Recent Tango Musings

Lost something? Maybe you'll find it in the Musings Archive!

Tango Musing



Posted: 13:10, Sunday 14 January 2007 by Megan Jones

Updated: 20:06, Sunday 14 January 2007 by Megan Jones

One of the aspects of Argentine Tango that is often discussed as being integral to its identity is that it is an ‘improvised dance.’ But what does this mean? Some other dances have every couple on the floor doing the same thing at the same time – the military two-step for example. Other dances might have people doing things at different times, but they are still generally doing the same set of steps #1-18 just in different orders, such as a cha-cha.

The AT has at its base a series of identifiable moves, such as the ocho, right and left base, giros, barridas, boleos etc. Generally these are learnt through a structured sequence, but the aim is not simply to reproduce that sequence over and over – the aim is to learn the particular move and the myriad of ways the leader can then link it from and into other moves. The longer you dance, the more the logic of the dance makes sense and you recognise more options. Your mind shifts from being less preoccupied with the move itself than with feeling the music and responding to both that and your partner. AT is fundamentally about the music and the connection with your partner through the music.

But how do you learn to improvise? Stephen and Susan Brown of Tejas Tango note that it is often harder for people not from Buenos Aires to comprehend this nature of the dance. People in BsAs grow up with an awareness of the music, the structure of the dance, the difference between choreographed stage tango and the salon and so forth. They have a number of suggestions to help you develop your improvisation skills:

  • Musicality. The ability to improvise depends upon knowledge of the music – you don’t need an enormous collection, but listen to it frequently. Dance to it alone; try dancing not just to the beat but choose an instrument and dance to what it is playing – to what it makes you feel.
  • Watch. Milongas are not just times to get frustrated because you are not dancing – they are there to see friends, have something to eat and drink, to listen to the music and to watch the other dancers. Don’t like a piece of music? Can you identify why not? Watch people on the floor – what elements of the music are they dancing to, what feeling are they evoking? What do you like about the way they are structuring their dance – are they using all left or right base (parallel or cross system)? What embellishments do you like or dislike? But you don’t have to just rely on local dancers – check out things like You Tube which have hundreds of videos of world-class dancers demonstrating both choreographed and improvised AT.
  • Imagination. Follow your heart – leader and follower. It is a conversation between you both and the music; you both have to listen to make it work! It is not someone else’s job to make you look or feel good – you each have to give that to the dance. There are so many things you can use to change the feel of a move you already know: repitition, pause, dynamics, phrasing, embellishments.

  • Navigation. Actually, it’s not just you – it’s the whole room of dancers listening to the music, respecting the line of dance, structuring moves and embellishments to fit the spaces that appear and disappear. Creativity and responsiveness not just for the music or to your partner but to the others dancing on the floor also.

  • Practice…dance more often – on your own, in practicas, in milongas, whenever you can! Practice the structure of the dance. Until you learn about the moves, how they go together, where it feels good to place an embellishment so that it doesn’t interrupt, these things won’t flow…and it is all about practice, which leads you to be more familiar with the music, more comfortable with navigation, able to recognise and try things you see other people dancing and..and so forth.

Sorry, commenting on this article is closed.

Back to top