Last night I attended a very interesting Argentine tango lesson. And I actually mean interesting, not “interesting” as a polite euphemism for “bad”. The instructor focused on bringing musicality to the dance, emphasizing the importance of dancing both rhythmicaly and stylistically in tune with the music–and therefore dancing every song (more or less) differently.
The part that I got the most out of was his insistence that the primary connection in Argentine tango is to the music–your connection to your partner is only the 2nd-most-important connection. That expectation I really love. I think my biggest complaint with competitive ballroom dancing is that with the emphasis on rehearsed routines, the dancing often is out of sync, stylistically, with the music.
Along with that, he said that both partners need to be equally connected, not just the leader. It’s not the follow connecting to the lead, who is connecting to the music. It’s both people sharing a connection to the music. Again, a wonderful notion. And, again, standing somewhat in contrast to ballroom where there is at least sometimes the idea that the follow’s job is to follow the lead, and if the lead is somehow out of sync with the music, the follow is still expected to follow.
Of course, the upside of that connection in ballroom is it makes very fun fancy syncopations possible.
However, then we got to the part that left me alternately annoyed and intrigued. He was talking about feeling and expressing the music in your dancing, and he put on a very melancholy Astor Piazola piece. And as he was talking about how to dance to it, and what feeling it expresses, I had a realization. Well, two of them:
1: For me, there is frequently a disconnect between the mood that a piece of music expresses, and the mood that it evokes. So, for example, the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony is a very powerfully sad, frustrated piece, with tinges of regret and anger. Or at least that’s how I hear it, and my understanding of the context for its composition supports that. But the mood it causes in me is more like triumphal ecstasy. I hear it as a cathartic expression of frustration and melancholy, which therefore enables moving through it to something else. And likewise for a lot of songs.
I realized that, for me music generally evokes one of two moods: the happy, upbeat music makes me happy and bouncy. The melancholy, morose music makes me energized and joyful. There is some music out there that makes me sad, but it’s pretty rare. More often, when I’m already sad I listen to sad music and it gives me catharsis, and makes me less sad. Which leads neatly into:
2: I don’t dance to sad music. That is, when a piece does make me sad, I don’t hear “dance music”. Dancing is, for me, an expression of happiness. Maybe it’s because I’m also a musician, so the way that I express powerful “negative” musical ideas is by making music, so I don’t need to dance to that music. I’m not sure.
Regardless of the reason, the fact is that I don’t feel the urge to dance to melancholy music that much, and when I do it’s because, while the music is melancholy, the feeling it is evoking in me is anything but–so my dancing isn’t likely to reflect the mood of the music.
Oh, the annoying part? As a musician that has been told for decades that my real strength is my musicality–that while I need work on my technique, I can bring real feeling out of even etudes and exercises–and a dancer that has been told on more than one occasion how musical I am and how well I reflect the music, I did have to watch myself to make sure I didn’t close up and stop listening to the teacher. Argentine tango is by far my weakest partner dance, and I suspect that a large part of that is precisely that most of the music doesn’t click with me. Being told “you’ll never really do it right until you bring musicality to your dancing and reflect the music” is not terribly helpful when that’s exactly my problem. I’m trying to reflect the music but, unfortunately, ‘nothing’ is precisely the feeling that the music is leaving me with, so even if I successfully express every ounce of emotion in the music, for me that still means wooden dancing. Not that it was the teacher’s intent, but “if you don’t do A, you can’t do A” isn’t terribly helpful advice.
Luckily, it’s not an insurmountable obstacle–there’s lots of music I love to dance to, and there’s even a pretty good selection of music that makes me want to dance and for with Argentine tango is the best fit amongst my repertoire. It’s just not normally played when I go to a tango dance. That, and a lot of the stuff that experienced Argentine tango dancers suggest to help with my conundrum is sufficiently non-traditional that, while I could certainly dance Argentine tango to it, I more-strongly hear some other dance beat.
But I digress. The important part of the lesson was the emphasis on musicality (there was much more to it than I’ve talked about here), and the personal revelation. I don’t think I’ve ever before really thought about the connection between the mood of a piece of music and the mood of the listener, so the fact that they often don’t match for me is something I’d never noticed before.
Now I’ll have to pay more attention in the future, and see if there’s any relationship to which music I like most. Or, I suppose, to what I like to dance to. Is it more often music where the two moods align, or where they don’t?