Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Deep Tango Thoughts :: Musicality :: Repost for Doug Fox

This is a repost from a while back. I thought if it because of a question Doug Fox asked Johanna in a comment - about him being new to tango and wanting to know more about the concepts Musicality and Musical Expression.

Below (in italics) is the original post from Tango-L - which came from Tom Stermitz (creator/organizer of the Denver Tango Festivals). Tom explains "musicality" very well. For Doug and other readers new to tango, musicality is the holy grail of tango. Somewhat nebulous, difficult to convey verbally, difficult (for many) to achieve. Constantly improved musicality is what many of us strive for.

To me (from a leader's perspective) musicality is about listening to the music as you dance (and listening to tango music a lot outside of dancing), and it "making sense" to apply/invoke certain vocabulary at certain times. There are times during a song when all it "makes sense" to do is walk. There are times when the rhythm makes sense to do ochos. Times when it makes sense to do an ocho cortado - nailing her cross "to the music", "to the beat". Sticking the ending in milonga is an expression of musicality. The bigger you "stick it", the better the feeling to both you and your follower. There are times when traspie makes sense. If you do it out of the music, out of the rhythm, it feels bad, awkward.

As a beginner, this comes with time. It can't be rushed, it can barely be taught. It is an osmosis that happens over the months. The music begins to make more sense rhythmically. It comes from listening to music and tapping to the beat. It comes from listening to each instrument (or section) in the orchestra - listening to the percussive rhythms of the bandoneons - listening to the melody of the violins - the beat of the bass. It comes from watching advanced dancers with great musicality. You begin to hear opportunities to do certain things - ochos, ocho cortado, walking, the molinete. Then you begin to try to execute those things - tentatively at first - they may not feel right, but eventually it begins to feel better - more "on". Then you begin to hear the traspie in the music - you can't do anything about it - but you hear it. Then you begin to be able to hit the traspie - and it feels good - to both of you.

For me, where my musicality is right now - I don't lead ganchos or boleos because I have not figured out how to incorporate them into my dance "with musicality". I hear the opportunities - but then it's too late. I will get there. I do have a milonguero "belly" boleo. And a back boleo to the cross. But that's about it. Others are awkward and forced, out of synch with the musical opportunities.

Be patient, focus, pay attention, practice at home and it will come to you.

Someone once said (Stermitz I think) that "you don't want to dance 'on top of the music', you want dance 'inside the music'...."

There is a new thread on Tango-L on the subject of "musicality". As usual, Tom Stermitz, the organizer of Denver Tango Festivals, is the voice of experience and reason. Here is what he had to say on the subject (in response to Igor Polk's post):

Message: 5

Date: Fri, 30 Nov 2007 16:07:08 -0700

From: Tom Stermitz

Subject: Re: [Tango-L] Musicality. What is it?

To: Tango-L


Content-Type: text/plain; charset=US-ASCII; format=flowed; delsp=yes

I have a simple description. Admittedly, you can find more complicated explanations:

Musicality is when Movement Energy Corresponds to Musical Energy.

Energy is still a fuzzy, undefined concept, but it includes various

aspects of movement such as speed, force, size, suspension,

acceleration, lift, grounded-ness.

So musicality is about adjusting your physical movements to go with

the music in a pleasing (again undefined) manner.

To teach it, you have to provide examples of musicality in the

exercises. The goal is to offer enough varied examples, that people

can ultimately learn it how it feels in the kinesthetic sense.

So, for example, I teach brand new beginners to walk with musicality

by matching their short elements to the musical phrase. Tango is built

on four plus four equals eight walking beats. Initiate movement

(compression and accelerate or surge) on the one or five, and come

together stationary on the four or eight (suspend, momentum = zero).

I'm very deterministic, and really insist on beginning at one and

ending at four.

Wooden? Yes at first, but at least they are wooden WITH the music

instead of walking woodenly and aimlessly around the room.

The value here is that when movement energy corresponds to musical

energy for these 4+4=8 steps, then they "FEEL" right, the leaders are

more confident, the followers learn about their musicality (i.e. how

they respond through the connection), and that all adds up to bringing

people closer to kinesthetic awareness (i.e. achieving musicality

through intuitive learning).

On Nov 30, 2007, at 3:24 PM, Igor Polk wrote:

> Following Steve's thoughts,

> I have deepen more into that, and to my surprise have found that I can not

> really define what people understand under the term "Musicality".

> I can not say what it is. I know that dancing supposed to be with music.

> And I believe I myself dance musically too ) But on a logical side, or

> rather sociological side I am confused.


> If it is so common, can one define what "musicality" is?

> What most people understand under "musicality"?

> So if one say: "This is a musicality lesson" what people expect?

> Those who come and those who do not?


> Another question is how to develop it.


> Igor Polk

My first thought upon reading this, perhaps obvious, is that "musicality" can be expressed differently, elegantly, eloquently by different people. Indeed, the same couple, dancing to the same song, should, in theory, express different musicality when dancing to that same song on different nights. That is, going with the theory that Tango is an improvised dance.

Some people obviously have "nailed" their musicality - especially on the "demo" and "performance" videos we all watch on YouTube. Some of this, I am sure, comes from practice, practice, practice. I am also sure that much of it comes from listening to tango music over and over - in effect, memorizing a song. There may be a certain spot where the rhythm and melody make it good to do traspie ochos - and a leader may do these in this spot every time he dances to a song.

Speaking for myself, I know I have difficulty being "musical" to a song I have never heard before. I had this problem in the early months of my tango - I didn't know what was coming next. This problem was solved by listening to tango music almost exclusively for over two years now.

I don't really reach any conclusions here - no real "deep tango thoughts" - except that musicality in and of itself is a fairly deep subject. My only conclusion is that good musicality is "a good thing" and that we should all strive to be better with our musical interpretations of a song, and the music in general.

Oh, this just popped into my head - "musicality" does not mean pumping (leader) or flapping (follower) your arms to the music. I hate that - it's not tango. Don't do it. Cuz I said so. (Alex)

End of original post...

And here's more from Igor Polk's blog...on musicality...http://www.virtuar.com/tango/articles/2005/musicality.htm


Doug Fox said...


Much thanks for the post and for offering your perspective on musicality and the thoughts of others.

Lots to digest. I'll probably follow-up with specific questions later.

Also, in post this morning, I mentioned a couple tango music resources I've come across. Do you have recommendations of lists of tango tracks that are often planed at Milongas?

Igor Polk said...

You haven't read my blog?:

Igor Polk

Alex said...

Yes, Igor, I was just reading it early this morning. Did I miss something? I'll go back and check...

Alex said...

Sorry Igor, I was thinking of someone else.

Here is Igor's blog - on musicality...