Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Musicality via Feelings and Emotions

How to train your musicality via Feelings and Emotions  

There is some kind of mechanism within us, a mechanism which helps us to connect to music, which guides our movements so the music and dancers are proceeding connected, in harmony. Many times the dancers who base their dance on this mechanism experience that the music is moving them, they dance intuitively.

The most usual subjects on musicality courses are the structure of a song and/or how to count the beats or some other structures in music. This works well for the students with musical background but can be very ineffective for students with other background. It may slow down the development and have a negative impact on their confidence. The situation for this group is like if they they want to learn to drive a car and the community forces them to learn all the information in Japanese or in another unknown language. 

I had really hard time there!

Therefore I needed to find my own way to develop this intuitive musicality so I started to train myself by using my emotions and feeling of timing as tools.

The song's emotional impact
To explore the song's emotional impact on me I usually was sitting on the floor so I could freely move my upper body, arms and hands if I felt for a bodily expression to the song. This position gave me a possibility to large variation of movements as well as grade of intensity and size for gestures. I let the music invade me, let it activate my heart and little by little the emotional impact got stronger within me. On the dance floor my movements are maybe the same as earlier but the emotional expression is in place in a more powerful manner.

musical timing
For musical timing I walked when I was listening to songs. When I am out of the music, there is a dull feeling, a feeling of that something is missing. The opposite situation became more clear too: When I am on the music there is a kind of positive feeling. Soon I noticed that I was chasing that feeling, trying to get it more exact, trying to get a stronger feeling and I tried to keep that feeling continuously alive. I developed a violent passion for walking to music and an hour was just a starter. I nearly ruined my knees during the most intensive period!

During my first ten years of tango the ideas above were the only knowledge, the only musical training I had. I was totally unaware of beats, I heard them but I was not aware of them. It was a hell when a teacher asked us to step on ONE . I did not know but my musicality was appreciated by followers and they often comment on it positively.

The first bit of intellectual understanding and hearing the beats came after I studied 
Joaquin AmenĂ¡bars book about tango music. After two weeks of training, provided by his book I heard, for first time in my life, the beats clearly! I did not need to learn music terms, but through the exercises my body and ear were learning to work together in a new way.
This will never be the strong side in my dance but now, if needed, I can press my hearing to get the beats.

So my main point here is that you can be a totally intuitive dancer and still be doing ok, you can fix your training yourself and still offer some beautiful dances.

If you are interested about Joaquin AmenĂ¡bars book  Tango Let's dance to the music! you find more information via the link.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

My need to fit steps and sounds

In the office we had a long corridor to the luncheon restaurant. During our daily walk I noticed how uncomfortable I became when my colleagues did not synchronize their steps with each others. I was small talking, continuously monitoring the steps and doing double steps to improve the synchronization

To me this is a clear experience of a trait so important for us dancers when we are synchronizing our movements to music and to our partner’s movements. The lack of synchronization creates a negative feeling, feeling of distress and in that way driving us to a more accurate dance. On contrary when the fit is good enough there is the corresponding positive feeling!

During the first years I observed this need and feeling only on my own movements but one day I got a similar reaction while watching an old milonguero performing on video. There were sequences which activated a similar feeling as I had earlier had for my own steps and I realized that this old milonguero was synchronizing his steps to music in a similar way as I tried to do.

Most teachers allow us to film the class summaries, which I edit to a private video for learning purposes. In one video the milonguero couple danced relaxed and gave me a deep timing-feeling in my body during the different sequences with one exception. Later on I noticed that he started to sing during that one and suddenly I understood that we shared the out of timing feeling. By singing he wanted to emphasize the music to aid the synchronizing process. This was the only part of the video he was singing and this was the only part I did not get the timing-feeling in my body.

I think the best synchronization is achieved when you know the music by heart and you know your steps by heart. If you add a favorite partner you have released a lot of your mental resources for a relaxed dance and the chances to beautiful relationship with the music and steps are there for sure!

I am also sure that this need to synchronize our movements with others and with sounds is in every individual and by training this need and feeling are growing more clear and stronger helping us to improve our dance.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Feeling of musical timing

The process of becoming a fluent speaker in your native language is quite similar to the process I have had to get the steps to flow to tango music; by communicating with the people around me. After reaching a certain level in your language you start to feel if the words are not in right order or if the verbs form is not correct, you don't know why, you just feel that it is not correct. In a similar way I also developed a feeling indicating that I am not stepping to music in a correct way, that I am not walking in music. Or the opposite!

There are many native speakers of a language who cannot answer the question: how many verbs you used in your speech? They have heard the words, the verbs, but they cannot tell the answer without training. For similar reason I cannot answer for the question if I am dancing the rhythm, or melody or something else.

When you are clearly aware of that feeling you can start to use it as an instrument for improving your musical precision.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Women, Cooperate!

[This is my final essey on the BerkeleyX : Principles of Written English]

On an ordinary night for Argentine tango the number of followers is clearly exceeding the number of leaders. To cope with this fact, women tend to look for solutions only at a personal level, competing with each other with result that the dances are unevenly distributed. If the followers were instead cooperating to manage the tango events the dances would be distributed in a more equitable manner.

Argentine tango tradition offers a large set of rules and praxises to organize a dance evening and to facilitate the process of finding a partner for the next dance set (Las Chinitas, 2009). The most important praxis in this context is cabeceo, an invitation, where followers and leaders are negotiating about the next tanda, dance set, by eye contacts and head nods. This gives both parties an equal possibility to accept or decline an invitation. Today the more competitive followers do not use cabeceo, but approach the leaders, and by chatting for some moments get an invitation or ask for the next set of dances. One of the rules urges the participants to clear the dance area between the tandas (Las Chinitas, 2009). This is not respected on the less traditional dance evenings, where many women are actively asking for the next dance without leaving the dance floor. Consequently, the followers already on the floor get a new tanda more easily and the dances are accumulated to these active individuals. The effect of these two techniques are strengthened by following online advices and preparations at home.

Some websites as Argentine Tango (Whipple, n.d.) or follower forums and discussions are filled with instructions about chatting, clothing and strategic seating for a successful dance evening. Within tango the most popular color is black, but if you choose a red dress you will be more visible on that evening (Anonymous, 2013). You will also strengthen your position by seating wisely. If you choose a table, which people are passing by or gathering around you can easily catch an eye or start a chat. as a preparation for an invitation to next dance (Anonymous, 2013). These strategies are helping a follower to get a more favorable position and more dances than a strategically less skillful dancer would get.

The gender unbalance within tango has not always had the same pattern, but instead in the early days men, leaders, were actually outnumbering the followers (Denniston, 2007). To study the strategies these men used to manage the shortage of available dances, offers a way to find new methods to address the opposite gender unbalance of today.

The immigrant flow to Argentina, starting towards the end of the 1900 century, had an unusual structure in the sense of consisting mainly of single men. As Denniston (2007) describes, "[…] overwhelmingly single young men who were looking for work, many who thought they would get rich and then go home" (Denniston, 2007, p. 12). She continues by saying that still in 1940s and early 1950s this unbalance was noticeable, "[…] in the formal dance halls, known as milongas, there were always far more men than women" (Denniston, 2007, p. 15). Men, who wanted to learn tango, were training four to five nights per week during several years developing their skill in both following and leading. The very first entry to a milonga was decided by the elder men on the training site. Even when the first attempt was successful, these men returned to the continuous training with other men (Denniston, 2007). In this community the skill was defined as the main vehicle to milongas and the skill level of a newcomer was monitored by the elder males who suggested the day and the place for introducing a new leader to the followers. This praxis regulated the flow of newcomers to the milongas, allowing only those who trained persistently and who were approved by an experienced dancer to enter the dance floor.

This kind of social control of newcomers would not be accepted in modern tango communities, but some of the old praxises are valid even today and by discussing and cooperating a modern set of guidelines for a milonga can be developed and agreed about. In the early days the outnumbering group, men, did find a structure to manage the situation. Today it is the followers' turn to take the lead.


Denniston, C. (2007). The Meaning of TANGO, The Story of the Argentinian Dance, 12, 15.

Las Chinitas, (2009). Welcome to Milonga Las Chinitas Retrieved from

Whipple, C. (n.d.). Follower's Guide to Festivals/Milongas, Retrieved from

Whipple, C. (n.d.). Follower's Guide to Festivals/Milongas, Retrieved from