A Tutorial About Argentine Tango Dancing
TANGO, OUR DANCE
Chapter 27: It's What Counts
|Last updated, 1/25/04|
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|It is sadly
to read about teachers who ask their students to tap each other's
and/or back according to the rhythm of the music to feel really
about being massaged after a vigorous dance class, under the pretenses
of learning musicality to improve their tango dancing.
This brings creepy memories of another teacher who keeping a straight face told a captive audience at a musicality class, that she was capable of dancing the bandoneon sound with one leg and the violin sound with the other one.
Musicians know that "El que toca nunca baila" (A musician never dances). Let us challenge anyone to debate our contention that musicality has nothing to do with one's ability to dance tango.
There is ample evidence that not a single one of the thousands of musicians who played tango since at least the 1920's, ever engaged in the social activity of tango dancing. Further, consider the famous quote attributed to Enrique Santos Discepolo, a poet, journalist and philosopher, "Tango is a sad thought that it is danced." There is not a shred of evidence that Discepolo could dance his way out of a paper bag. Not knowing (or wanting) to dance tango, he made a name for himself composing music and writing memorable lyrics. He knew, as many do, that tango is multidimensional. It can be danced, it can be played, it can be sung, it can be listened to. It is safe to assume that Juan D'Arienzo, "el rey del compas," never danced a tango in his life. By the same token, nobody has ever praised Pepito Avellaneda or Petroleo for singing tangos or playing the piano, violin or bandoneon.
The introduction of musicality as an intrinsic element to be able to dance tango, seems to be another folksy American consumer's contradiction like veggie burgers, decaf coffee and dancing tango to Piazzolla. It is almost certain that nowhere in Europe or in South America there exists this ridiculous concept that dancers must be taught musicality before they can dance. Tango dancers, that is. Because those who dance foxtrot, swing or rock and roll would laugh if they were required to attend musicality classes before they can dance to Up the Lazy River, In the Mood, and Rock Around the Clock very well, thank you very much.
What is most
the cheap shots and outrageous displays of disrespect dished out to
teachers and dancers under the excuse of not being capable of teaching
musicality. While bashing the real teachers, there seems to be a
need to elevate to the rank of teachers, anyone with the latest gimmick
aimed to keep people from having to face their lack of coordination to
walk around the floor keeping a relatively simple beat.
From the dawn of civilization, humans have been dancing to primal rhythms produced by the stomping of their feet, the clapping of their hands, and the striking of objects against objects. The conception of the tango did not happen until the drum beating of the African slaves permeated the lower strata of the Buenos Aires and Montevideo society. By and by the dance acquired a form before the music could be identified. Over the next hundred years, the rhythm of the tango drove generations of men and women to the dance floors of Buenos Aires. They in turn, as time went by, influenced the evolution of the music from its primitive 2x4 signature beat to the post De Caro 4x8 rhythm. Generation after generation of dancers have followed Canaro, D'Arienzo, Di Sarli and Pugliese from club to club, from CD player to CD player, performing a rhythmic and patterned succession of bodily movements with a fanatical zest.
There were other musicians who tried with a vengeance to eliminate the dancing out of tango, ironically because dancing had nothing to do with musicality ("Tango is also music," was their mantra). It was Piazzolla who set out successfully to get rid of the rhythm of the tango to keep away dancers from disturbing his recitals for espresso drinking snobs. His universal success in adding yet another dimension to tango is underscored by the narrow perception of those who try to teach musicality to their feet (to dance Piazzolla, perhaps?) missing the rhythms of the forest by staring at the stiffness of the trees.
The Chan-chan of Tango
Argentine Tango music is no different than any other popular music, in that for the majority, it is written in 4/8 time signature. For most of us, who are non musicians, what does this mean? In non musician terms, it means that there is a measure of music eight beats long, and within this measure, groups of four main (down=Chan) beats are counted, not exceeding the measure of eight. It can be counted out in two groups of four.
Take any piece of
music - disco, swing, a ballad or even a tango, and start to count
aloud. Count one, two, three, four, one; two, three, four. Or - one,
three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Repeat this throughout the whole
song. You are now chanting 4/8 time. You can also call out the
or the “in-between” beat, along with the stronger down beat, which will
double the counts ONE and TWO and THREE and FOUR and.
Chan-chan to the Salida
common way to
change direction after the Salida Simple is the Tango Close or
The change of direction is to the man's right side, and it is executed
in three movements.
The man opens his left leg forward placing his foot next to the inside of the lady's left shoe causing her right leg to open into the man's left side (ONE-and). The man then opens his right leg into his right rotating his upper body to his left and opening the lady's left leg to his right (TWO-and). The man finally closes his left foot next to his right foot and steps in place to change weight, marking a similar movement for the lady (THREE-and).
To complete the
the man can change weight in place again, or move his right leg back a
very short distance, enough to change weight (FOUR-and). The sequence Salida
Simple-Resolution can be repeated again. If you never heard of the
Eight Count Basic, never mind and just dance the two sequences of four
movements. Each time you open left or right, you are changing
so that at the end of four repetitions, you have completed a four
type of navigation.
Chan-chan to La Base
The man moves to his left with a lateral opening of the left leg (ONE-and), then a forward cross of the right leg (TWO-and), then a forward opening with his left leg getting in front of the lady (THREE-and). Pause long enough to establish a good axis on the left leg. The man continues the back end of the base with a lateral movement to his right (ONE-and), a back cross of the left leg (TWO-and), a back opening with his right leg (THREE-and). Pause long enough to establish a good axis on the right leg. Open out to the left with a lateral, and repeat, using curved lateral moves to navigate changes of direction.
The movements in La Base are also complimentary and done exactly the same way by the man and the woman, except that when one is moving forward, the other is moving back, and vice versa. Resist the temptation to do La Base in a square shape to avoid stepping twice back into the line of dance.
into the dance
a few basic movements to the test. We'll start with a Salida simple,
by a right turn Giro with Sacadas, ending the Giro with a forward Ocho
of the lady, and ending the sequence with a Resolution. Refer to the
In Frame 2, the man takes the lady to his left with a lateral opening (ONE), and in Frame 3 they complete the transfer of weight to the man's left and the lady's right (and).
In Frames 4 and 5, the man advances with his right leg on the lady's right side as she takes a back step with her left foot (TWO), then they both transfer their weights to their supporting legs (and).
In Frame 6, the
the marking of the cruzada by opening the lady's right leg with a
opening of his left leg and a weight transfer (THREE-and).
Similarly, a failure of the man to transfer his weight to his right leg on the "and" of the fourth step in preparation for a right hand turn, creates unnecessary perils in the sequences that follow.
After the Salida Simple, a movement oriented to the left of the man, choosing a right turn giro to continue is an option to make a change of direction oriented to the man's right. The man brings the lady around to the his right side marking her three fundamental moves: a forward opening of her right leg (ONE-and), opening of her left leg (TWO-and), back cross of her right leg (THREE-and).
In Frame 9, as he marks the first step of her giro into his right (ONE), the man stepsforward into her right (counter motion). The man displaces the lady on the "and" as he transfers his weight and continues turning to his right (Frame 10). Notice how the lady responds to the sacada by holding her axis on the leading leg while turning as a result of the man's rotation.
giro continues in Frames 11 and 12. On the TWO the man marks the
opening of the lady's left leg into his right while he advances again
her right. On the "and" the man displaces the lady and she holds her
on her left leg while turning in place while the man turns into her.
need to remember that they always dance around the man (and the man
around the room).
Frame 15 is identical to Frame 9 as far as the lady is concerned. She
expect the possibility of going around the man again with her three
giro steps. For the man, because he held a step in Frame 13, he is now
"crossfeet" as he advances with his right into her right side (ONE).
As the lady
displacement in Frame 15, her weight transfer provokes a complete
on her right axis as soon as the man transfers his weight to his right
leg without rotating. The anticipated change of direction takes the
of a forward "ocho" (Frame 17) as the lady now advances to the man's
side with a forward cross of her left leg (ONE). In Frame 18 the man
his axis on his right leg while the lady transfers her weight to her
leg and rotates on her axis to face the man (and).
The short lived motion to the left of the man is altered in Frame 19 as the man readies to end the sequence using a standard Resolution. While sending the lady one additional step to his left, he advances forward with his left leg into the lady's left side (ONE). In Frame 20, the step is completed (and) when both transfer their weight, man to his left, lady to her right. In Frame 21, the man opens laterally to his right, bringing the lady also to his right (TWO). In Frame 22, they transfer their weight (and) aligned in front of each other. In Frame 23 the actual closing takes place when they both change axis in place (THREE). Frame 24 shows a typical link to the initiation of another sequence. The man opens his left leg back enough to provoke another weight change (FOUR), and at this point their position is similar to Frame 1. So after an exciting side trip to enjoy the sights, they are back on Main Street ready to continue their journey around the dance floor.
of control over the timing of these or any sequence, put the music on!
Carlos Di Sarli is an excellent choice. He isn’t called the Lord of The
Tango for nothing. Both dancers may count aloud while they are doing
exercises. Try the whole Tango using only the exercises, but with the
to move around the dance floor at least once. We think you will be
at how your movements will naturally correspond with the music.
your movements in blocks of threes or fours, let’s you build your own
in a controlled and rhythmic way, with navigation of the floor and
to your partner as your goal.
Exhale as you put your foot down (the first contact with front of the foot, the ball, the metatarsal, edge of little toe when you go forward, edge of big toe when you step lateral or back, arrive flat on the ground with the heel down, knee softened). Inhale as you arrive up on the step, on axis (when you are “up on the step”, or “over the step”, at this point completely on axis on the support leg, cast your eyes downand - you should not see your foot). The free leg naturally closes to “finish the step” as a result of coming up on the step with both knees straightened. The effect of the counted movement of the walk is, One-and. Or Chan-chan. Or Bomp-bomp (or whatever the sound is that the heart beats in your imagination). Breathe, but don’t overdo it and hyperventilate. This explanation and exercise take place naturally and simultaneously and seamlessly, the several parts of each step imperceptible to the onlooker, except that you move with the cadencia of the Tango. All the steps we dance are “walks”. However, as we should now know, it is NOT like walking in the street in our normal way. We are dancing the “walks”, by changing axis with each step.
As the music changes...
Juan D’Arienzo is playing. It’s rocking. In fact it’s swingin’! Again he is not known as The King of The Beat for nothing. You can still dance the entire tango stepping only on the downbeat, but because of the tempo of this orchestra, it is natural to feel inclined to also step on the upbeat, to step on the “and."
with speeding up the old 2X4 Tango rythmn of the 1890’s, to a modern
of the 1930’s and onward. 2X4 has nothing to do with a piece of wood
dancing like one).This time the measure is only four beats, with counts
of ONE-and, TWO-and. So you can make your life even easier when
the 2X4 tempo, because you never need count above two!
The Tango Close or Resolution is also ended on the upbeat rather than the downbeat. You can count it like this: ONE-and, TWO-and, where the second "and" is used to actually change weight to the other leg, rather than holding it as on a regular "and."
Stepping on the "and" is called a "traspie," a "quick," a "sobrepaso," and even a "syncopation." or “bomp, bomp, bomp.” As you can see the lady can also double step, by accident or design without ever again having to apologize for her "mistake!" It is desirable that the man always mark the stepping on the "and," but it is even more important that he be aware of an "unmarked" double step by the lady.
The result of an unmatched doublestep by either one of the dancers, is to change the moton of their legs from a parallel sequence to a cross feet sequence, or viceversa. Working around these conditions is at the heart of tango improvisation.
It would be
and perhaps a visual overkill to double step every beat, so keep in
that dancing is not racing to hit the floor on every beat. Mix up
on the one, the downbeat, and mixing it up with stepping on the
the “ands”. Why it isn’t counted as a triple step for the man, is
as he steps one, two, three, he steps twice with the same foot, hence
Double stepping can be done to the tempo of any tango, vals or milonga (besides D’Arienzo) - Di Sarli, Tanturi, Biaggi, De Angelis, Calo, Troilo, Canaro, Rodriguez, Varela, Pugliese - just let the music speak to you.
Let the music speak for you...
Remember that we
the tango, much in the way we naturally speak with implied punctuation
using the idea of commas and semi colons and periods, as a way to
and organize verbalized thoughts. Since we don’t have an orchestra
when we speak, dictating the tempo in which we speak, we can speak in
time signature that is comfortable or expressive. But with dance, the
dictates how we express our bodies with rhythmic thought. No two
will ever interpret the music in the same way, but the music must be
to speak for you and your partner, and further, for those looking on,
if it is a live orchestra playing for dancers (yes musicians do watch,
and when the dancers are dancing the music, they feed into your dancing
as you feed into their music).