Frey Faust has been a teacher and mentor to me and many others around the world. When you visit his personal website https://www.freyfaust.org you will see his bio titled as “dancer, choreographer, teacher, writer, artisan… etc.” so the first time we attempted this chat I had to ask the question what would the most appropriate title… And he said to me: “I am a person… human… animal. All these titles are things I do, not who I am. I am working towards my potential as a person, trying to have a quality existence and also make the world a better place for me and however many people I can. Everything I do has these underlying motivations.“
I got to know Frey through his work, the “Axis Syllabus” for which you can find more about here http://www.axissyllabus.org. I was at a frustrating curve in my Tango practice when I took a class with Pablo Veron; the greatest thing I was reminded of in that class was that I need to look past Tango to look at movement holistically… And so here we are!
What is this chat about?
This chat is not specifically about Tango; it is not even about dance. It is more about movement, how to learn, how to practice, how to explore and how to inspire others to explore along with you. If you are teacher you will have the opportunity to hear some strong advise on how to approach a class, how to observe and how to listen And if you are a student you will get some starting points on practice, acquiring knowledge and building awareness of your body.
“There are many elements involved, all concerned with the perception, decoding and synthesis of sound and time and thus there are many forms of amusia” (…) “A.L Benton distinguishes receptive from interpretive or performance and identifies more than a dozen varieties” Musicophilia- Tales of Music and the Brain, pg. 106 (https://www.oliversacks.com/books-by-oliver-sacks/musicophilia/)
Based on Oliver Sacks the author of Musicophilia, there are quite a few different musicality trouble. For example, one might experience, rhythm deafness, tone deafness, cultural rhythm deafness, no sense of scale, melody or harmony, pitch discrimination, dystimbria and more…
And that is because music is not just beats per minute…
Starting from the music
Usually what happens is, we go to a class, we learn a bunch of sequences, either to no-music or on a specific song. Then we go to the milongas but we are not able to perform these same sequences on the music, unless we are lucky enough and that one song that our teacher used in class, is played in the milonga. That creates a feeling of emptiness, as if we didn’t really dance.
In order to address this issue, we will focus on the music itself first. So go ahead and choose any 4 songs you like, from different orchestras, and start with actively listening, trying to make sense of the music.
Making sense of the music, happens in many ways:
through hearing for its beat, tempo, rhythm etc
seeing it, usually the timbre of the music is expressed as colour
through taste, often times musicians when they talk about pitch they use taste-related words
through movement; you might catch yourself tapping your foot, or swinging the arms
or you might hum or sing etc
Try initially to just let all of these things happen, and make a note of them. Even if they are distasteful, don’t stop them from happening. Be simply a witness and not a judge to the process
On a second level, we use movement to become aware of what the music feels like. Personally, I did this like so:
Use simple, very basic movements that will not trouble you technically, to capture what the music feels like to you.
Initially, you will most likely become aware of your emotions, like feeling sad or happy, and attempt to express them through movement.
After that initial response though, try to look for the words behind those adjectives. For example, the music might feel like a punch or a gentle touch. It might be like a total collapse or a light hop. Maybe it is epidermic or visceral.
The words will describe, how your body expresses your emotions, for example, sad could be bodily expressed through total collapse, while happy could be a light hop.
Finding the flow of the movement
The previous video will allow to notice your strengths and your weaknesses regarding perceiving and interpreting music.
Have in mind that “No one has all the talents, cognitively or emotionally. Tchaikovsky was keenly aware that his great fertility of melody was not matched by a comparable grasp of musical structure” Musicophilia- Tales of Music and the Brain, pg. 98
This comes to say that overall we should acknowledge our weakness and bet on our strengths! And since I am here writing an article on musicality aiming to help anyone who finds him/herself as weak in perceiving and/or interpreting music, I will suggest for this next video, that we focus on something that we all are a bit stronger in; movement; basic Tango movement.
Every move has an optimal rhythm. A rhythm that allows us to perform it efficiently and smoothly. That rhythm needs to match the rhythm of the music, for the movement to make sense, express what the music feels like and create a sense of calmness and confidence.
You know when your teacher says: “Don’t think, just do it!” There is a time to work with consciousness as shown in the videos above and a time when you need to act on things.
On the dance floor there is really no time to think things through, to put your conscious mind to work. On the dance floor it is the time to ACT! And hopefully you have practiced enough for that action to be successful
Sooooo after all this work, I think you deserve an extra night out, on the dance floors allowing yourself to respond, to act on the music!
How many times have you heard this phrase:
“Don’t think! Just feel and be yourself!”
I hate it!
And the worst thing is, I have said it myself to many people… Now I guess it is a good time to apologize…
I am sorry, truly sorry, for adding on to your frustration but believe me I didn’t do it on purpose.
Being a beginner at something again, now after many years, teaches me every time I get in class, that being yourself in something foreign is impossible!
If you know nothing about that new thing; how can you possibly know who you are in it?
Be yourself… because in this society you are not allowed to be lost!
When you start Tango or any other new thing for that matter … but lets stick to Tango for now… You are going to feel confused, lacking in some way, frustrated or simply put lost!
You are doing something new, specifically dancing with a stranger in your face! If that person is not a strange you are still moving together in ways you usually don’t. And you have to find a way to lead and follow some step successfully while following the social codicos of a milonga and meeting people’s expectations.
All this inevitably will make you stand differently, move differently, BE differently. It will make you lose your identity…. But only in a good way!
Should you just accept it then..?
Passive acceptance, can be the first step, but it shouldn’t be the only step.
Instead of trying with all your strength to bring what you know of “yourself” in the dance, start seeing yourself and your body as maybe your old neighbourhood; a place you hadn’t been in for a long time.
Start with noticing things that look and feel familiar… and then notice the things that surprise you, the things you have never seen before, you didn’t know existed in your body, in your movement vocabulary, in yourself!
Tango and any other activity can be an opportunity to get lost and find yourself again and again. An opportunity to surprise yourself.
And yes! It is hard and it sucks in the beginning but keep at it for the day, when you will be able to say to yourself:
But today I want to take a moment to talk to you about the life-tango connection.
Tango is like life and vice versa
No that is NOT what I am going to talk about…hahaha…but you thought I would didn’t you?
You felt that cliche coming your way! Haha
Don’t worry you are safe!
I want to talk about how this practice like all the other practices you can find in this blog can help you move better in life as well as in Tango
One of the biggest problems people have today is that they are not moving enough.
As a species we were made to move…In fact we survived because our movement became more efficient and we managed in this way to “outrun” our opponents and get food!
Now, this species that it’s whole survival was based on movement is stranded on a chair only to move once or twice a week.
Our bodies thinking that this is the new way of doing things, rearranges our muscles to support it and slowly but surely we start losing range of motion, flexibility and power in our hips, shoulders, spine and all around… We start losing ourselves!
Does any of this sound familiar?
If not, think about the last time your tried to bend over to grab something off the floor aaaand…”OUCH! My back…” came out
Or the last time you thought to yourself: “I am too old for this”
Well, what if Tango was here to help you keep on moving even if you have to take things a bit slower or with a bit more caution.
Follow the tips below for healthier body… they WILL make your ochos better as well!
Space and movement in the hips and spine is something that many of us have lost with time. But you can definitely get some back with the exercises above
Only have the following tips in mind:
Find your own rhythm, maybe I am going to fast for you, slow it down if you need to
If at any time during the seated exercises you need to put your hands on the floor go for it, just don’t drop your weight on them
And if you a friendly wall for your adult ochos, go for that as well, balance also gets built with time
Focus not on how big of a twist you can create but on identifying all the movements your body is creating from the outside in, meaning from the skin all the way to the organs and the inside out from your breath, from your blood to your skin.
If you can’t twist as much, or can’t have the legs fully extended, that is OK! Not being flexible is not always bad same as being flexible is not always good. Look for safety, for smoothness and flow and flexibility will come with time.
Breathe! Yes I know you are doing that already…But breathe into every inch of your body and out of every cell.
Notice points of tension and see if you can get rid of it. I am saying if because sometimes that is not possible, no matter how much we might want it. But acknowledging it is the first step towards getting rid of it
Do your ochos noticing how the movements you explored in the exercises underlie them. Like the leg-hip-leg-body circuit we explored
Without changing any of your current habits, notice how these movements underlie your everyday life. Examine your comfort zone to become more aware of your movement, your limits and your potential
Aaaaand last but not least…. Have fun with it!
I want to take a quick second to thank Jeffrey Posner for the hips rotations he shared on instaInst that inspired this video!
Coooome on lets twist again…..Oups different dance…!haha
I haven’t done a don’t-leave-the-gym-yet video in a long time, mostly because I haven’t been to the gym for some time…hmmmm…time to change that though.
Turn, twist and pivot
As you might have already gathered from the introduction… I am not really a regular to the gym…I like doing different activities, including going to the gym but I am not a gym freak…
With that being said, please don’t think of these exercises as the only exercises you will ever need, but as great opportunities.
Opportunities? You might wonder…
Yes opportunities for a multi-layered practice. On a first level you can just do the exercises for a good workout. Then on a second level you can trust me that they do actually have something to do with Tango On a third you will think over each exercise and find the connecting thread with Tango And on a fourth level you can identify the basic principles underlying the exercises and Tango and start exploring those principles in how your body moves generally Lastly, on a fifth level you can acknowledge how these practices have changed your understanding of your movement, your body, yourself and your relationship with what is you and what is not you. Etc…
On level 5 the exercises don’t matter but at all, they can be any 7 exercise.
But guess what… level 5 doesn’t matter either if you skip all the other levels
And no no I am going to through the journey cliche at you….
You need action, you need a physical understanding of your body through movement to reach a mental and sensical understanding. We understand ourselves through movement not through mental pictures created by others externally.
So I encourage you to try these out notice what they do to your body and slowly make your way to level 5 and beyond..! But first you just have to do it!Haha
At that time, it was JUST a cool new thing to learn… and you can imagine what happened when frustration started building.. There were no steps, it was always all improvisational, and slow… and tough..! it like we were always looking for something but without knowing what we were looking for while getting more frustrated in the process… Reminds you of something..? haha
Does any of this have to do with Tango…? (yes…read on..!hah)
The years went by I felt that there more to be discovered, that I hadn’t reached my full potential yet, but I didn’t know how to explore and reach that potential. Thankfully Pablo Veron was in Montreal and I grabbed the opportunity for a private class…
Needless to say the class was amazing..! Of the whole class though there was ONE phrase that changed my Tango-life, “Think about your atlas”…
At that moment, something in mind went: “BOOM! I know what I need to do..!”
As they say though, when the student is ready the teacher will come. And surely enough, Mariko Tanabe was running a workshop in Toronto shortly after. Body Mind Centering was there for me and I was ready to dive into it!
What I was missing then was not the technique… It was urge, the hunger to explore beyond steps, sequences and technique tips; to discover how the human body was built to move and unlock in this way more efficient and expressive ways to dance.
I would like to extend an invitation
So if you are feeling stuck and you know that you are missing something but you are not sure what that something is. If you want to find ways to make your dances more enjoyable for the body and the mind and to give yourself the opportunity to keep on moving despite any limitations then I think you will enjoy this chat with Mariko Tanabe a lot.