Tag Archives: musicality

Posters seen at Claire School of Dance

Before class checklist for ballet students

Before class checklist for ballet students

In the Susana Miller workshop on Argentine tango in the milonguero style over the July 20-21, 2013 weekend we simplified our movement patterns to the utmost for the sake of perfecting our partner connection. Then we had wonderful opportunities at house milongas to try these tight, small space movements about our partner in conditions simulating the crowding at Buenos Aires milongas.

The small, constrained, intense connect of the milonguero style made for an interesting contrast with the posters festooning the walls of the pleasant dance studio that serves the Claire School of Dance in Houston. These posters, speaking to ballet dancers, also spoke to me of creativity, and as a rich source of ideas for interpreting music.

“Schottische” and Argentine tango … really?! Yeah, some of it requires a stretch, but it’s a mean sort of imagination that doesn’t find some form of inspiration for interpretation with the incredible diversity and richness of tango music informing these concepts.

As my musicality education continues, and my familiarity with orchestras and songs increases, I’d like to revisit this and supply some examples. In the meanwhile, I’ll use it as a source of inspiration for playfulness over patterns.

The Concept of Movement 

   Locomotor
        Basic
            Walk          Slide
            Run           Skip
            Jump          Crawl
            Hop           Roll
            Leap          Etcetera
            Gallop

        Combined
            Step-hop      Schottische
            Waltz run     Jop
            Prance        Slither
            Two-step      Creep
            Grapevine     Etcetera

    Non-locomotor
        Bend            Punch         Rise
        Twist           Dodge         Sink
        Stretch         Kick          Burst
        Swing           Poke          Wiggle
        Push            Lift          Curve
        Pull            Flick         Curl
        Fall            Float         Lunge
        Melt            Glide         Stash
        Sway            Press         Dab
        Turn            Wring         Etcetera
        Spin            Shake

The Concept Of Time
    Speed
        Fast / Slow
    Rhythm
        Pulse / Pattern / Breath

The Concept Of Space
    Place
        Self space / General space
    Size
        Big / Small
        Far reach / Near reach
    Level
        High / Low
        (Transitioning upward, downward)
    Direction
        Foward / Backward
        Right / Left, Up / Down
        (Diagonal)
    Pathway
        Curved / Straight / Zigzag
    Focus
        Single focus / Multi focus
        (Intense / Soft / Unfocused)

The Concept Of Force
    Energy
        Sharp (sudden)
        Smooth (sustained)
    Weight
        Strong / Light
    Flow
        Free / Bound

The Concept of Form
    Recurring theme
        Theme in variation / Canon / Round
    ABA'
        A = one phrase, B = another phrase, A' = a variant of A
    Abstract
        Non-representational
    Narrative
        In the form of a story
    Suite
        Moderate beginning / Slow center / Fast end
    Broken form
        Unrelated ideas

The Concept of Body
    Parts
        Head (Forehead, eyes,     Spine
        ears, mouth, lips,        Pelvis
        tongue, cheeks)           Hips
        Neck                      Legs
        Shoulders                 Knees
        Arms                      Ankles
        Elbows                    Feet
        Wrists                    Toes
        Hands                     Heels
        Fingers                   Etcetera
        (Thorax, ribs, belly)
        Trunk
    Shapes
        Curved / Straight
        Angular / Twisted
        Symmetrical / Asymmetrical
        (Sharp / Dull)
    Relationships
        Body parts to body parts
        Body parts to objects
        Individuals to groups
        Individuals and groups to objects
        Near / Far / Meeting / Parting
        Alone / Connected
        Mirroring / Shadowing
        Unison / Contrast, Over / Under
        Above / Below, On / Off
        Around / Through, In / Out
        Beside / Between
        Gathering / Scattering
    Balance
        On balance / Off balance
    (Tension
        Soft / Firm / Rigid)
    (Movement
        Staccato / Legato)

(I've suggested additions in parentheses.)
Three Things a Dancer Brings to Class

Three things a dancer brings to class:
+ Attention
+ Patience
+ Courage

 

Pasos felices,
–David

Advice I wish I was given when I started learning Argentine tango

Spotify radio stations - Argentine tango

Regularly listen to Argentine tango music

Listen to the music regularly and repeatedly. Plug “Argentine tango” into your Spotify, Pandora, or other radio, and let it play in the background.

The pulse of the music matters. Learn to recognize and step on the strong beats of the music. When you can do this reliably then you can begin experimenting with taking one, two, three or more beats to complete a movement.

Attend milongas regularly and watch. Identify people, both leaders and followers, whose movement and style you admire.

Know that what you admire in tango dancing now may change as you mature in your understanding of the music and the dance.

After you’ve gained some sense of the people in your tango community, and early on, seek a mentor, both a leader mentor and a follower mentor. These friends could be some of the most valuable help you receive for progressing rapidly in your understanding of Argentine tango.

Make everyone a friend. It’s a hard process to learn Argentine tango, and many times a friendly, supportive comment from others will be all that keeps you going.

Take every opportunity to make honest and earnest comments about specific improvements or accomplishments you observe in a person’s dancing, or the questions they ask, or the help they give, or . . .

Help out whenever you can. It takes active and involved participants to keep a tango community going and growing. Working with others will help you build friendly relationships.

Meet the milonga DJs. Thank them for their valuable, thoughtful service and get to know them. They are a wonderful source of information on Argentine tango music, orchestras, and songs. They have been a central part of the scene for years.

Take notes in class. Videos of didactic (or mostly, actually, non-didactic) demos are fine, but that is a passive activity. How often do you actually go back to videos to study them, understand them, and practice them? Notes should be an active process. You can’t take down every word. You can only afford the time to write key concept words and phrases in terms that make sense to you, and to sketch.

Practice sketching. It doesn’t matter what it looks like, only that you understand what it means.

Review and recast your notes. It’s when you attempt to explain something to someone else (even if that someone else is your permanent notes) that you begin to gain a real understanding.

Argentine tango reduced to geometry is all about circles and triangles on the floor (and even in the air). Your partner (or you) move in a circle either about your own axis (or sometimes in a tangent to the circle) or in a smaller circle about their axis. The two of your feet and one of your partner (or vice-versa) form a triangle that creates a stable base on the floor. Learn how movements go into or out of what specific configurations, and then you will have a deeper understanding for how to do this movement and variants of it.

In Argentine tango, sequences of moves have no intrinsic value (setting aside historical significance and utility as a learning vehicle) in and of themselves. You may on occasion be able to use an entire sequence intact, but you’re much more likely to find it useful to break apart and understand the elements of a sequence. The teacher will most typically show you one way to start and one way to exit a sequence, but you want to learn, and explore for yourself: what are all the different ways I can get into or get out of this sequence; which of those ways feels easier, relates to other things I know, or is more “organic”; what are the atomic movements that make up the sequence; how can they be recombined differently; can it be done to both the open or closed side of the embrace; how can I relate these movements to the music?

Leading or following: The reason you practice a movement to an actual tango song is not so that you can mindlessly repeat the sequence over and over and over again. It is so you can fit the movement naturally into your dance. (Understanding that there are exceptions while you both work out the kinks.) Do not push and pull to put yourselves into the same starting sequence each time. Instead, dance into the sequence from all the different ways that make sense. Dance out of it in all the different ways that make sense. Explore the pieces of it. Explore doing pieces to opposite sides or directions.

Don’t bother saying, “Sorry” for anything except for running your partner into something or someone (where you may owe multiple expressions of “Sorry”). It’s an imperfect world, and this tango can make it seem more so at times. Mistakes will be made. Your partner will know, or may not know but won’t care in either case, why you are temporizing in the face of traffic, or the sudden grab to prevent a collision. If your partner says “Sorry” to you, a comforting squeeze or a murmured “Not at all” can be nice.

Learn to both lead and follow. A lovely aspect to Argentine tango is that all the movements are available and useful to both leader and follower. It helps tremendously to understand all the issues involved by experiencing the dance from both sides of the embrace.

Know that your fellow dancers, whether leader or follower, and whether novice or experienced, may have the much the same anxieties, doubts, and fears that you do. We’re all in it to support each other, learn, and enjoy ourselves with each other.

The best you can be, whether following, leading, or learning, is calm and confident, even and especially if you don’t know what you are doing. Calm and confident that your leader will give you a good dance (even when they don’t). Calm and confident that you will satisfactorily show yourself as a leader (even when you don’t). Calm and confident that you will understand what is going on, even when you don’t right now.

Have the confidence to step out of a lesson and only observe when you feel that it is beyond your current understandings.

Have the confidence to feel that you can learn a difficult movement, with patience from yourself and your partner, an attitude of exploration and helpfulness, and with help from the teacher.

Have the confidence, when the teacher isn’t available, to ask for help from someone else that seems to be getting it.

It is difficult to give constructive, useful feedback. Try this formula, When I do this, what I’m feeling is this, and what I think I’m wanting is this. What do I need to understand differently?

Never make excuses for or object to feedback, questions, suggestions. Do insist, if need be, on your right to be treated with dignity and respect. Otherwise, comebacks serve to cut off or minimize future, possibly very useful input. They also serve to minimize in your mind the value of input before you’ve even had a chance to understand it. Do question the other person as necessary to feel that you understand the point they are making. Then let it rest inside you, quietly observed. With a little calm patience you may well come to feel that you can tease out a little or even a lot of useful understanding from it.

Remember the people who help you. You will want to repay their kindnesses. Be kind in turn to other new dancers. Help bring them into the community.

Above all, know that if you are doing for yourself, you are doing it for good.

(I wrote this after reading the article that Mari Johnson referred me to: Offbeat Advice I Wish I Was Given In School.)

Learn By Doing: The experiential learning model

At one time I held some kind of certification as an examiner for ISO 9000 (the quality standard). I thought it would be useful both for what I could learn about improving our company’s work and for use in ISO 9000 implementation at other companies using Lotus Notes for work process automation.

The basic cycle of ISO 9000 processing — Plan, Do, Check, Act, and repeat — can be found in other arenas, such as ISO 14000, the environmental quality standard, and in learning models, such as this one:

Depiction of the five step Experiential Learning Model

From “Curriculum Development for Issues Programming: A Notional Handbook for Extension Youth Development Professionals (1992).

“Learn By Doing”: The experiential learning model
(A cycle of five stations of activities under three categories.)
DO
1) Experience the activity; “do it”.
REFLECT
2) Share what happened.
3) Process what’s important.
APPLY
4) Generalize — the “so what”
5) Apply — the “now what”
Return to step 1 …

Although I’m well aware of the value and benefits of applying such a process to learning and improving, I don’t use it with the rigor and consistency that I’d like. That is a confession, by way of which I am expressing an intention that I want to make as clear and definite — and actual, as I want for the intention in my Argentine tango leading.

In a private lesson with Javier Rochwarger at Esquina Tango this morning, I told him that I have had trouble dancing to Biagi, feeling constrained by the stong rhythmic nature of the music, and that perhaps we could work on “musicality”. After expressing shock and dismay that I wouldn’t love Biagi, a one time and off and on most favorite of Javier’s, we went to work.

On reflecting after the lesson I realized that we went through several cycles of the experiential learning model during the lesson. Javier would feel my dancing — he is just as skilled and comfortable a follower as leader — and tell me what I really needed (share what happened). I would try to express, both verbally and in action, what that meant to me and how I could reproduce it (process), he or I would reflect on how that affected the broader context of my dance performance (generalize), finally, I would apply this new understanding to do a new dance, either refining my understanding and performance of that skill or finding the next thing to focus on. And repeat …

You can’t begin to express musicality because you are not arriving on the beat.” Not to say that my timing was off, but that the quality of my movement was muddy, unclear. We worked on arriving “nose over big toe” on the beat, with maximum energy released at that point. I reflected on how a failure to do this affects not only musicality, the dynamics of the dance, but also the clarity of the lead and the success of many movements, such as sacadas and turns.

Why are we not stopping? You are all the time going, going, going.” Contributing to a flatness and sameness in my dancing, despite a variety of movements on, around, and about the floor, was my constant motion. Javier made a clear distinction between merely pausing, with no energy, versus building a dynamic tension that is finally released. He likened it to street racers revving their engines side-by-side at a stoplight. Even though they are stopped you can see the energy building.

There were any number of other things to fix or tweak. Javier packs a lot into a lesson, and there were many big and small cycles of the experiential learning model, but the two biggies were fully arriving on my standing foot, and use of dynamic pauses. When I incorporated these into our dancing, happily, Javier observed, “You have no problem with musicality. You understand the music well. The long, the short, the rhythmical, the lyrical.” And I was becoming better able to express my understanding of the music.

Instead of another dance, I chose to conclude the lesson by reflecting on what I’d learned and how I could use it. I bemoaned not having a regular practice partner, and Javier said that unless you can dance this way by yourself, how can you hope to do it with the added complication of a partner. He said that [everyone] should use the first 30 minutes of a practica for just walking by themselves, improving the quality and dynamics of el caminar. So now that’s on my now what list of how to improve my practice to improve.

Notes from Daniela Arcuri’s Master Class 4/24/2013

Tonight’s class by Daniela Arcuri covered the milonga dance space and how to move through it in a way that works with the flow of traffic while producing a dance that is varied and interesting, and reflects the music.

TRACK

The dance space at a milonga is organized as one or more concentric oval tracks (much like a horse race track) running counter-clockwise around the perimeter of the dance floor bounded by the tables at the edge of the floor. A tiny space, such as a house milonga, may have only one track, but most spaces will have two tracks, one inside the other, and very large, very crowded spaces may have even more. In the very center, away from the people circulating around the room, you may find people dancing nuevo or other open patterns requiring more space. Generally the more skilled dancers will be in the outside track, nearest the tables, so they can be seen by spectators (and it gives them the longest track).

The width of the track will shrink or grow according to the size of the space and according to what other dancers are doing around you at any time, but it is roughly two or three couples across.

At all times you are expected to maintain your position within the track (unlike a horse race) between the couple ahead of you and the couple behind you. (When you enter the dance floor with a song in progress, seek to catch the eye of the leader of the couple you want to get in front of. A savvy leader will either avoid your look if they don’t want you in front, or they will nod in agreement.) Don’t crowd the couple ahead of you, and don’t lag behind so that you create a traffic jam behind you. It helps when dancers on the floor share a musical sensibility and move similarly.

The music is composed generally of 8 count phrases, and often two 8-count phrases – a call and response – will make up longer 16 count phrases. A couple might expect to make only one complete circuit of the floor in the time of an entire song, or a quarter – one side – of the room in four 8 counts.

ORIENTATION

The couples move generally in a counter-clockwise direction around the track. This is called the line of dance. But they vary this by dancing in a zig-zag back and forth across the path, and even moving for brief times against the line of dance, or they may be somewhat stationary – momentarily – in the track as they execute some pattern, such as a parada/pasada, or they may be making a circle within the path, as for a molinete.

In all the travel: walking, pivoting, standing, circling; the leader, perhaps assisted by the follower in a very crowded or hazardous situation, must seek to ensure that the space into which they want to move is open and likely to remain open while they move into it. They are aided in this by orienting themselves initially to face outside the track towards the tables. In this way the leader has an easy 180+ degree view to the open side of the embrace. Then as they zig-zag across and along the path, and circle, they can observe and make use of spaces that become available to the sides and behind them.

ZIG-ZAG

Rather than facing straight down the track and moving in that direction, your force variety and give yourself better opportunities to observe traffic by moving in a zig-zag fashion across and down the track. This gives you opportunities to observe the traffic all around your couple, and opportunities to present your couple in a variety of orientations.

CHANGE OF ANGLES

Even with only a basic 8-count pattern one can create dynamic angles throughout the pattern. Every step is an opportunity to pivot and reorient the couple to a greater or lesser angle from a square box pattern. The pivot can be a dynamic movement with the step using its inertia, or even a subtle shifting in place after stepping, perhaps accompanied by weight changes.

CIRCLES

Molinetes, calesitas (carousel), colgadas, overturned pivots, walking in a circle. Use these to both the left, open side, and the right, closed side for variety and interest. Use zig-zags and all the other elements to allow you to observe and clear the space you will move into when circling right.

PAUSES and RESETS

Use pauses, both to help express the music, and as a tool to help keep a good connection with your partner. Use a pause whenever necessary to reset your embrace, your connection with your partner, your attention to the music, your awareness of the room and its traffic — whatever. You don’t have to wait for a pause in the music to take a pause. Some elegant milongueros will reset everything with the beginning of each phrase of the music, or after a pattern.

LEVELS

Different altura (height, levels) of the couple, or even just one of a couple: High – fully erect with straight legs, low – bent knees, working into the floor, and in between make for more interesting variety, help express the music, and in many cases help execute a movement. For examples, in a calesita you want her high on one foot so that she has a small axis and pivots easily; a volcada starts high to unweight and free one leg, then goes lower to swing her leg forward, and finishes coming up again; a boleo might start low and end high with a leg wrap.

STEP SIZE

In very general terms, slower music can call for larger steps, while faster music may require shorter steps to keep on a beat. But in tango the step size might also be used to express some quality of the music. Perhaps a light, high sound would evoke small steps, while a booming sounds calls for a grander step. Except for milonga and vals music, which do have significant beats, the beat in a tango can be subtle and difficult to find, a singer may not follow the beat, and the tempo may increase or slow. Also, a dancer may take one, two, three, or four beats to execute a step. So the beat in tango can inform but does not dictate when to step.

DYNAMICS

Is the music loud, soft, high, low, complex, simple? Tango music is sophisticated and generally has many parts and sounds. A dancer can’t possibly express everything in the music in their body. There is too much going on. So, choose an instrument to follow for some portion of a song, or the melodic part, or the rhythmic part, then use the dynamics of your movement to express what that musical component is saying to you. Hard, soft, legato, staccato, complex, simple, fast, slow, high, low, happy, mournful, angry, sad, elegant, rough.

ADORNMENTS

Using only a few simple elements, such as the cross, the tap, and the circle, experiment with where you can add these. Do they help express the music? Do they help facilitate a movement? Do they serve to give a visual lead?

CONCLUSION

Before a milonga make notes of a handful of things from the above list and any other that interests you, then before a tanda select just one of those things that you want to focus on. As you get better, and as an element becomes a natural part of your dancing, you can add additional elements.