an ocho, or a backstep, or the frontstep after a sandwich or whatever it would be a indeed a bad thing, but everything we talk about are things that more experienced dancers embody anyway - geometry and biology dictates what steps are comfortable to chain, and what chains are either opportunites to show off ones skill or how to make a follower unhappy. I feel that to the same extent the mechanical structure of the music dictates what is "conventionally" musical, and what is either the opportunity to have one of the magical dances, or loosing ones follower completely.

    The question on my mind when talking about musicality is not "what do experienced dancers do" - they all dance, and know the music, no matter if they got there analytically or intutively, but "what does a beginning leader need to know to make dancing worthwhile for a follower" - for movement vocabulary we have some pretty good guidelines, and most of us stop trying a new move after we have stepped on somebody a few times in a row - we know and get good feedback what pushes the envelope of our physical skill. We don't know what pushes the envelope of our musical skill. And advice like "dance what you feel in the music" does not help. What i am trying to think about is if there are equivalent benchmarks one could offer for musicality that would be comparable to "if you fall down this step is probably not working yet".

    I don't think anybody wants people on the dancfloor who count under their breath. But i think spending a few weeks listening to tango and counting out the 4s, and a few weeks counting out the 8s, and a few weeks counting out the 32s helps appreciation the music, and helps dancing intuitively and freely to the music, in the same way that going to a practica and playing the game of "dance without the cross" or "all the ways you can think of of getting out of a back ocho" or "lets have the line of dance move clockwise" helps getting the techical difficulties out of the way of dancing spontaneously.

    Another exercise that really helped me to understand what is universal and what is ideosyncratic in onese understanding of the musik is something Homer did in one of his workshops: He played a song, and asked people instead of dancing to stand next to each other, not touching, and sing to each other. (well, i am a awful singer so it was more a humming to each other for me, but oh well) - really interesting and thoughprovoking, in how and when we were harmonious, and where we clashed, especially as in the dance the clashes would have mostly been squashed in my favour. Singing along with tango music is nice in general - i usually enjoy it when followers sing while dancing. Another thing that seems to be a good shortcut to phrasing, and less mechanical and intrusive than counting is talking the phrasing - several of my teachers tended to explain what kind of phrasing they wanted to work on by talking along to the music while my partner and i danced freely "barapapdapap barapadapap batatatata barapadap barapadap batatatata".

    Over time the musical skill becomes inevitably better, and i think on this board everybody has danced enough to have the technical and musical freedom to express oneself, and we all see how over time we can express more and more of what we feel in our dance - sure sometimes our musical skill becomes worse, just like when we learn a new technique for moving sometimes everything else gets messed up till we integrate everything again. And it doesn't matter if we immersed ourselves in the music by listenign to it 24hrs a day, or by counting beats for hours.

    I think like in most things the truth lies in the middle - beginners need to know about both of these toolkits to help getting access to the music, and they should have at least the base skill in the "counting" approach to see what it is about, just even though we know that anything is chainable we tell them which sequences are usually considered easiest, and which ones are will require more skills.

  20. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    Re: Planning or not planning

    An interesting analoguous concept for this what the indonesian martial arts call "kembang" - flower.

    Their philosophy is that it is actually impossible to teach fighting - to many things happen at once, too many factors need to be considered, there is no way to find rules and a science of fighting. Every fight is a unique, chaotic thing, and what the people do fighting is completely spontaneous, personal and unrepeatable. It is the flower of martial arts.

    So what can you teach and practice? What martial arts offer is the fertile ground, and the seeds, and how to care for the seeds that will hopefully blossom into this flower in a fight.

    We cannot plan on how an opponent will move. But we can prepare a fertile ground that will yield a flower under those circumstances.

    I think tango is similar - the only real tango is between two specific people, on a specific dancfloor, with specific other people around them, with a specific song playing. And it only happens once. Sure there are many of them, but every single true tango is a unique unrepeatable thing.

    All we can do in learning, and practicing, and discussing here is to try to make our fields more fertile for the tango that will blossom at the moment that we will embrace our partnet.

    I strongly suspect that the people who talk about planning ahead don't really step on the dancefloor having every step mapped out to the end of the song. I equally strongly suspect that the people who talk about being completely sponaneous and free move any way that comes to their mind at any moment, mostly because most milongas frown on bodychecking people (and i have to admit that has come to my mind quite often at some milongas :) ). To some extent all we are talking about is approaches to learning/teaching, not actually what the dance is.


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