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Sunday, 8 February 2015

Can you feel it?

While driving the other day, I put on some dance classics of Pedro Laurenz. As I was listening and enjoying the music (Recién, Como dos extraños, etc.), I turned up the volume a little.

Suddenly the music’s impact on me changed completely. No longer was I merely listening, I was feeling. The volume had not been increased excessively, but the effect was remarkable. Previously, I had been able to hear and appreciate the instruments and singer quite clearly, but with a small turn of the dial, the emotion of the music took over. My response to the music was no longer cerebral, it had become visceral.

No wonder I don’t feel inspired to dance even my favourite tangos at a milonga, if the volume is too low. Perhaps this statement doesn’t apply to everyone, but I believe that the desire to dance is primarily physical and emotional, rather than a cerebral response. The music should invade your body, pick you up and carry you away.

Some folk, it seems, will dance to any music. They’re up on the floor, in the embrace, ready to dance, before the tanda even starts. Internally, I shake my head, puzzled about what they might be feeling. If they are feeling! Perhaps tango for them is more akin to physical exercise. To each his own, I suppose….

Then you have the analytical approach. This dancer tries to extract and express every musical nuance in a tango. This dancer has a bad case of Too much musicality.  Is anything gained by intellectualising the dance like this? What is the point of trying to score as many musical points as possible in one tango? Does this approach contribute to social tango?

Dancing tango is simple – simply dance the feeling.



  1. Nice post! I see you run classes. How do you go about teaching that "simply dance the feeling."? And how does "simply" mesh with that idea of tango dance classes?

    - Felicity

  2. Nice article!

    PP wrote: "Is anything gained by intellectualising the dance like this?"

    Sure. It sells dance classes. Hence that most of those doing it are classeros.

  3. Thanks for your questions, Felicity.

    Firstly, I don’t believe that one can teach people how to feel the music. But it is possible to create a learning environment where dancers are consistently encouraged to connect with the music, eg by playing appropriate Golden Age music; by using the same tracks several times in one session; by asking dancers to completely focus on the music and allow it to guide them in their embrace; by strongly encouraging them to take their time and savour the pauses; etc. Everyone responds differently, and that is good.

    Because we dance tango in an embrace, a close embrace, dancers need to use their bodies effectively. For example, to communicate and respond to changes of direction or dynamic in a subtle manner we need to use our bodies efficiently. So, we encourage dancers to develop aspects of their body control eg. their use of axis, the quality of their embrace, etc. Certainly, it’s possible to dance social tango without this, but then our ability to respond to the music and communicate with our partner is limited.

    Good teachers will create an environment which fosters a sensitivity and response to the music, and will guide dancers on how to use their bodies more effectively in the embrace. Simple, but not necessarily easy.

  4. Thanks for your comment,Chris.

    Each person needs to decide what’s useful to them. Some people may find the micro-analysis of music interesting, perhaps helpful.

    For me, the principle criterion is fostering social tango and I hope that more people will adopt this priority.

    BTW, the workshop in Europe which inspired the ‘Too much musicality’ post was not one which I would describe as useful for social tango.

  5. Finding the right volume is so difficult!

    As for musical detail, though, some of us hear many layers in the music, including many beautiful small details, some of which our feet ache to express. That's not intellectualising the music: that's just paying attention, listening intently, really immersing yourself in it. People respond to music in different ways -- thank goodness, as it would be very boring if we all danced in the same way.

    And now I'd love to know what the workshop was that you took, because I'd be very interested in taking it or taking other workshops with the same teachers. It sounds enriching.

  6. Interesting comment, Anonymous.

    “As for musical detail, though, some of us hear many layers in the music, including many beautiful small details, some of which our feet ache to express.”
    I agree entirely with your point above. So, if your feet want to express something in the music, it means that you can ALREADY feel it, probably without thinking about it. And for most people, greater exposure to and immersion in the music, fosters greater sensitivity and an intuitive physical responsiveness to it. I don’t believe that this progression is aided much by detailed analysis of the music, however intellectually engaging that process may be.

    You’re also quite right to say that “people respond to music in different ways”. For example, some people may feel the need to respond to syncopations. But can they communicate that to their partners? Do they have the necessary skills and body control to respond to musical syncopations in social tango comfortably and in an improvised way?

    Other people will respond to completely different elements of the very same piece of music. So, I believe it is more important to develop the fundamental skills enabling dancers to communicate to their partners whatever the music is expressing to them at any point.

    I’m sure you’d agree that it is better for people to dance what they feel, rather than impose upon them what they should feel in a piece of music. Unfortunately, I’ve seen the results on the dance-floor of the latter, and they do not make a positive contribution to the milonga!

    Sorry, but I would not recommend a workshop which, in my opinion, was a good example of how not to teach tango.

  7. Hi Pat
    Talking about the volume of the music I agree with you and have the same feelings. I think that when you increase the volume it is like you were jumping in a pool underwater. You become completely isolated from the rest of the world and become forced to lisen. I'm not talking of a such a high level to harm your ears, no, it's just not be disturbed by other sounds. You remember Dj Carlos Rey in BsAs. He uses to play with the volumen master and increase it in some spots of the song to force people (I think) to get themselves completely involved with the music. Sometimes, my self, as a Dj, I think about it, but never so far have done it.

  8. Greetings, Andy.

    You make such insightful comments! Such an apt image: being underwater - totally submerged in the music. Yes, that's how it should feel.

    Does Carlos Rey really manipulate the volume in that way? Interesting strategy. I must pay more attention to him next time.


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