Sunday, December 20, 2015

Choreography: The connection and advantages

The connection

A dancer can get clear advantages from the work on choreography according to the Joy in Motion blogger. (JinM) Your ability to create a strong, living connection between the steps, the movements, the choreography and your body, your personality can grow dramatically when you are working with choreographies. You can experience this connection as the difference between the mechanically taken steps and the same steps deeply touching your heart.

Joy in Motion  puts it in this way:
“The physical aspect of the dance is not about putting something in the body; it is about encouraging something to arise from the body.”

This happens on several levels. It is a very physical, very technical thing, but it is also mental, emotional, relational, and musical.

After I had this realization, I began to search for the feeling, the intention, the essence of each choreographed phrase in a very personal way.

According to JinM the results were visible immediately and her dancing was also complimented by the teachers. This convinced her that this awareness is important and one of the main messages in the posting is that a choreography work is a good training method to grow your skill in good connection. She did it and you can do it too!

With other words there can be a huge difference between the steps taken and the very same steps which have come alive. That's the reason why a good choreographer is so passionate about the connection - it is all, the most important goal to work for. Only after the steps have come alive he starts to pay attention to how to polish the movements and to create the ultimate precision.

I have always thought that there is a fundamental difference in the mental state of a choreography dancer compared to an improvisation dancer. I have some vague memories about a difference between musicians who were used to play from sheet music and who were able to carry on a jam session. The first one needed a stable structure but was unable to let an intuitive improvisation process to take over. The participating brain areas for these two mental states varied; some areas were activated for one state but were shut down for the other and the ability to switch between these two requires some learning and training.

This may still be true but from the Joy in Movement viewpoint the two types of dancing are similar by sharing the search for form/dancer connection. If the improvised steps  lack this connection they are as mechanical and dead as the choreographed dance with the same failure. In my mind this idea boiled down to this: the degree of connection is the degree of life in the dance!

Quite often an unsatisfied audience is calling an improvised dance for too choreographed when something is missing, when the dance feels too mechanical. After reading JinM's posting I agree that it is more accurate to call this for a connection error, too vague connection or something similar.

Dancers vs. Actors

I haven't ever worked with a choreographer so I am only vaguely able to understand the aspects JinM blogger is writing about. To get deeper I relied on my usual strategy and tried to find a more familiar situation with same structure making it more easy to broaden my views. After a while I landed on the process actors are going through when they are preparing for their next role.

Most of us have seen interviews were an actor is telling about the research work: all the reading, visiting locations, working in certain milieus, learning gestures, way of talk and so on. It is not only information collection but it is also about building up different skills needed so they can create a true character. As audience we just see the tip of the preparation ice berg but the huge hidden part of it makes the character and role true - we do not see it but we do feel it.

With other words the actors get the script, their lines and all their skill is needed to blow life to those lines in the way the director points out. In dance we have the choreography, the steps and the dancer's skill will get those steps to come alive while the choreographer is showing the direction! 

Quite the same isn't it? 

I can understand the reasons why the huge amount of work is motivated when the actors want to embody a role and now it is also easier to understand that the corresponding areas need to be addressed even in dance: among them the physical, technical, mental, emotional, relational and rhythm/timing areas.

Here some short interviews with several well known actors how they work for the connection between the script and their role:

If a good actor is able to create it so why a good dancer couldn't create a similar experience?

You can read the blogger's entire posting at Joy in Motion page!  Click here!

Links used here:

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Choreography: The degree and rigidity

In the earlier posts we have watched performances where all the steps were planned for the dance. In other cases the dancers have decided and trained the steps for some musical moments in the song and are improvising the spaces in between. This kind of choreo gives the dancers more and easier options to adapt to the pistas different shapes. Have you spotted your favorite couple with this strategy?

To see what the dancers can do with a rigid choreography and how to gradually increase the improvisation degree. We start with the most rigid variation for this 4-steps figure with fixed positions for the couple, fixed direction of the movement, step length as well as fixed angles and then follow the step by step loosen up process .

The base figure from the leaders point of view:
parallel sidestep left, corida left side of the follower, corida/in, parallel sidestep to right.


Some of the variations to start with
1. synchronized change of step length - change of the step length but keep the positions
2, step length/angle (pivot CW, CCW)
3. break the step line (pivot CCW)

You can also turn the whole figure to be a mirror image to the right.

If you apply these principles to your dance you can easily spice up your dance. Your enter to a creative mood which will make your more focused and the feeling of life in your steps is increasing!

These visuals were created during a weekend on the country side. The berry picking was the main thing but during all those hours we talked a lot of tango and ended up to take some pictures and videos after the dinner!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Choreography: The space and audience

stage - pista audience 
huge - small space      
circular - linear choreo        
comparison playlist       

The tango performers have a quite many hidden skills, which we in audience maybe do not pay attention to. When the tango choreography is created it needs to look good in very different environments and I suppose the performers hardly know about the conditions for the coming season.

One challenge for the choreography is how the audience is seated. An ordinary stage performance places the audience on one side so you do all the interesting movements in that direction.  It is different for the pista where the enjoying eyes are all around the performing couple. It means that the interesting details must be planned carefully and they must be visibly to all directions so all in the audience can catch them. The following short glimpse shows how Pajaro and Maria Belen are solving that challenge geniusly! They present the airy movements to the audience on both sides . 

(video at 0.33)

Another skill needed is the ability to fit the choreography to different venues. Did you noticed how large the pista is in the video above  and how Pajaro/Maria Belen are dancing on the whole floor  from quite near the scene to the other end of the pista. I had the possibility to see this performance live and they were really filling up the space preparing for us a high class visual entertainment.

The same choreo on a smaller pista and please, pay attention how they are able to keep the same high energy level in spite of the changed options!

Pajaro and Maria Belen

It must be challenging to redo/maintain the whole choreography for two so different floors as these Russian and Finnish ones are.  The Pajaro/Maria choreography had a more circular type of form and it gives you better options. You can always go around the number of steps you need!  The second example, danced below by Pablo and Dana, has o more linear form with some round going sections every now and then. Spontaneously I think it must be more difficult to adapt, but they still managed it and did well!

We start with the huge pista

 Pablo and Dana in Tylösand   

and a smaller version  

What are these couples doing when they adapt to a new size of the pista?  

To get an idea about the options these dancers have I wanted to compare the performances and  try to spot the differences. I opened two browser windows besides each others so  I could stop one and watch the same section on the other one. My untrained eye had hard time to find any differences even when I knew that there must be some.

I noticed though that Pajaro and Maria Belen are dancing in a visibly different way for a part of the song. The small dance is going more around at the same space and the larger one uses a lot more of the pista. It requires a good portion of concentration and experience to modify the dance to this extent during a performance.

The small starts around 2.20 :

The large starts around 2.26 :

I did the same for the Pablo/Dana songs but I did not find spots which shows the different solutions for these two alternatives.  the other hand, as usual when I invest some extra time on something, I make a lot of bonus observations! Here it was the joy of how fantastic and humorous their dancing was. I still think of this milonga as Pablo/Dana milonga!  

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Choreography: The theories and attitudes

prepared dance

emotional privacy

meanings of the word

origin of the word

improvised choreo - planned choreo

ronda - a choreography

There was a period when I appreciated only the improvised tango performances and could not find any reason to go for the stage performances. Later on this attitude changed and one of the reasons was the fact how the performance was prepared. I started to appreciate the couples who were working with the steps, exploring the possibilities in music and choosing the total atmosphere for this special performance. It offered a possibility to express their professionalism in a different way compared to the couples who went to the stage and moved to the music creating an instant performance.

The second thought was about the greediness of the audience. When the dancers are using choreography they also take a role which is like cloths on their private personality, protecting their privacy. An audience wanting them to dance only improvised forces them to be emotionally naked before their eyes. Many times you could easily see how the dancers relationship was for the moment and I started to be uncomfortable with that information. I started to appreciate the neutrality of a dance role, which leaves the personal life outside. There is also a special kind of atmosphere on stage performances which I learned to be fond of!

I want to add that a badly planned performance is not nice and not the badly rehearsed one!  But if it is well done don't we agree about a special kind of beauty of these performances?

British Dictionary definitions for choreography is

choreography:  /ˌkɒrɪˈɒɡrəfɪ/   noun

1. the composition of dance steps and sequences for ballet and stage dancing

2. the steps and sequences of a ballet or dance

3. the notation representing such steps

4. the art of dancing

The same source defines the words origin and history :

1789, from French chorégraphie, coined from Latinized form of Greek khoreia "dance" (see chorus ) + graphein "to write" (see -graphy ).


Dances are designed by applying one or both of the following fundamental choreographic methods:

Improvisation, in which a choreographer provides dancers with a score (i.e., generalized directives) that serves as guidelines for improvised movement and form. For example, a score might direct one dancer to withdraw from another dancer, who in turn is directed to avoid the withdrawal, or it might specify a sequence of movements that are to be executed in an improvised manner over the course of a musical phrase, as in contra dance choreography. Improvisational scores typically offer wide latitude for personal interpretation by the dancer.

Planned choreography, in which a choreographer dictates motion and form in detail, leaving little or no opportunity for the dancer to exercise personal interpretation.

One of the surprises for me was the possibility to understand the ronda, the circle of social dancing in tango, as a improvisation type of choreography. The choreography consists about the form, the dance circle, the lines and  the spacing among the dancers. The couples are advancing in the line of dance but their steps are created for the moment so the dance itself is improvised.

Some planned steps in the autumn forest!

British Dictionary definitions for choreography Expand


Friday, August 7, 2015

Info stop for feet about tape!

During an encuentro in Stockholm I asked the organizers if I could set up a small rescue station for the feet and it was approved! I want every dancer to be aware of the possibility to support the feet/body with tape (or other devices). Here a picture about it!

But this can be done much more smashing like this German lady!

You may follow her, don't you?

 The earlier posting in this subject!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Dreadful Fridays

The Friday nights are the least pleasant hours during a dance weekend! We are not able to fully focus on our partner and we are not able to focus on the music. A large part of our mental capacity is instead allocated on other things! We just arrived and are continuously scanning over the venue to get an idea what is going on and to adapt to the new pista itself takes also some resources. We scan the crowd to find old friends and to see new faces and we wonder how they could be to dance with. We are not fully present in our dance, in the moment.

Dear DJ what kind of music do we need in this situation? Help us to find the steps even this Friday evening when our focus is wildly wandering around the the venue and people!

Dear organizer give us some borders to keep us organized during this first night together, a border we can step over if needed!

                                                                (This picture is not from Austria but from Argentina)    

To create a beautiful ronda is about the dancers' individual skill to behave correctly on a tango event! But only partly! It is  also the crowds skill to adapt to  the other dancers' navigation styles effectively during a milonga.

I think a skillful DJ can help the crowd to find a more organized way of dancing sooner and the organizer can also take some actions to help the crowd to find the way to a nice and memorable dance event!

One mistake is that we today think that the respect for the rules is growing naturally without efforts. I don't think it was so earlier. I remember stories about persons who were walking among dancers and pointing out if someone was behaving badly and they had the power and position to ask for a change in behavior.

In the picture above you can see the yellow marks on the pista. A similar line was used in Austria during the Noches de Invierno encuentro where they had this virtual fence around us keeping us in place. The good thing was that this hence kept us organized but in same time it allowed the frustrated free souls to step over the borders when needed or for a moment of relief.

If there would be a stripe on the floor between the line 1 and 2 it would be easier for many people to keep the ronda lines. It would be easier too to pick up a conversation with a wild soul: Have you noticed the marks on the floor? You did cross the line 5 times during the last tanda. Do you think you could get a lower number during next tanda?

If there would be a sign at the door on the Friday night asking people to notice the mark on the floor - tape the mark there - and a text 'You may test to go over the line here but you maybe let it be in peace on the pista!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The dancing couple

lead/follow - partners - unity   
capacity allocation - effortless dance   
willpower - music   

When I started to dance AT the leader/follower roles were fixed and no one gave us hint about that it could change by the coming years. Anyhow I did not got a hint I understood!

Today, many years later I consider the leader/follower roles to be just a good training aid, a good starting setup. It is helpful to organize the process in this way to create a clear structure for the beginners to understand the responsibilities during the dance. During the first period most of your capacity is needed to learn the individual steps and all the stuff about connection. 
There is hardly resources to continuously negotiate about the actions and who will be the initiator. 

When the skill is developed the dance gets fluent following the tango principles and the dancers are able to maintain the connection with each others as well as with the music during the whole tanda. From somewhere here and onward the dancing couple consists of equal partners and in the end you are not able to tell apart the other persons' impact, you are not able to feel the leading or following.

During this learning continuum the willpower to take a step - the willpower needed to lead and willpower needed to follow a step - the strength of the mental impulse will gradually diminish. After a certain point there is only a feeling that the couple is moving without effort together, without no leading impulses or following impulses to be recognised. At that moment the music is making us to dance, to take a step.

In an earlier posting, *Her dancing body* i think she had passed to the state of effortless dancing where the music is moving her body. In this specific situation I was not capable to join her dance but started to follow.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Her dancing body

no will - no lead   
just dancing   

She is a naturally talented follower and a popular partner among the leaders. I always appreciated my tandas with her on every occasions we met on European pistas!

During this tanda there was something else going on, an odd feeling that I was following her. But the strange thing was that she was n o t leading. It was as if her body has started to dance. Please read it once more: as if her body has started to dance! Dancing without her active guidance!

There were movements according to tango's vocabulary and the movements were beautifully following the music but there was not the air of will which directs those movements and is the sign for a lead. Her body was dancing! And I followed her.

This experience kept me fascinated for months and I still wonder

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The different timbres of a CD

The most stunning surprise in Buenos Aires milongas was the sound quality. It gave me a feeling that the music was surrounding me in a soft nearly touch-able way. It was so overwhelming that I got tears in my eyes on a milonga where the feeling was strongest. It was nearly that I could feel the music with my skin as strongly as with my ears. The music was not loud but it gave still a kind of bodily sensation.

When I tried to compare it to something else the quality of air comes quite near. At home in Nordic the air doesn't usually give so much of a sensation but on a warm summer evening the air gets thicker and you can sense the air directly on your skin. It is rolling heavily towards me or I feel that I am floating in it. The ordinary air is hardly noticeable.

When I pointed this out to an experienced DJ friend she immediately agreed to it and said that the songs are more powerfull in Buenos Aires (Swedish: maffigare).

In La Viruta I pointed it out to another experienced DJ and he interrupted me and said: Yes! You are right! It's richer, I never heard Biagi as rich as it sounds here! (Swedish: fylligare)

I started to ask around about the possible reasons for this more rich sound in BA vs. at home and got following suggestions:
  • Degree of humidity which carries the sound in different way
  • The old buildings create different/softer echoes and sound
  • The building materials are different
  • The sound systems are different compared back home
  • BA is the center of tango and the mental state creates the difference
However some people were upset and pointed out that the acoustics is quite lousy at many venues and therefore the sound was not so pleasant.

On the other hand I do not think this is about plain acoustics, how the sound is advancing in the venue, but more about the other qualities of the CD in this venue! I do not have any formal education in this area so the thoughts below could be seen as teaser for more able thinkers. But here we go!

In music they have a concept of tone color, timbre. It means that an individual note sounds totally different when it is played/produced with different instruments. When a note comes alive the piano gives you a different sound compared to an oboe or violin or whatever instrument you pick. With other words a note sounds different in different places/instruments and the composers are using this to create different auditory and emotional landscapes in their work.

I think that the very same CD does sound different in different locations, in different circumstances. A CD gives you a deeply different experience based on the venue and the crowd, a difference not only caused by the sound systems. With other words if you would play the CD with the same sound system in different locations the experience can still be deeply different.

I am sure this is not recognized by all dancers but for some this is definitely part of the magic of Buenos Aires milongas. The BA sound gives them a more rich and powerful emotional experience, contributing to the magical experience.

Just think about it and you maybe realize the richness of the BA sound as the DJs above did!

These wikies are adding some more facts to this teaser!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A LadyLeader in Buenos Aires

I came to Buenos Aires seeing forward to get only a few dances as a female leader. My role would be the one of an observer. I wanted to see the venues, how the milongas were and and to see what people's attitudes were. To my surprise the atmosphere was more open than I expected but with a lot of variation.

I wouldn't try to lead at Lo de Celia or Catchirulo because I felt that those two were the most traditional ones I visited and IMO they should stay so - When it is the clear opinion of the organizer and regular visitors, let it be so. I am gladly just audience there!

In many other places the space for me was the milonga tanda! That tanda is glad, playful and not so loaded so it was ok for the female leaders to enter the dance floor. Many times I could see one or two other couples at pista. But there was still difficulties to get a dance because followers are not used to monitor a cabeceo from a female leader.

It was fun to see the crowds reactions. During my milonga tandas there was very few negative expressions on the faces around the pista. On the contrary many onlookers were active giving us cheerful smiles, encouraging nods, thumbs up or positive shouts. At several occasions I could be sure about the persons being portenas and even many times portenos during this tourist season.

I think the tourists are driving this change, Europeans especially I think. They are used to see women leading and they are monitoring woman leaders even in Buenos Aires. The local rules are not so forcing for them so a female invitation for a dance is just an invitation as any.

I did not lead much during my month in BA but I was mainly experiencing the milieu. My biggest success was however at a newly opened milonga where I got a strong and clear cabeceo from a traveling milonguera. During our dance I expressed my worries about the organizer's opinion but she told me they were friends. When I catched his eye later he smiled to me, I relaxed and continued dancing. In the same milonga one of the portenas shouted to me her appreciation and asked for a dance. One other came to my table to talk and asked for a dance too. The pistas are little by little opening up for female leaders!

I consider this change to be historical. It is the first time ever when same sex couples are entering the pista. Earlier men were training at the practicas and women at home but no one has pointed out for me occasions where the same sex couples freely danced in ordinary milongas during earlier decades. If you know about it please tell me!

(but still I am mostly behind the bars today)