What to do when you can’t go dancing tango

So, here we are.

Either our authorities already mandated social distancing, or we realised on our own that the best way to protect our friends and families from COVID-19 is to stay home from tango for a while.

We understand that ‘flattening the curve’ (as explained here) is essential for slowing down the spread of the corona virus. So what can we do, instead of attending marathons, milongas and group classes?

Below are a few suggestions for how to keep the tango flame burning.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus may stop milongas for a while, but the tango crowd will keep the tango flame burning

Practice tango

  • Practice tango at home. Perhaps you’ve never really practiced much outside of classes? This is your chance to get going. Invite someone you like dancing with who lives close by, and practice together. Some people like a very structured practice with clear goals, such as creating a choreography or fine-tuning the walk, while others simply dance and then find out together what to work on. In the beginning, it might be good that you each bring one specific topic to explore, so that you have some place to start.
  • Practice solo tango at home. If you have taken technique classes, now is the time to try to recall some of the exercises. Some say that “practice makes perfect”, while others prefer the more prudent formulation “practice makes permanent”. Whatever you do many times over will become your pattern. So brush up your basics, like working on your balance in slow ochos and giros. Spend some time on each exercise so that you get a sense of quality and control.
  • Take a private lesson. Private instruction is a lot safer than group classes at the moment, and your teacher might need some income right now.

Take care of your body

  • Cross-train and condition your body. Tango is nicer when your body is in shape, and this is your chance to give it what tango dancing cannot. Do squats. Do yoga. Do chin-ups.
  • Take long walks. If you are used to dancing a few times a week, that’s a lot of steps that Netflix won’t replace. We might not always realise that we do get some physical exercise from tango. Spend an equal amount of time walking instead, and you’ll keep your condition.
  • Study anatomy and explore your body. Your body awareness may develop faster if you learn about the body and try different exploration techniques. Look up Eric Franklin and try some of his exercises. Or just explore the range of movement in your different joints. Put a hand on some of your muscles and feel what happens in different movements. Stand on one leg and try to perceive how the weight keeps redistributing itself under your foot.
  • Show your feet some love. Taking a short break from tango could give your feet some well needed recovery. With some additional massage, baths and care, your feet will be restored and ready for tango once the corona spread is under control.
Explore new ways of moving your body. It could change your tango for the better as well.

Interact socially

  • Send a message to a tango friend. Let your tango friends know that they exist even when you cannot meet in the milonga. Perhaps you’ll even reconnect with some of the tango friends you haven’t seen months or years? Remember to check in on tango friends who are in risk groups as well.
  • Write about tango, share and discuss. Now could be the time to reflect on any aspect of your tango experience. Putting contemplations down on paper can help to clarify your trains of thought. Even better: share them with friends and ask for feedback. What can we learn from each other?

Learn music

  • Learn about tango music. When was the last time you tried to guess the orchestra of a tango recording? What do you know about the golden age of tango? What unusual instruments can we hear in some tango recordings? What is so special about Biagi’s piano solos? How is Alberto Podestá’s singing different from Armando Moreno’s?
  • Learn about music in general. Listen to some classical music and pretend to be the conductor of the orchestra. Name the different instruments in a recording. Do music exercises, like clapping different rhythms or singing intervals. Dust off that old guitar you never learned how to play, and try to sing and play a simple song, like “Yellow submarine”.
Everyone can learn to be more musical, and there are many ways of studying music both theoretically and practically.

Clean and clean out

  • Repair and condition your tango gear. Have you lost a button or ripped up a seam? Repair your tango clothes. Shine your shoes. Iron all of your tango shirts now, rather than waiting until just before they are to be used again.
  • Clean out your tango closet. Go through all of your tango outfits, tango shoes and folklore pañuelos, and clean out what you will no longer use. Sell or give away whatever doesn’t spark joy anymore.
  • Get your tango music collection in order. Do you still own CDs but no CD player? Time to let them go, or possibly to find a way of transferring them to your laptop before that. Give them away, or throw them away. If you have mp3s on your computer, delete any duplicates by going through one orchestra at the time, ordering songs alphabetically and then only keeping the version you like best of each recording. Organise your playlists.
  • Get your tango photos in order. Go through photos you have taken at tango events or photos you have saved from Facebook. Keep only the ones you really like, maybe just 2-3 photos per event and delete all the rest.


Stay safe,  and see you on the dance floor later on!

Un abrazo,

Milonga, the habanera rhythm, and dancing quick-quick-slow

The habanera rhythm is what makes milonga music so groovy. While the rhythmical quality of tango is often a bit square, milonga gets into a more swaying and rocking flow, which also creates a very different feeling when you dance to it.

Getting to know the habanera rhythm

The habanera rhythm is well known also outside of tango, as in this famous aria from the opera Carmen by Bizet:

Compare the background rhythm of the aria with the background rhythm of a milonga, such as Cacareando by OTV:

This is what the habanera rhythm sounds like. Now, listen more carefully to Cacareando, and you’ll hear that there is a special emphasis on the very first note of the song, and that whenever the habanera rhythm comes back to that same note, it is is the heaviest one in the cycle.

It’s as if there’s a direction to the rhythm. In each habanera cycle, the music goes towards this heavy beat and lands on it. For those of us who like to count, this is the first beat of the 2-beat bars in the milonga music. But counting is secondary; the important thing is to feel the direction of the music.

Finding two different options for quick-quick-slow

When we dance milonga, we often use the good old quick-quick-slow pattern, especially for milonga traspié, where we rock back and forth in a step in quick-quick-slow.

This rocking can be matched to the music in two ways:

  1. You place the first “quick” on the heavy note of the habanera
  2. You place the “slow” on the heavy note of the habanera

You might want to try this out in order to feel the difference.

If you are used to hit the first beat of the bar when you start walking, this will naturally make you fall into the option 1, where the first “quick” lands on the first beat.

The easiest way to find option 2 may be to take the first step on the spot as a “slow” (on the first beat of the bar) and then start walking in traspié where the “quick-quick” will math the second beat and the mid-beat before the first beat of the next bar. It can be helpful to think of this as “slow-quick-quick”, as opposed to the “quick-quick-slow” of the first option.

Aligning steps with the habanera

Option 2 above aligns more directly with the habanera, because all of the steps of “quick-quick-slow” will end up on a note in the habanera rhythm. This means that the weight changes of the body are supported by those musical notes in a satisfying way.

Option 1, to the contrary, places a step in the pause of the habanera rhythm, which does not give the same grounded feeling of that step. Stepping this way also interferes with the syncopation of the next note (the shortest one, that seems to arrive late): it takes away the anticipation that is built up when a note is missing from a beat, which means that we are missing out on the release of that tension when the faster note finally arrives.

Visualising the relationship between habanera, beats and steps

Here’s a schematic illustration, for those of us who likes a visual explanation:

The habanera rhythm, shown as notes in the top row of the figure, is aligned with the counting of the beats in the second row, and in the bottom rows we see the two possible ways of fitting steps to the music. The first option from the description in the previous section is marked as “quick-quick-slow”, while the second option is marked “slow-quick-quick”.

The thin vertical lines are equally spaced and represent how the two beats (“1” and “2”) and the two lighter mid-beats (“&”) of each bar arrive at a steady pace. All the notes of the habanera rhythm fall onto a line, except for the faster, syncopated note. Although the first note (on count 1) is marked (with a dot) as a longer note here, the fact that no note falls on the first “&” creates a sort of pause in the music, a suspension, an anticipation … before the faster note, which falls in between the beats, kicks in.

Note how the “slow-quick-quick” pattern ensures that a step will always fall on a note in the habanera rhythm, while the “quick-quick-slow” rhytm is not as well aligned.

Taking a balanced view

Does this mean that we always must do the “slow-quick-quick” pattern to milonga, and that the “quick-quick-slow” pattern is plain wrong? No it doesn’t. Knowing both pattterns well gives us more possibilities for variation, and there might very well be certain places in the music where “quick-quick-slow” is the better fit, or places where it doesn’t matter much.

That said, musicality begins with aligning with the music, rather than challenging it. In this case, it begins with exploring the “slow-quick-quick” until it’s well established in your body, and possibly by then the more natural way for you to fit your steps to the milonga music.

Tangos with melodies from classical music

This post simply presents a fun listening exercise, where a few of the tangos that are using melodies from the classical repertoire can be compared to how they are usually played in a concert hall.


Let’s start off with Edgardo Donato’s La Melodía Del Corazón:

Compare the above to Frédéric Chopin’s organically flowing Étude Op. 10, No 3: Tristesse, as performed by Evgeny Kissin:

Wedding march

Several orchestras have recorded the tango Marcha Nupcial. Here’s Francisco Canaro:

And Biagi:

And, of course, the original Wedding march from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, here conducted by Kurt Masur:

Hungarian dance

Enrique Rodríguez played some nice foxtrots, e.g. this Danza Húngara No. 5:

And Claudio Abbado’s classical version of Johannes Brahms’ Hungarian dance no. 5 will show you why it’s easier to dance to an adaptation by a tango orchestra, rather than the original composition:

Pearl fishers

Florindo Sassone’s Los Pescadores De Perlas is played a lot in European tango events these days:

The original tenor aria “Je crois entendre encore” is from from Georges Bizet’s opera Les pêcheurs de perles. I recommend first listening to Jussi Björling’s flawless rendering:

And then let your heart melt to Alfredo Kraus’ extraordinary stage performance of the same aria:

For anyone accustomed to the classical versions, the corresponding tango versions may sound a bit square and insensitive in comparison. But this might be a necessary adaptation, in order to make the tunes danceable. And the interesting thing is that very often you tend to like the version of a song that you heard first better, so if you e.g. already heard some of the above at milongas, it is not unlikely that you’ll prefer the tango version not just for dancing, but also for listening. Either way, I hope you enjoy all of this amazing music!

The Myth of Different Learning Styles

Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic (VAK) learning

The model of different learning styles that was presented by Barbe and colleagues in 1979 separated three different modalities of learning: auditory, visual, and kinesthetic styles (abbreviated as VAK). In tango teaching, that could simply mean that some students would learn faster from verbal explanations, others from looking at the teachers when they demonstrate a technique, and a third group would rather spend the time on trying it out in their own bodies.

It sounds like an elegant and plausible theory, which is probably why the idea gradually became one of the most wide-spread neuro-myths: in a 2012 study (Decker et al.), over 90% of a sample of 212 school teachers from the UK and the Netherlands believed the VAK theory to be correct. However, reviews of existing studies (such as Howard-Jones, 2014) show no scientific support for the theory – in many cases results have instead contradicted the VAK idea.

Learning styles in tango

This means that tango teachers need to let go of the notion of finding the (VAK) learning style that will fit each tango student. Because the optimal learning style depends much more on the subject being taught than on individual student strengths. A mathematics class will require modes of input that are different from those of a dance class.

It may very well be that it’s a good idea to mix teaching styles within a tango class, i.e. to do a bit of talking, demo some things and then let students try it out – but if this works well, it is not because each student needs to get the input style that he or she can best absorb — it’s because tango dancing as a subject is best learned from a certain mix of modes of inputs.

Trying it out for yourself is essential for learning tango
Trying it out for yourself is essential for learning tango

So what is a good mix for learning tango? Well, apart from the obvious statement that nobody can learn dancing without trying it out in their own bodies (i.e. the kinesthetic style ought to be essential), we can only speculate about what the proportions need to be. I suspect that the physical skills in tango dancing primarily come from trying it out, where instructions could be given either in verbal or visual form. To the auditory learning style, we could also add the music as a (perhaps more subtle) source of input.

Tango dancing is more than physical skills, however, and I see some teachers who spend a lot of class time talking, e.g. describing the social atmosphere at milongas or addressing some of the insecurities that their students might have in relation to dancing. Although this time spent on talking may not be optimal from a strict dancing skill point of view, it will, according to some teachers, make students stay in tango and happily attending milongas, rather than abandoning tango for other activities.

But, to sum it up, regardless of your view on what specific skills should be taught in a tango class, science suggests that the best learning style to cater for does not depend on the preferred learning style of different students, but rather on the subject matter itself.


  • Barbe, Walter Burke; Swassing, Raymond H.; Milone, Michael N. (1979). Teaching through modality strengths: concepts and practices. Columbus, Ohio: Zaner-Bloser.
  • Dekker, Sanne; Lee, Nikki C; Howard-Jones, Paul; Jolles, Jelle. (2012). Neuromyths in education: Prevalence and predictors of misconceptions among teachers. Front. Psychology 3:429.
  • Howard-Jones, Paul A. (2014). Neuroscience and education: myths and messages. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 15, 817–824.

Tango Dancer in the Mirror

You might have heard of the study where 93% of US car drivers estimated that they had above-average car driving skills (Svenson, 1981). Naturally, we would expect that only 50% of the drivers actually had above-average skills. So there must be a huge gap between how people evaluate their own skill, and how their skills would be evaluated by others. This happens in many domains, not just car driving. Might it also happen in tango?

It is called the Dunning-Kruger effect, named after the researchers at Cornell University who published a famous paper on the topic (Kruger & Dunning, 1999). The name is almost harder to remember than the description of the effect:

“Incompetent people tend to over-estimate their own ability, while highly competent people tend to under-estimate their own ability.”

So in tango, unskilled dancers might often believe that they are much better dancers than they really are. But don’t we all believe that we are better than everybody else? No, according to what Dunning & Kruger found, we all just believe we are better than the average guy.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is often misunderstood: it does not state that everybody believes they are better than they actually are, or better than everybody else, for that matter. Look at the graph below from the original paper.



See how the left-most group got a really low test score (the round dot), but somehow still believed that they were slightly above average (the square marker)? Now look at the right-most group: they got fantastic scores on the test, but rated themselves lower than that. They still knew they were more skilled than the other groups, but they under-estimated how much better they actually were.

So, provided that these results are also valid in tango, we would expect that highly skilled dancers know that they are more skilled than most, but they do not understand just how good they really are.

ECTM2012 49

The Dunning-Kruger effect makes you over-estimate your own ability only when you are unskilled at something, which means that as you improve your skills, you will also gain a more accurate notion about what skill means and how good you are yourself. Then, as you approach real mastery, the effect will actually be the opposite – since tango is easy for you, you will assume that it is easy for the rest of the crowd as well.

Now, that brings us to an interesting challenge for tango teachers. Many of them are naturally in the top quartile, so what if they do not really understand just how difficult tango is for their students?

For the not-as-skilled social dancers, the challenge will be a different one: the effect might cause frustration, e.g. if they go to a high-level dancing event, say El Yeite in Buenos Aires, since they will tend to think that they are at par with the general level of the place, but people are perhaps still reluctant to dance with them – which is then easily taken more personally.

On a deeper level, we can speculate about why our minds are twisted in this way. My guess is that the Dunning-Kruger effect is there to help us keep up the spirit when learning new things, rather than just giving up after the first attempt.

If tango beginners truly understood how little they learned after one class, would they at all feel like making the necessary investment for getting up to the general level of the community?

ECTM2012 26

Of course, after just a few classes, they are usually already much better tango dancers than most of the people who never took a class, and they will quickly achieve a level where many experienced dancers will enjoy dancing with them at milongas. It is just that most dimensions of the dance, beyond “taking a few steps without crushing someone’s foot”, will remain hidden from them for a while.

When you look at yourself in the mirror, are you blissfully boosting your tango skills above your actual level? No? Well, I didn’t think so: this is all based on statistics, so you may very well be the odd exception, but still, isn’t it a fun fact to know that most of your dancing friends are hopelessly unable to accurately assess their own tango skills? 😉


How to dance to the music: Know the recording

Many dancers prefer tangos from a specific period, namely the Golden Age (approx. 1935-1955) of tango. Although there are plenty of gems in that musical treasure, some of the nicest songs get played more often than others in practicas and milongas, to the point where you will recognize them from the first few harmonies, and know much of them by heart. This is a good thing, in my mind, since knowing specific recordings really well also makes it easier to dance to them. My series on how to dance to the music continues.


A trained ear can guess rather well what is about to happen in a previously unknown tango. Some expressions of musicality in dancing, though, rely on actually knowing the specific recording by heart.

The accents of Edgardo Donato’s milonga “Ella Es Así” are virtually impossible to predict unless you’ve heard the song before, and if you want to play with the exact rhythm of the many playful fills of Rodolfo Biagi’s piano, you need to know from memory what is about to happen in the music.

The better you know the specific song, the better are your chances of finding time to prepare. The body needs time to create a movement, so it is not sufficient to realize what is coming just a fraction of a second beforehand – often movements need to be prepared at least one beat in advance, sometimes even several beats for a good build-up.

Here’s a few examples of how knowing the details of a tango piece can be used in the dancing:

  1. Make embellishments that match fills in the music. Fills are short instrumental passages in the breaks between the phrases of the melody. Carlos Di Sarli often lets a few piano notes shine through to connect two phrases. Ángel D’Agostino as well, or he may leave it to the bandoneons. Some leaders make sure to leave space in the dance for the follower to do this, when they know a good moment is coming up.
  2. Hit accents in the music with something distinct in the dance, such as a heavier step or a boleo. Often, the necessary time of preparation for the movement corresponds roughly to its size. If you don’t have time to execute the big boleo, go for something smaller, like a shoulder movement or a foot tap.
  3. Play along with the ending of the song. As already mentioned among the basics, one way is to make sure that your last movements hits the last note of the song. Extravagant ending poses are fun, but not always suitable for the social dance floor. Simply coming to a stop in the dance right when the tango ends, is a great effect in itself. Sure, most of the time, it is easy to hear when a song is about to end, even if you do not know the specific recording, but there are plenty of exceptions, so make sure to remember if you can. Sometimes, the music is twisting it the other way around: it lets you expect an ending, when in fact it continues, like a Beethoven symphony that never wants to finally settle into silence. Dance on without any hesitation in those moments, and notice the effect.
  4. The moment when the singer enters the song is often a very special moment, so don’t let it pass unnoticed in the dancing! It can be the right time to slow down to almost complete stillness (try that e.g. to Temo by OTV). Or it may be the time to get into really a close and gentle embrace. If you don’t remember exactly where the singer starts, it is perfectly fine to make such alterations once you actually hear the voice, but the effect is greater if you can prepare beforehand, to really change the way you move from the very first note of the singer.


How to dance to the music: Know the structure of tango music

After the basics, my series on how to dance to the music continues, diving deeper into more specific topics. This article explains how knowing the structure of tango music can help dancers make their dancing more interesting.


Listening to lots of different tangos, we can find recurring patterns. An important part of dancing with musicality relies on our ability to predict the music, and just like other genres of dancing music, tango is constructed in a predictable way.

It is not difficult to find descriptions of how tangos are built from alternating sections, how some tangos follow the pattern A-B-A-C-A, etc. In my mind, we don’t always need to make that kind of analysis formal or explicit. It might be sufficient to notice that “oh, this part of the song sounds very similar to the beginning”, or “ah, here comes the second verse of the singer, similar to the first one but with different words and an added violin in the background”.

Once you are familiar with the general architecture of the whole tango, it will be easier to know how much of the song is left, and whether or not the song has yet reached its intensity climax.


Phrasing in tango also follows certain patterns, although not as predictably as we might hope for. Sometimes a phrase evolves over 8 heavy beats, but other times over a different number of beats. So it is often better to listen than to count. Some phrases follow a wave-like pattern, where they start quietly, then grow in intensity, and eventually calm down again. Other phrases are more square: they start on beat number one and march steadily and evenly until they end promptly, perhaps leaving a beat or two empty before the next phrase takes over.

Here’s a couple of examples of how the structure of tango music can be used for a more interesting interpretation:

  1. Adjust the intensity of your dance to whatever suits the different parts of the song. Many tangos start off slowly, which is naturally matched with simple and comfortable movements. Later in the song there might be more energy in the music, which can be matched with more energetic steps.
  2. Entertain the idea that the song introduces itself to the dancers during its first few phrases. The beginning of a song is the reference that the rest of the song will refer back to, and develop itself out of. The first few shivering moments of a song leave some room for the dancers to get connected to each other’s interpretation of that specific piece of music. These can be moments of attentive listening. Explore them and find their usefulness for dancing the rest of the song.
  3. Given the typical structure of a tango, and given your repertoire of dancing moves, you can make a rough estimation of how to distribute your resources. Save bigger and unusual moves for special moments in the music. They will have a greater musical effect when used sparingly. Practice this by allowing yourself to do one – and only one – high boleo (or another move) per song, and make sure it happens at the right moment. Or start in close embrace, find one moment in the song where the music calls for an open embrace, and then a second moment where getting back into a close embrace seems like the right way to respond to the music.
  4. Pick a tango with a singer, and listen carefully to the way he or she is phrasing the music. Are there moments where the singer is taking a breath? How long is each phrase? Does the singer vary the intensity of his or her voice within a phrase? Dance to the same song, and make similar expressions in the dance. Then dance to another song by the same orchestra, and adjust the expressions you just practiced to fit the new song.
  5. Play with repetition and variation. If a song enters into a repeated section, you may relate your dancing to what happened the first time the section was played, such as using the same steps, or the same attitude. Or, alternatively, you can figure out a way of doing the opposite of what you did before, which is also a way of relating to what happens last time. If there is a slight variation in the music, such as the added violin mentioned above, it could help you find a different expression the second time.

Some work is required for these exercises, but note that most of it includes actual dancing. You don’t need to just sit down and listen to tango music to learn about its structure – you can train your ear while you are actually moving to the music. Enjoy the practice!


How to dance to the music: The basics

Musicality is a wide topic that touches on many different aspects of tango dancing. Here we will look at the practical problem: what you actually need to do in your dance to make sure you are moving with the music.


Six important first steps towards getting your dance closer to the music:

  1. Learn to step on the basic beat of the song by just walking in the dance direction by yourself (tango first, then vals and milonga).
  2. With a partner, learn to walk a few steps on the beat, then stop, then find the beat again.
  3. At the beginning of a song, listen to the music to find a good moment to start, and stop dancing when the music stops.
  4. Learn some rhythms, such as quick-quick-slow or quick-slow-quick-slow, perhaps by clapping your hands first and then using the tempo of your steps. Try rhythms to different songs to see where they fit in.
  5. Listen for phrases in the music (using a tango with lyrics can be helpful, since the singer will often take a breath between two phrases). Learn to take a break at the end of a phrase, and to start walking at the beginning of a phrase.
  6. Learn how to adjust your dance to the general feel of a song, so that e.g. a romantic tango is danced with loving gentleness, while a hectic tango is danced with energy.

The items of this list are all essential as a base to develop musicality in dancing. Note that all of them require some listening and some doing. Enjoy!


Scandinavian Consensus around Models for Teaching Tango

Malmö may be a small city (300,000 inhabitants), but still boasts a great tango scene. Is there something in the mindsets of Scandinavians that make them particularly attracted to tango? Or is there rather something about Scandinavian teaching methods that in the long term will cultivate a good tango environment?

I was recently looking at different teachers’ ideas about essential elements of tango, mostly to compare it with my own ABCD model. One of the models I have encountered is Tangoblomman, by Gunilla Rydén & Henrik Uldall:

"Tangoblomman", as Per remembers it from Gunilla & Henrik's teacher training at Tango Primavera in 2007.
“Tangoblomman”, as Per remembers it from Gunilla & Henrik’s teacher training at Tango Primavera in 2007.

This flower has five petals, each representing a different dimension of tango, where the selected dimensions translates to “musicality”, “repertoire”, “indvidual technique”, “partner interplay” and “social tango”. It’s a neat tool for teachers to remember what should be included in the teaching, and for dancers to know what to develop in their tango.

The similarities between this and the other models I found are striking! Apparently, when these Scandinavian teachers sum up into a model what they aim to teach their tango students, they reach very similar conclusions. See the table below for a summary of the 4 Swedish/Danish models I have encountered. With some minor variations, all of them include repertoire, technique, communication, social aspects and musicality. Two of them add aesthetics as an additional factor.

Striking similarities between four tango models of Scandinavian teachers
Striking similarities between four tango models of Scandinavian teachers (translated into English for this blog post)

I find it astonishing that all these models agree to a large extent not only on how many aspects to include (5-6) but also on the content of each of these aspects! It is not hard to imagine other factors that could have been included, such as “the walk”, “the embrace”, “improvisation” or “stretching and toning the body”. But this is not the case; there is more or less full consensus.

A lot of questions can be asked about the results of this little survey. Here’s two:

  1. Is there a common source or teaching tradition that has inpired all of these models, or are they developed independently and just inpired by a similar view of what tango is all about?
  2. Also, is this just a Scandinvian consensus, or would teachers in Turkey, South Korea or Argentina use the same dimensions in thier teaching models?


  • Teacher training & discussions with Daniel Carlsson (Tangokompaniet) and Mette Munk Andresen (M2 Tango)
  • Tango teacher training with Gunilla Rydén & Henrik Uldall (Per attended the course at Tango Primavera festival in 2007)
  • Tango teacher program with Ehsan Shariati & Josefine Hjälmeskog (info from website)

Dancing the Melody

Melodies are important in tango music, and very often they are what comes up when you try to remember a tango. Perhaps you can recall the melodies of “La Cumparsita” and “Vida mía”?

A notion I have often encountered in tango is that you can either dance the rhythm or the melody. I get the impression that dancing the melody is perceived as better, more sophisticated and a more advanced form of musicality in the dance: “Anybody will learn to dance the rhythm of a tango, but only certain advanced dancers are dancing the melody”.

Technically, a melody is a sequence of notes that we perceive as an entity in the music. The most important features of a melody are pitch (how high the notes are, not to be confused with how loud they are) and duration (how long they are). If you change the intervals or the duration of notes too much, you will no longer have the same melody. It’s easy to see that there is less tolerance for changing pitch than duration – just try it out with a well known melody. Pitch comes first, duration second.

A well-known melody

But how would you make a corporal expression of a sequence of pitches? Once suggestion I heard is to be higher above the ground for higher pitches, and lower closer to the ground for lower pitches. This might work on rare occasions, but if performed more than for a couple of notes in a row, the effect would be purely comical.

And this is clearly not what “dancing the melody” is. It’s rather a question of reflecting the melodic line in the dance, as opposed to the (often more rhythmical) accompaniment of the melody.

The duration of the notes in the melodic line does not seem to matter much either. In workshops where “dancing the melody” is introduced, the rhythms of the melody are not danced, but it is rather a matter of slowing down the dance, as opposed to following the steady pace of a repetitive, rhythmical accompaniment (“dancing the rhythms”).

So, interestingly, when “dancing the melody”, you will not take into account the two foremost characteristics of a melody: neither pitch nor duration! Instead you will need to focus on the quality (timbre, emotional expression, etc.) and on the phrasing of the melodic line.

Isn’t it confusing to say “dance the melody” when you do not move to the most typical features of a melody? To me it is.

Dancers will achieve greater variation if they at times emphasize the music in a manner similar to the singer or an instrument playing the melody. But to describe this way of dancing, don’t ask people to “dance the melody” – it is more accurate to talk about longer and shorter phrases, emphasis and direction in the music. Or to simply say “slow down”.

Slowing it down…