Want to be able to dance confidently and feel comfortable in traditional milongas of Buenos Aires?
Our bootcamp-style social tango classes develop your musicality, connection, technique & improvisation, as well as your confidence with milonga etiquette.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Too much musicality?

Does that sound sacrilegious? Is it hard to imagine? Can you conceive of situations where too much focus on the music might ruin the social dance?

Finding this concept difficult? That's not at all surprising.

For some years, we and others who love social tango, have been critical of the emphasis which some dancers and teachers place on "doing steps", even mini-choreographies, at the expense of the music and the other dancers at a milonga. We are not alone in the belief that the social dance-floor of the milonga is not the place for dancers to act out their aspirations for the stage - their flamboyant and erratic movements interfering with the flow of the dance-floor. Besides, any experienced dancer will tell you that dancing with someone who is struggling with fancy steps is no fun at all. Connection and musicality are far more enjoyable.

Yet some recent experiences in Europe illustrated to us that the social dance experience may also be compromised by dancers trying excessively to interpret the music. Dare we say that some try to play - perhaps a touch  too cleverly -  with the minutiae of the music.

So, what could be wrong with trying to do justice to the music? Nothing at all. Dancing is a physical and emotional response to music. But it seems that when the intellect gets too involved in this process, the social dance suffers.

A joy in tango is dancing with a partner and being carried away with the phrasing, rhythms, melodies and interplay of instruments in that great treasure-trove of music. However, like most things in life, this can be taken to an extreme. Trying to represent each and every nuance, syncopation and off-beat contained in a piece brings with it the danger of a stilted dance experience - for the couple and for those around them on the dance-floor. The dance is then in danger of becoming an intellectual, interpretive exercise. One can simply try too hard to be musical.

Milongueros such as Osvaldo Centena and the late, great Ricardo Vidort are just two examples of playful and fluid musicality on the social dance-floor. It's pretty safe to say that they danced what their bodies felt in the music. As a result, their dance is a fluid and comfortable experience. (Pat speaks from personal experience of dancing with El Oso).

So, returning to the initial question. Sadly, in some respects, too much musicality in the dance is indeed possible. The intellect should not dominate the dance, whether it's by over-analysis of the music, or attempts to reproduce certain "steps". Anything resulting in a stilted and contrived dance, will be in conflict with social tango.


  1. We couldn't agree more! Over-doing musicality is something we have observed to be very commonplace in North American Tango. The main issue with it is that it prevents the dancers from finding real depth in the music.

    Jani & Kristina

  2. That is an interesting phenomenon, Jani & Kristina. Any idea what might be behind this?

  3. http://www.movementinvitesmovement.wordpress.com10 October 2011 at 11:44

    Of course, we can only speculate... but we think it has a lot to do with there being a stress on steps/figures rather than on walking. Plus a detachment from the music - either from not understanding the lyrics or not letting the music get under your skin. Finally, there are many teachers who teach musicality (yay!) but who teach "micro-musicality" (boo!) which is exactly what you seem to be talking about when you mention over interpreting the music. It definitely becomes an intellectual affair where the "devil is in the details"... in a bad way ;)


  4. "Micro-musicality" - now there's an apt expression!

  5. Each to his own, and I think that there are any number of dancers, certainly here in Perth, who enjoy their dancing, without having any idea about the music, who literally cannot tell a waltz from a tango, and definitely, cannot tell one orchestra from another. So the recent exposure to the nuts and bolts of tango music will for many, just be lost in confusion, and very soon forgotten; or for some, may turn out to be an obtuse way to open the door to a love and appreciation of the music, which is surely for each dancer, a key to a more refined and extended enjoyment of the dance, and hopefully with more to give to the partner?

  6. dance from the heart. not the head.

  7. Yes -"The Common Denominator of Music and Dance" As a retired instrumental teacher but busier than ever now re -assassing liatening; which reveals all the years of teacher training in string technique as irrelevant without a thorough understanding of what real lstening is about.And the above dancers contribution apply too instrumental playing and its need for a thorough understanding by the teacher.
    Just like steps details -so the pupil can get stultified in learning details such as expression and dynamics before phrasing and shape on music -especially with its connection to lyrics.Teaching to the test is a common misguided practice these days but understaably
    a symptom of pressure to keep music "intelectually acceptable "which is not necessarily a valid measurement /comparison
    with other curriculum subjects -let alone other performing arts subjects.
    Perhaps dance and music as performing arts is the problems root?

  8. The first contact people often have with tango is performance tango either live or online. Many think: "I want to do that!", and there are many teachers around the world who will accommodate. Figures and more figures, before new dancers have learnt to walk musically: elegantly with intention, with an ability to respond to different moods & rhythms. Whatever the movements, they need to be within the body not the head, so that the music is allowed to guide the dancers. With more persistent focus on really listening to the music, musicality in the dance will grow.


Thanks for your comment. All comments are subject to moderation. Don't worry - it won't take long.

Popular posts