Tango Musicality: The Malady Lingers On?

An interesting comment on one of the tango forums recently: someone posted that their partner had complained during a milonga that they weren’t following the rhythm, to which she replied that she was dancing the melody, not the rhythm.

Ignoring the rights or wrongs of having such a discussion while dancing, I feel moved to post my own take on these statements. I’ve seen and heard similar comments before and I have to restrain myself from replying in fairly strong terms. So far I have been able to remove myself from the discussion, take myself to a quiet corner (should a darkened room be unavailable) and think beautiful thoughts, preferably while an understanding partner applies a cold flannel to my fevered brow and whispers soothing words in my ears.

I’ve said elsewhere in this blog (check out the posts tagged ‘musicality’, if you will) that when we first learn to dance we dance to the beat, then we learn to dance to the rhythm, and eventually, if we persevere, we are able to dance to the music. BUT, these aren’t three separate things! As an orchestra brings all three aspects together to make the music, so must a dancer bring them all together to make the dance.

We cannot dance to the rhythm without also recognising and dancing to the beat, and we cannot dance to the music, or the melody, without also recognising and dancing to the beat and the rhythm. The three are inextricably intertwined and interdependent.

I’ve heard people say that in a certain piece of music they are dancing to the violin, to the bandoneon, to the singer, or whatever. That’s fine. But what the violinist, the bandoneon player, the singer, or any other member of the orchestra is doing is directly related to and rooted in the beat and the rhythm. And so should our dancing be. If it’s not, we’re not truly listening to and following the music.

Yes, a good singer, or ‘lead’ instrumentalist, will play with the beat and the rhythm: pushing or dragging it slightly, playing with pauses, off-beats, half-beats and quarter-beats, etc. All these things help to give music its dynamic and emotional range. And we can, and should, use them in our dancing too.

In the distant and somewhat dim past I played jazz — clarinet first and later alto and tenor sax. I still enjoy and listen to jazz and blues, and to me the musical improvisation of a good dancer is like the improvisation of a jazz soloist: creative while always rooted in the beat, the rhythm and the melody.

I should state before closing that this level of real musicality is something I aspire to in my dancing. I don’t always get it right! It’s something I also always aspired to as a musician. I didn’t always get it right then either. But oh the feeling when you do!

Thank you for reading. Sorry if it comes across as a bit of a rant, but it’s something I feel strongly about. Do feel free to comment and express your own feelings on the subject.

Incidentally, I think that what I’ve said here should apply to all dancing, not tango alone.

~ by magickwords on Friday, 24 August 2018.

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