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DELHI MILONGA BLOG

Understanding musicality in Tango

Posted by kiran.sawhney@gmail.com on July 27, 2014 at 1:10 AM

I have a background of fitness and Indian classical dance. Both in aerobics and kathak, we count the beats to the T. Counting beats and phrases of 8 came naturally to me. In fact, I used to wonder, when people struggled with musicality in Tango. But when I taught Tango, I had to make my students aware of the beats- the up beat and the downbeat, the pauses, the instruments.

These pointers really help.

  • Teach your students to count the beats.
  • Most of the tango music is in phrases of 8.
  • Initially, it is good to listen to the music, again and again. Count the beats, till you get them clear.
  • Mostly these beats resemble your heart beat- beat pause, beat pause, beat pause. This beat pause is counted as- one and two and three and four…..
  • "And" is the upbeat. It is usually played by contrabajo- the double bass or by the low keys of piano.
  • The downbeat is- one, two, three, four.
  • We step on the downbeats and pause on the upbeat. We do not step on upbeats. (There are exceptions like Biagi, where we step on upbeats).
  • When the bassist gives a full beat, which is longer, there is a longer pause.
  • Now here is the tricky part In most of the regular music of the golden era, the bassist plays till four and five and six and seven. What is missing is “and eight”.
  • The bassist plays till the beat- "and seven" and then he takes his hand off the strings. In "and eight" also a pause before the next phrase of eight count begins from One, there is 1 pause. So you may count it as- and eight and One. 
  • This total pause is for 1.5 seconds. In this the bassist is not playing. The dancer and the orchestra is expected to pause.
  • There is something very interesting happening melodiously in these 1.5 seconds. 
  • This confuses many of you. You do not realize when the next phrase exactly starts. In the process you start rushing. That causes chaos. You want to and tend to move. Specially so because something new is happening in the music. 
  • But you are expected to delay for 1.5 seconds. 
  • This happens specially so because after seven, there is not total pause or complete silence. In fact, there is lot much going on after that seven.
  • Only with good practice, you can learn the right pauses even when so much is going on in the music after seven.
  • The beginners feel, am I looking like a fool, to pause when so much is going on? It seems like bringing a speeding car to a halt. How to bring this speeding car to a halt, without screeching brakes, gracefully and with musicality?
  • First and foremost, learn to relax. Be sure of your music. Do not be too anxious that you will miss a beat.
  • I always tell my students that they have to relax. No matter what. They cannot be running ever- not in tango, not even in milonga, not even in quick quick of vals. Because running is clear indication of "not being sure".
  • When you are not sure, you give the same feeling to your partner. The follower starts anticipating and the leader starts rushing.
  • This kills the joy of dancing calmly and gracefully. This is where you lose your musicality. Do each move slowly and mindfully. Rushing gives your partner the same feeling as if you are talking too quickly, without being coherent, without making sense. Tango is an adult and mature conversation. Convey your message clearly- slowly, meaningfully and with pauses.

 Do not be anxious about your pauses, about not moving. Do not think that

  • I will look like a fool if I do not move.
  • What will my partner think?
  • Maybe I will miss the beat.
  • Others will judge me standing still.

 Sometimes less is more. Remember- a leader does nothing but does it well. These pauses are not dead pauses without any meaning. You are still dancing in these pauses with each other in the embrace. These pauses are soulful and meaningful. Learn to relax and enjoy them. See how your quality of dance improves then. This is really what differentiates an average dancer from a good dancer.

Whenever I have danced with a leader who knows his pauses, I know that he knows his musicality. Compared with the one, who is just not listening to the music and creating no pauses. It becomes a pain to dance with that leader. Let me tell you 99% leaders (at least in India) are not aware of these pauses.

I will give you some clues as to identify what happens when the bassist has taken his hand off his strings after- and seven. At that point, new musical instruments are being introduced. There is a pause of bassist. The violinist or the pianist does a little flourish or the pianist might add an accent.

At this point, you as a dancer should stay on your axis, be connected to your partner and keep your free leg relaxed. I am still not saying that it is a dead silence where you are still like a stone and have completely stopped dancing. In fact, on the contrary, these pauses are the most beautiful moments when you are connected and are conversing (not literally) and flirting with each other.

Categories: Tango, New Delhi