Last Sunday we had a Tango Movement Lab (online workshop) on how to respond to the cue “More Emotion”. You can actually see and follow-along the full workshop below.
What could that possibly mean?
Each one of us I am sure can come up with a different response to this question. And so that makes it very difficult to actually decode it; so instead we played with it.
As you will see in the video, we started with a perspective over “emotions”, borrowed by Dr.Alan Watkins, that is very refreshing. So Dr. Watkins, says, in his Tedx Talk “Why you feel what you feel”, that emotions are energy in motion. They are composite biological signals; stereotypical energy patterns. Feelings on the other hand are the awareness in our minds of that energy. We are the “creators” of emotions. We may be responding to someone or something but we are creating them.
Playing with the music
With that in mind we started playing, playing with music. Now as you will see in the video, this is not a musicality class, it was never indented to be. It is a class were we respond to music and we express that response. Playing with the music, implies what? Implies that we are not doing sequences, we are really not doing any specific dance; we are simply moving around. Just like we did when we were kids and we heard a song on the radio that we really liked and started moving to it.
Playing as adults makes us feel safe. It also wakes up that part of the brain responsible for imagination and creativity. So when we start the workshop with “moving around” it is to open that window to imagination. Then we took the universal dance step, step touch, and really took it to the playground..! haha
Do you remember when you used to go to the playground and go to the slides? The first couple of times were normal and then you would try to slide side-ways, or backwards, or walk up the slide or hang from its sides..! That is what we did with the step-touch. Do a step-touch in as many different ways you can think of.
And lastly we added the “being seen” strategy. As you will hear me say in the workshop, I think “more emotion” means ” I want to see you” One of the reasons we don’t have options in how we express ourselves through dance, is that we don’t have a strategy towards “being seen”. That thought ends today, because I actually have a strategy for you. A 3 step strategy that can transform your dance; and not just Tango but any kind of dance.
“More Emotion” means “I want to see YOU” For someone though to see you, it is required that YOU would want to be seen. So looping back to the beginning of this email. It all starts with you. You respond. You create. And maybe sometimes you may want to be seen!
P.S: This is a Pay from the Heart Workshop. We didn’t have a set ticket so anyone can join for free and anyone can watch the recording for free. If though you can contribute a monetary amount, we kindly ask for your support. You can do so either through an email transfer at: firstname.lastname@example.org or through PayPal.
I always struggled with phrases such as “just dance”, they feel a bit ambiguous. I know what they mean obviously, but they can mean a lot and nothing at the same time. And so I am afraid that creates a wall for people new to the dance community, instead of liberating them. So I thought maybe we can use a different phrase, for example “dance like a child”.
“Just dance”, what does it mean?
To me, the way I understand it and the way I have used it in the past ( with no success), it means without thinking about the rules. Allowing yourself to enjoy the moment of dancing without having to think of what you have to do. Without having any expectations or trying to meet any standards. Maybe I missing something here but I am sure that I am close.
Now the problem is, this is not obvious to someone still learning to dance. Why? Well I think for a couple of reasons.
If this phrase is used to describe the “warm-up dance” (we will get to this one is a bit), aka if this phrase is used at the beginning of a class or practice; well it is contradicting the reason people are there. People have walked in a class or practice to learn and advance their skill. They are in a completely different mindset compared to “just dance”. Inescapably the instinctual reaction is “I can’t just dance, that is why I am here”.
Secondly, if we are using this phrase in a social setting, such as a milonga, let’s consider the following problem. The amount of time the average person, wishing to adverse their skill, spends in a class/ practise environment far overshadows their dance time. So they are better at think-and-do than just do.
Thirdly, and naturally coming from the other two points, “just dance” is a skill itself. Dancing is a skill but just-dancing is just a little bit of a different skill. Which means it also requires training.
So bottom line, the average person receiving the cue, may understand all the words in “just dance”, may guess the meaning of the phrase but has no idea of how to actually begin to do that. Not to mention that they might not understand the phrase in the same way as it is told. Because you may have a different understanding of “just dance” than me. And as such, I think, we need a better phrase and system to help people build on this skill.
Dance like a child
Dance like a child or move like child, depending on the setting and the type of dance one teaches, can get us out of this little word trap.
Ask anyone, and they will be able to tell you what dance/ move like a child means. They will probably use words like, “freely”, “without limitations”, “carefree”, “not caring about the rules”, “having fun”, “moving around”, “doing whatever they want”, “living the moment”, “expressive” etc. I am sure you can come up with some more of your own. All though easily and securely leading to … enjoying the moment without thinking about the rules or someone watching..!
Which is EXACTLY what we want!
So I would like to invite you to start every practice and if possible every class with such a dance. A dance where you actually dance like a child. Some teachers already start their class with a dance. And here I have another wording issue… haha That dance is usually called a “warm up dance”.
Now to some level it is a warm up; your body is getting warm which is necessary for most activities. But I don’t really like the term in this context. Warm up is so fitness oriented, it kind of creates the wrong idea. Maybe we can say a prep dance instead of a warm up dance.
Prep dance, as in preparation dance. We are preparing ourselves, body, mind and spirit, for our class or practice. Which I think, even mentally can create the possibility for us to leave what we already know behind and open a window for new knowledge.
Singing through movement, has been my latest attempt to explain what “just dance” really means. It is funny but so many people say just dance but they don’t really know what that means or they can’t even execute themselves.
“Just Dance” Vs…
Usually if you ask someone to explain “just dance” they will start using other equally ambiguous advise, such as without thinking, or like no one is watching, or forget about the rules.
Why is this ambiguous advise? Well in Tango, but this applies to other dances as well, especially when you are starting out, you need to think. Tango is a fully improvisational dance. That means you are on your own putting one and two together, while connecting with your partner and with the music.
Secondly, it is in a social environment, people who are not dancing, are watching. It doesn’t mean that they are being judgemental, at least not all of them (haha), but they are watching.
Thirdly, every class is on the rules. Technique rules, musicality rules, even rules on how you improvise and put sequences together. So it is very hard to forget them and just dance.
What I mean to say is that we might be fully understanding the meaning of all of these words but we have no plan on how to implement the advise. Which leads to a lot of confusion and frustration on and off the dance floor.
…”Sing through movement”
I am sure you have been in a situation where you are talking about a song you like but suddenly you can’t really remember anything about it. You can’t remember the title, the singer, the orchestra, the lyrics, nothing but only the rhythm. So if you tried to describe it to a friend you would probably say: “You know, it is the one that goes like na, na-na-na, na…”
haha Well, singing with movement is exactly that. You do the “na, na-na-na, na” only not with sound but with movement. You are using your body to represent the music, as if you were another instrument of the orchestra. In the beginning of your practice, the movement can be small maybe a gentle shift of weight from one foot to the other but truly committed to delivering the music.
Then as you start making steps, stick with this concept. Instead of trying to come up with steps to match the music, practice letting the music move you in the room. We are not looking for elaborate footwork, in fact you can restrict yourself to walking only. The goal is to keep this quality, singing through movement. Making your whole body sing the song and not just your feet trying to execute steps.
P.S: Here is a practice on musicality if you want to continue working on it.
Though this is mainly a Tango and movement practice focused website, today I want to share with you a short personal story. So after my practice the other day, I was preparing this video for Pro Dancer shoes. At the time I didn’t think much of it. It in the beginning just yet another video only focused on the feet. But things were not as straight forward as I had initially thought. Let me tell you… It took me 20mins to finish! And it involved a lot of starting and stoping and a bit of frustration of course.
Tango can be frustrating some times..!
Some time had to go by, for me to realize the reason I was getting frustrated. I was focusing so so much on the shoes than on the dance itself.
Let me just show the 1st attempt that I think it is acceptable and so I can actually share it with you. It is not the 1st attempt of that day, it is the 1st acceptable attempt.
The intent was to show case the shoes. The problem is that focusing on that thought I wasn’t really paying attention to anything else. The result is having a feeling of disconnect to the music and my feelings of the dance.
As you can understand, even in this acceptable version frustration is still there and for good reason!
So what did I do?
Well the obvious..! I thought: “ok, forget about the shoes and JUST dance!” There was a moment that I actually thought, I am making no progress so there is not much point to this. I should instead simply dance and if something worth sharing comes out of it, then all the better!
Of course, things started getting better, and I actually really enjoyed myself plus the video is pretty good I think. At least it does the job and most importantly I was happier doing it.
Of course this is Tango related but not because it is about a Tango video
So why am I telling you this?
Let’s take shoes out of the story and pick something else. What do you feel uncomfortable with in your dance? The beat, the sequences, the posture, if your partner is going to get bored…? Whatever it is, think about how that issue affects your time in the milonga. Think how it grabs all your focus, and doesn’t let you see anything else. It actually spoils your night!
The thing is, that whatever the issue is, it can’t be solved in the milonga and the more you focus on that you are missing out on everything else!
Especially, for milongas, focus on having a good time! Allow yourself to enjoy your dances, to embrace your partners and get lost in the music! I am sure you have missed that as much as I have. There is no point missing out for something you can’t possibly do anything about at that moment plus in many cases if you go with flow things get actually a lot better!
Tango a way to tell your story
So to transition to our drills and tips, even these very tips and drills, remember they are here to help and not to become trapping elements for you to stress over when you are dancing in milonga. Practice, devote time in your practice but also enjoy the fruits of this practice!
Lastly, after sharing all this wisdom.. (haha) only keep the advise if it helps you and if not put it to the side and find what works for you! 😉
Let me know your thoughts in the comments or better yet subscribe to our community and continue the conversation there!
Milonga, the dance that can be sweet and spicy at the same time! I had always loved the music but in the beginning couldn’t get a hang of it. I preferred to sit and enjoy listening and looking at people dancing away than dancing to it. Thankfully that has changed!
How is Milonga different from Tango
The first thing that had messed me up is treating the Milonga as a fast Tango.
Milonga is not a fast Tango, it is a different dance and different music altogether.
In this paragraph we will see the key differences between the two dances.
Starting with the music, we have a different structure in the Milonga, which is on 2 beats whereas the Tango is on 4
In terms of our position on the dance floor. When we dance Milonga we have the open side of the embrace facing the dance line, therefore the leader is facing to the outer edge of the room, whereas in Tango the leader is facing the dance line. This difference in placement allows us a double side step in the Milonga, which is very characteristic of this dance and forbidden in Tango.
Floor navigation is also different between the two. In Tango we don’t stay at the same spot, we cover more ground, navigate around the dance floor respecting. In the Milonga we don’t cover that much ground and staying at the same spot is generally allowed within reason of course. That is mostly because we are dancing at a faster tempo
To accommodate for the faster tempo, we need a different movement strategy. We don’t have time to shape the movement since we have to act fast and so we keep a more “centred” posture, arranging the head, torso and hips in the middle and moving within the neutral range of our joints instead of reaching at the edges of flexion or extension
Taking a look now on the embrace, in Tango we don’t see partners changing their orientation towards one another. In one of the most characteristic Milonga steps, the Zig-Zac, partners are offset to one another and switch sides during the step. Something we never see in Tango, or if we do it is only as an accent
Also forbidden in Tango but common in Milonga is shifting the weight as we pivot.
Lastly, especially in the Milonga Lisa a swing of the shoulders is a strong characteristic. In Tango we rarely see it and if we do it shows up as an accent.
Going back in history
Going back in the history we can find a relationship between the Milonga and the Cuban Habanera with the former being characterized as an excited habanera. Nestor Marconi, the famous bandoneonista, had said though that Candombe gives Milonga its edge, the strong staccato, the upbeat and the syncopation. So we have swing from the Habanera and the beat from Candombe.
There are two styles of Milonga, the Milonga Lisa and the Milonga con traspie or double time.
The difference between the two is the speed and the textures.
Milonga Lisa is slower and has more swing which allows us to play with the upper body, swinging the shoulders. The Milonga con traspie is faster and accentuating the beat.
So we need to capture and express each style to the appropriate music and not use the slower versions to dance fast and vice versa
We need to go slower and swing through the movements in Milonga Lisa. Go fast and accentuate the beat in Milonga con traspie. Be true to the spirit of the music.
Lets talk about the BEAT!
Talking about speed; we also have 3 different characteristic speeds:
In the first we alternate the downbeat from the right to the left foot. So if we have 1-2, 1-2, 1-2, we would be stepping on 1 and transitioning on 2. It would be: Right-transition, left-transition, right- transition, left-transition. The upbeat therefore is not marked
For the second speed, we have the downbeat on one foot and the upbeat on the other. So we would have: right- left, right-left, if say we are marking the downbeat with the right
And the third speed, we have the down and the upbeat on the same foot: right-right, right-right, right-right
Of course the first speed is the slowest the third is the fastest. Take a look on how you can practice the different speeds
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It is common and at some times good strategy to separate the above during different classes/ practices on music exploration, in order to dedicate the necessary time to each of them. Sometimes they may come together in a musicality class where choreography is used to explore music textures and qualities or to work on the skill of building a choreography.
What I would like to suggest to you is that you see all these elements as ways to explore the music, as ways to make a map of the song so that you can move and express yourself through it with more ease.
Rhythm is all!
Who said that? Yup! that was indeed MJ
Rhythm is a basically a set of relationships based on three criteria:
the goal – aka where we are going
how far that is and
how fast we are going
And the above are affected by the mass that is moving; for example an arm versus the whole body. Also, the surface on which the item is moving, if there is traction or not and more.
As you can see in the video above there are many different ways to explore these relationships, we can count, clap, sing, dance or we can simply spend some time just listening.
And listening starts from within. There is one vital element that most of us, especially when dancing with someone else, tend to forget. And that is our breathing. There is rhythm in our breathing and that rhythm is unique to us, and very much dependent on what we are doing from one moment to the next. Therefore, every music exploration should start internally before we reach outward, as we are doing in the video above.
Lastly, before we go the beat, notice that though in the video we are playing mostly with the arms the feet are participating only they are not main focus. They can of course be the route through which we explore all of these relationships, so I invite you to give it try… it is truly a lot of fun!
And the beat goes on
I learned this exercise a few years ago from the wonderful Sebastian Arce and Mariana Montes. And it has been an exercise that I have been going back to over and over again because it is not only very helpful, fun and challenging but also as an idea, as a music exploration strategy, it is something that you can apply to any and all sequences.
So what happens in this particular video, is that we take a routine that is very well known and broadly used in Tango, in this case the ocho cortado and we start changing the relationship of the steps with the beat. This is the idea behind the exercise and so now you can understand that you can do the same thing, with the Tango basic/ box step, with the giro step and with any other sequence really.
How does this help us though map out the music?
OK! I want to share a strategy with you here, that again applies to all the things we practice on, but we will stick with the specifics of this exercise to have some solid reference. Suggested practice steps:
Practice each variation separately, one by one with and without the music.
Make little groups of 2 variations to practice on the music. How you choose? Well, there two ways that I usually follow:
Group the variation you are the most comfortable with every other, making groups of 2
Or group very different variations, for example from our video, the very slow/ mellow version with the syncopated version
Second last step, decide on how many times you would like to do each variation lets say 4 times each. You put the music on and you do each variation 4 times, one after the other until the song is over.
Very last step..! Let all the practice go and dance! What does that mean? You put the music back on and you let the music guide you as to which variation is more appropriate for that moment. As you can understand this is a step that may last for some time.
It is advised that you stick with the same song as you go through the steps above and that you see this as a flexible structure, and not a linear process. Meaning that you can go back and forth between steps, stick with one step for your whole practice one day and the next day you carry on etc. Basically, notice what your needs are as you go through the structure and give permission to yourself to adjust the strategy to your needs.
Embellishments – A music exploration power tool!
In this last video, we are playing with embellishments. Of course what you see in the video are only 3 of the many embellishments you can do on ochos but they have been specifically chosen. They will help us broaden our vocabulary and our understanding of the timing of the ochos, they are great tools for us to express ourselves better and have a bit of fun trying things out on the music but also and most importantly they can help us map out the textures of the music.
Embellishments in particular, because of their nature, they are add ons they are not required, they are one of the greatest tools to capture the textures of the music. Often times the same embellishment can be aggressive and powerful or spicy and playful depending on how you perform it.
So following the same strategy as described above try to see what textures you can capture and express with the 3 embellishments of our video during your music exploration session.
Music is much more than steps on the beat
Closing this short blog post, I hope that you have been inspired to look deeper into what the rhythm and the beat are and how you can explore them but also to look beyond them when you are trying to understand and relate to the music.
Think of the beat as the basic grid for each song. Over that grid we then have multiple layers. Some are consistently in the spotlight and some are making brief appearances with solos or by bridging musical phrases.
It is essential to get a clear understanding of the structure of the song, of the grid and then of the different layers that come over it in order to then be able to fully listen and express the music through your dance. And of course, the fact that we may be able to hear all the different layers doesn’t mean that we will dance to them; it is important though that we are able to hear them while we are dancing.
We have spent a couple of our Tango Movement Labs working on these elements so you can certainly visit the latest videos on that list and of course join us on Wednesday for a live practice. Tango Movement Lab runs every Wednesday 12:15pm EST through Facebook and Youtube
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