Musicality: a sensitivity to, knowledge of, or talent in music.

For some it’s natural, for others it’s a struggle.  You either have sensitivity for the music or you don’t.  That doesn’t mean it can’t be learned.  Attending classes on the subject offered by dancers with no musical training won’t help.  More than anything it takes listening for hours to music to internalize it.  Then your dance becomes a natural expression of your connection with the music.

I recall that not to long ago tango dancers weren’t interested in the codigos in the milongas of Buenos Aires.   That has changed, and progress is being made. Finally many recognize that there is a need for rules of social conduct on the dance floor.  Another subject that was avoided in tango classes was dancing to the music.  Everyone was completely focused on learning and memorizing steps patterns that there was no attention given to the music.  Teachers with no musical training counted steps rather than the beat of the music.  That, too, has changed.  Connection and musicality are the topics of discussion.

Musicality workshops seem to be more common these days.  It has taken years for teachers to realize that the music they have lived and breathed all their lives in Buenos Aires is strange for newcomers to tango.  The music is where the dance begins.  Without it, there is no dance.  Knowledge of the music for dancing is necessary for its natural expression.  You can’t dance well to music that you don’t know.  In order to be connected, you need to feel it.

One can present information about how to listen to music, hear the differences in rhythm, melody, harmony, pitch, etc., but it takes active listening on the dancer’s part to acquire the sensitivity to relate to it with the body.  I believe that tango as a social dance does not have to be artistically perfect by well-trained dancers in order to be called tango.  Tango is one of the most natural social dances I have encountered in my life where every milonguero has his own style, improvises in the moment, and knows how to dance well with any woman.  The embrace is more important that any steps to a milonguero.  That, too, is rarely taught in classes although it is the basis of tango for a milonguero.

Do you dance tango to impress others or to express a feeling?  This is an important question.  Both types are seen at social dances.  Those who are out to impress others are usually oblivious to others on the floor.  This is demonstrated in all the exhibition videos where one couple performs to impress the audience.  Usually what they are dancing cannot be done on a social floor, so students are not learning what they need. Tango is a means to an end for them.  On the other hand, there are dancers who express their feelings calmly and quietly without disturbing others.  Tango is a feeling shared by two.

Every orchestra has its own unique style, with a different rhythm and mood.  It takes years of listening to distinguish them and learn to dance differently to each one.  There is no pressure on dancers to accomplish this in a certain amount of time.  One’s commitment to the enjoyment of tango includes listening to the recordings on a daily basis to know and understand the music.  That is the only way to become a good dancer.  The goal is relating your dance to the music through movement.  The feeling comes from within you and only when you connect to the music that you know and love.  That feeling is yours to share with your partner as a silent conversation.

The challenge for tango dancers is acquiring a knowledge of the music that was born and created in Buenos Aires many decades ago.  The music has remained timeless in the recordings.  It is our job to become acquainted with it and love it.  An hour class on musicality won’t accomplish that.  It takes personal dedication.  No one can do it for you.


16 Responses to “Musicality”

  1. Chris Says:

    Great article Janis.

    And students, the class teacher who turns off the music so you can better hear him talk about the importance of the music is giving you a chance to learn something considerably more valuable that what he’s trying to teach.

  2. Patricia Says:

    I agree unreservedly, Janis. Thanks for this very good post.

    It all begins with the music, the feeling and the embrace. Unfortunately, those who dance mainly to impress others, or just for themselves, are missing the magic. What a pity. But it’s not just their loss. The disturbing influence and energy of such dancers is felt by dancers around them.

    Certainly, immersing oneself in the music of tango is vital in order to ‘get’ the feeling and dancing musically in a natural way. Dancing to excellent music of the Golden Age in class, at practicas and milongas is essential, of course. Teachers can play an important role here.

    Teachers of social tango also need to ensure that everything they teach is consistent with social tango. If that is not prioritised, I fear that dancers may get distracted and misled (excuse the pun) by the more exhibitionist and anti-social forms, which are only suited for the stage. Their response may be very musical, however …

    Fundamental to social tango is RESPECT: for the music, the partner and the others on the floor.

  3. julian Visch Says:

    When people ignore the music shouldn’t the dj change the music so that the people want to dance to it? Often people have no choice of venue and different music gives connection to different people. This is why a variety of music is essential at any Milonga, else people will dance to the music which is in their heart not the speakers.

  4. Chris Says:

    Julian wrote “When people ignore the music shouldn’t the dj change the music so that the people want to dance to it? Often people have no choice of venue and different music gives connection to different people. This is why a variety of music is essential at any Milonga

    No this is not the reason why a variety of music is essential at any milonga.

    If people turn up at a milonga wanting e.g. music for Scottish country dancing, then what the DJ can best do is point out that they’ve arrived at the wrong place. What he doesn’t do is change to music inappropriate for the dancers who are in the right place.

  5. douglasjrhodes Says:

    Very good article and very nice comments too. This message really needs to be owned and taught by all Argentine Tango instructors. I concur unreservedly too that exhibition tango is primarily taught at many schools, and some of the worst offenders on the pista are some of them, the instructors. At some schools, teaching is all about the business selling a flashy attractive product instead of a “wholesome complete meal” type class that is nourishing to the entire dance floor as one body all functioning correctly together as one with the music. I love, no pun intended, those many of the words mentioned above, especially those regarding: respect, social, caring, love, and timeless.

  6. Julian Visch Says:

    So if the majority at the venue are ignoring the music you would like them all to leave? Hard when it is the community centre and djs have booked 2 years in advance. Djs don’t want them to leave, just to change. Not happening so at an empass.

  7. jantango Says:

    Flashy fast food is offered by so many vendors when people are hungry for a “wholesome complete meal” that nourishes the body, mind, and spirit.

    Here is part of another post I wrote in 2011:
    Fast food tango is for those who eat on-the-go. It’s available in packaged form at festivals all around the world. It feeds a large number in a short time at a reasonable price. It’s high in fat and lacks the essential nutrients. It’s consumed by those who don’t know what they’re eating, and they eat more than they really need.

    Fast food is an American obsession. And so is fast food tango.

  8. Julian Visch Says:

    In the 15th century we had renaissance dancing. This included dancing for the young people which was full of energy. Centuries later in the 1930s people seem to think that they only wrote tango music for the elderly. I have my doubts on that.

  9. jantango Says:

    I’m glad that you have doubts about tango music written for the elderly. People who believe that are wrong. Why the elderly? The young set the trends then as they do today. It’s the younger generation that was dancing in the late 1930s. I wish we could ask Juan D’Arienzo to respond. He would tell you how he saw young dancers respond to the beat, so “The King of the Beat” composed music for them. That’s why he was so popular in the 1930s with Rodolfo Biaggi and other pianists in his orchestra.

  10. Julian Visch Says:

    Precisely. Too many djs avoid orchestras like Juans and stick to a subset they like which are fine for a while but not all night. This has the affect of people ignoring the musiv if it goes on to long and the gives the golden age a bad name and results in people especially the young boycotting any social where golden age is mentioned making those socials become like an old person’s home. I sometimes wonder if this the intention of some. When musicality is taught i have found it to be only about timing, never about orchestras. But that might just be my country. I have encountered a couple overseas who taught it and were surprised that i knew no tango orchestras. I will have to wait until i go overseas again to learn more.

  11. Chris Says:

    Julian wrote: “So if the majority at the venue are ignoring the music you would like them all to leave?

    Not at all. I’d hope if they stayed and listened, they might hear some milonga music they like. But if they’re not getting the kind of music they want for the kind of dancing they want and this makes them unhappy, then yes I think leaving would be a good idea.

    Hard when it is the community centre and djs have booked 2 years in advance.

    DJs book two years ahead for a milonga… and then discover the majority of their people don’t want a milonga??

    I can’t imagine how that could happen to any DJ that understood what a milonga is, but if it did, I’d suggest he/she change the event from a milonga to whatever kind of event these people want. Easy!

  12. jantango Says:

    There is you need for you to wait to travel to learn more. Start listening to recordings and learn the differences in their styles. Then you will appreciate the music more and start dancing to it.

  13. julian Visch Says:

    Chris we want a milonga, just more variety, when the tradionalists are ignoring the music then that to me means you should switch the another orchestra and not just stick with the same composer all night. The better djs after seeing majority not dancing will change orchestras to meet the needs of those there. The bad djs just want to push their favourite orchestra and don’t care what anyone else wants. And yes people are leaving early, they aren’t bothering to go out.

    Jan tango music is not easy to get hold of in my country with the djs often using copies they got from others. Djs have also put me off golden age tango because of some of them finding the worst possible copies and the most boring of tracks as they want to in my opinion stifle musicality, why I don’t know.

  14. Chris Says:

    Julian wrote: “when the tradionalists are ignoring the music then that to me means you should switch the another orchestra and not just stick with the same composer all night

    I think we must have different ideas of what constitutes a milonga. I’ve never heard of anything I’d call a milonga playing the same composer/orchestra all night.

    tango music is not easy to get hold of in my country

    If your country has internet, great tango music is easy to get. A fine starter is Worlds Greatest Salon Tangos for £15.

  15. julian Visch Says:

    Chris then count yourself lucky. I am not saying they never have variety, but sometimes the music doesn’t vary all night, once waited until 1am before leaving in frustration having no dances all night. Maybe they were different orchestras but they all sounded the same to me. Yeah I know I should have gone earlier but paid $70 for the night, next night I didn’t bother going even though I had already paid ($70).. Haven’t gone back since. I now go overseas which is expensive but at least I get live music.

    Thanks for your example, quality of the music is poor though in some of the tracks, is this because the originals have been lost and only poor copies left? Not as bad as some socials I have been to where you can barely hear the music through the static and they have the stereo on full. Lots of the locals still love it and I can hear good music within the static and stretches. I am just curious is this the norm or is there music available where they have managed to reproduce the music to the original quality?
    To many, 1930s equals high static and stretched music (result of attempts to clean up the music). I have heard some good quality non nuevo music, I have never known if this is 1930s, 1990s or what.
    The orchestras the overseas instructor played were good quality, I presumed a re-release?
    What is the state of the music of the 1930s in your experience?

  16. Chris Says:

    I agree that a few in that box set have quality of sound (which is I guess what you meant rather than quality of music) that’s poor. For example all the Roberto Firpo tracks (which incidentally are music I’d not play or dance at a milonga even if the sound quality was sufficient).

    As to the cause, I believe that poor sounds quality is original. I’ve heard multiple copies from different CDs and though they vary, none are better. The same goes for all the tracks on that CD box set (though I can’t speak for the MP3 versions.)

    As to the state of the music of the 1930’s, there are hundreds of tracks having sound (and music) quality good enough for a milonga – in my opinion, and I think the opinion of most DJs and milonga-goers. You can hear clips of many that I play here. You can see the ones without clips too, by deleting the word clip from the input box.

    As for variety across all the decades, you can get an idea what’s enjoyed by dancers where I am (UK) here. I’ve found similar in milongas everywhere I’ve danced, including BsAs. The variety from some DJs is wider, and from some is it narrower.

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