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Thursday, 11 September 2008

To decorate or not to decorate ...

Decorations, embellishments, adornos ... call them what you will.

Inevitably ladies ask for them to be taught. After all they can look pretty, if done well. Most tango videos of performances feature amazing decorations by both men and women. But I reckon this fervent desire to decorate comes about primarily because some ladies seem to feel that only by embellishing, are they able to contribute something to the dance in which their partner has a greater say - well, that's my theory anyway. Perhaps it's a product of liberated women, feeling somewhat awkward in this traditional dance which has fairly clearly defined male and female roles. Although some would argue that this is an attraction of tango. But I digress from my topic...

In my humble opinion, adornos are best done intuitively, organically and genuinely, when the emotion of the music and the moment produce a small, almost unconscious, flourish. A decoration is just that ... not something which disturbs the partner or the dancers around you. Beautiful adornos are a natural expression and response to the music, flowing from what has been led and often a sign of appreciation from the woman to her partner. I love those elegant and understated decorations which add to the enjoyment of the couple dancing, and are scarcely noticeable to observers.

However, as we all know, subtlety of movement requires a high degree of physical control. So there's no getting around the fact that fundamental technique - axis, balance, timing, dissociation, weight transfer, etc. - needs to be mastered first. After all, a decoration is the extra little something for the couple dancing, the delicate extension of the movement, a little icing on the cake, perhaps.

It is important to work on tango technique and practise decorations privately, in class and practicas many, many times. But to be quite honest, I find that repeated and predictable embellishments during a milonga look utterly contrived and overdone - a bit like a woman wearing her entire jewellery collection on the one occasion. Doing adornos in social dancing is definitely a case of less being more.

Jennifer Bratt has developed an excellent website on adornos, including video clips with various types of embellishments, important advice on technique and exercises for the feet. So for ladies bursting to develop tango decorations, go for it ... but elegantly, please!


BTW Here's Jennifer performing with her partner Ney Melo.


  1. I'd like to second that sentiment. Adornments done naturally, inspired by the mood and the music, are a delight to see. Done rigidly, automatically or because you feel they have to, they are not.

    My own teacher used to encourage me to 'play with my feet' but nothing was happening, it didn't feel natural. Then one night in the middle of the milonga it happened. I started playing with my feet and it felt natural, I didn't feel compelled to do it. To quote Marcus Aurelius 'it loved to happen'.

    There is value in showing people common adornments or methods of adorning so that when the urge finally comes upon them they will have a basic lexicon that they can begin to express themselves with. But it's important to remind them at the end of the class that you don't have to use them.

  2. Another thought:
    "Letting it happen" seems to equate to dancing fluidly with the body & heart.
    Whereas "making it happen" suggests the dance remains an intellectual process.

    Tango Salon Adelaide

  3. I thought I would hate this post on decorations. But, you know what, I agree with every single word of it. And I decorate a LOT. Really a lot. Why? To express the music (which has a lot of subtlety and detail in it) and because my partners love it. But, yes, it needs to be organic and musical and not obstruct your own or your partner's movement. And never on autopilot (ugh).


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