Musicality 102

30th June 2010

Musicality 101 | Musicality 102 | Musicality 103 | Musicality 104

"Any questions?"
"Yes, what are the cheats?"
"Cheats? There are no cheats in tango."
"Ok, what are the advanced techniques that make this remarkably easier?"

~ A class at Rojo y Negro


Hopefully you've read Musicality 101. If not, I'd recommend it. Don't worry I'll wait....

Ok the first problem with musicality is simply understanding what's actually possible. Hopefully you have some idea of that now.

The next problem is how do you do it?

One of the most common problems I've run into is guys trying to lead double-time. They're walking and there's a double-time in the music. Sometimes they're expecting it, sometimes not. Either way they usually try and go for either double-time walk or a rebound. And usually it crashes and burns.

So it's not enough to simply change speed to match the music. You have to do it using tango grammar.

I considered tango grammar here, specifically for the most natural way to transition between movements.

However the same thing applies to transitioning between timings. Very few leaders can do a double-time walk well. Most leaders can do double-time crosses remarkably well. So if you want to lead double-time why not use crosses instead?!

I had originally intended to show the transitions I find that work best for changing speed, both making it faster and slower. However on reflection I realised that a lot of what works for me does so because I use a certain embrace, dance a certain style, with a certain kind of follower, to a certain kind of music and so on. So it may not work for you.

However here are some suggestions to get you started.

Some suggestions

Blocks are a good way to slow down or stop. You can completely stop the follower as in the sandwich,

Or let the follower move, but more slowly - for example, barridas or ochos:

Crosses are good for double-time:

"Two rhythms at once crosses" are a good way to slow down from double time as at the end you're leading in single time again. They're also a way to mark a number of beats / accents. For example:

Sidesteps - watch the first few seconds of this:

The sidestep to weight transfer can be a good place to slow down (as shown above) or speed up.

Volcadas are an effective way of doing a single flowing movement through several beats / accents.

Basically, look at what you know and see what and where you can easily transition between speeds. But also make sure that in doing so you're also transitioning easily between steps.

The next stage

Example: leading ochos

Remember when you first learnt ochos?

You had a set-up sequence (probably sidesteps) - for example, as here. After a few of them, you'd manage to get the woman into doing ochos. Woo hoo!

Then you'd lead several ochos to try and get them flowing enough to free up some of your brain to work out how to get out of them. A few more ochos and then finally you'd exit. Phew!

Now, you probably don't even lead an entire ocho anymore - just half of one and then into something else. A pivot, then a step.

Steps as words

So what changed?

Well, for a start they got easier with practice. And eventually they probably developed a middle. If you look back at the description above, it's a very fragmented approach. The beginner is totally focused on the set-up at first. Then the beginning and so on. A... B... C... D... Eventually it becomes a word, "Abcd".

An important part of this is that the middle lets you signal your intent to the follower to change speeds. Before you were telling her at "A". Now you're telling her at the "D" of the previous word.

The obligatory driving analogy :)

It's like when you're driving, and someone else is giving you directions. Helpful people tell you which lane to get into and tell you ahead of time when the turning is coming up. Less helpful people *cough*Anna*cough* tell you to turn as you're passing through the junction.

However the lane thing is also important. Particularly in London, knowing that you need the 2nd right at the roundabout often won't help you know which lane you should be in. So even if you know where you want to go, often the other traffic will mean you simply can't do it (or you'll have to drive recklessly to do so).

Fitting steps to music

The tango equivalent is this idea of finding which moves / steps naturally let you change speeds, and in which way. Otherwise you end up back at the problem in the beginning of knowing there's a double-time coming up, wanting to lead it, but because you've chosen a step / movement that doesn't naturally let you do this, it rarely works out well.

Sometimes you'll get lucky and whatever you were doing previously is a workable transition to double-time. This tends to cause even more confusion though, because leaders aren't focusing on that. So they then try to figure out why it worked this time and not last time and look at everything (the follower, the way they led the move etc) except what's actually important, the transition.

Yet another problem

I wrote a while ago that when you start dancing you have a limited window to get across to the follower what it is you're going to be doing. The more advanced the follower, the smaller the window. So if you spend the first 30 seconds dancing at normal speed with no changes in speed at all, you're now going to have a harder time changing speeds. This is a problem, because tango musicality tends to involve changing speeds a lot.

One of the problems I have with using the giro as a solution to speeding up, is that like the beginner learning ochos, leaders tend to stay sped up.

To my mind, a media luna (half giro) is better. You speed up and then slow down with potential to go into a slow ocho. Add a parada and the follower can add in adornments at yet another rhythm. If you want to do a giro, particularly if you've hit a frantic part of the music, I'd advise not using it as a jump to Warp Speed for the rest of the dance. Put a block or a pivot or a cross in at the end instead.

So explore ways in which you can keep changing speed, but without it becoming difficult. I would also, on the whole, stay away from sequences. You want to be able to change speed at will in order to make expressing musicality easier. The problem with sequences is you now have to prepare quite a few steps ahead of time which is much harder. Plus the odds of those preparatory steps fitting the music aren't great.

On the bright side, once you figure all this out, you'll have a very robust system that's personalised to you. Thanks to Walking is not dancing, you really don't need much in the way of steps.

The following is probably enough:

  • 4 count basic
  • 6 count basic
  • 8 count basic
  • Ocho cortado
  • Cross to giro
  • A signature trick sequence you like

By understanding how you can smoothly transition between all the parts of them both in terms of movement and speed, you have a phenomenal number of possibilities, quite sufficient for social dancing.

Added Bonus

Once you understand all of the above, ask your teacher about staccato and legato to add yet another layer of musicality possibilities to this ;o)

Next: Musicality 103.

~ Christopher O'Shea, 30th June 2010

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