The Tango of Zero: Native Musicality

26th January 2010



"Dear Barclays Bank customer,
Barclays Bank would like to inform you that we are currently carrying out a scheduled upgrade of Barclays Security software.
In order to guarantee high level of security to our customers, we require you to complete "Barclays Banking Form". Please notice, that we ask you to complete the Form regularly, until Barclays bank IT department finishes the upgrading process successfully. Please complete the form using the link below:
Thank you for being a valued customer.
Barclays Customer Service"

What's wrong with this? It passes both a spelling and a grammar check and I can clearly understand what it means. Yet I know it's spam.

OK, so it's addressed to "Barclays bank customer" - rather than my actual name - but more importantly: 'In order to guarantee high level of security to our customers, we require you to complete "Barclays Banking Form". Please notice, that we ask you to complete the Form regularly, until Barclays bank IT department finishes the upgrading process successfully.' simply isn't the way in which Barclays (or a native English speaker) would write that.

In tango

There's a similar problem in tango with musicality. You can put moves, sequences and concepts together in a way that is clearly tango, but if you don't understand how tango musicality works, then like the above example it will feel "wrong" to someone who does understand it.

There are a number approaches to structuring tango:

  • Watch your teachers dancing.
  • Watch other dancers
  • Do what feels right to you
  • Go to musicality classes

Card trick time

I've been doing the following demonstration for a number of years and it's amazing how well it works. Feel free to try it yourself.

  1. Take a shuffled deck of cards and deal off the first card.
  2. From that card make a prediction about the rest of the deck - Eg 1st card - 9 Hearts.
  3. So, I predict that all the cards in the deck are red. (Once I actually dealt off 9 consecutive red cards purely by chance, at which point it was much more plausible that I was using a trick deck - wrong, but plausible)
  4. I now test the theory by dealing off a second card
  5. 2nd card - 6 diamonds
  6. Great! I've "proved" my theory - all the cards are red.

Only, clearly I'm wrong.

  1. Ok let's say I'm cautious and I deal off another card
  2. 3rd card - 4 spades
  3. Hmm, ok my theory's wrong. Ok new theory - "there's no court cards (king, queen, ace, jack) in this deck. That matches what's happened so far.
  4. Check the theory
  5. 5th card - 9 hearts
  6. Cool. But I've learnt from last time so I now deal off two more cards just to be sure.
  7. 6th card - 3 clubs
  8. 7th card - 5 heart
  9. Great, now I'm sure I'm right!

Only, again, I'm wrong.

Fitting the card trick in

So how does this fit into the 4 options?

Well if you watch your teachers dancing, you're making theories based on what you see. Unfortunately as the above example shows, it's very easy to come to conclusions which as logical, sensible and completely wrong.

However at least teachers are probably doing the right thing. If you watch dancers, then you're now building theories based on dancing that most likely has errors in it. You can end up in some weird places with this.

Ok so what about the third option - just do what feels right? Loosely speaking, there's two types of followers. Those who have their mind blank and just follow, which will work in this case. However those who listen to the music will completely confused as to what you're doing.

"I have new dancing shoes" makes sense not just because of the words, but also the grammar and tense.

"I have new danced shoes" doesn't make as much sense

"I have danced new shoes" makes less

"Shoes danced new have I" sounds like Yoda on a bad day.

What to ignore

From what I understand, musicality is basically the art of knowing what to ignore in the music. Tango music can have multiple instruments playing at once. Even if you only listen to one, you still don't dance all the notes all the time (try dancing to every note the violin plays if you don't believe me). But like the above spam email, you need someone who understand how to "speak" tango as a native to explain to you which notes it makes sense to ignore and which to dance to. Not because it's necessarily "wrong" to do otherwise, but because your partner will be able to understand you better.

This applies to both leaders and followers. For example if the leader is leading the follower to the bandoneon and it's double time, it's not helpful if she decides halfway through the phrase to do an adornment to the violin which is in half time.

Which brings us back to option 4: learn it from someone who knows it properly.

As an aside, the sooner you do this, this less bad habits you'll have to learn. It also saves your teacher trying to figure out what on earth your theories actually are! This is particularly a problem if you came up with the theories a few years ago and now do them automatically such that you've forgotten what the theories were.

- Christopher O' Shea, 26th January 2010

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