Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Not dancing to what's not there

The most challenging thing in those musicality classes with Joaquín Amenábar was not dancing to what isn't there. It's the same exploring music with the help of his book.

I decided that for me it was the most important thing - because I found it surprisingly difficult. You listen carefully to find the beat, you start the clock in your head, maybe you count to orient yourself, maybe you even continue counting. The count in your head adjusts smoothly to variations in speed, but it can overwhelm the detail, and it's very easy to keep dancing mechanically to this count and think you are dancing to the music when you're not.

You catch yourself doing it a few times, and you manage at least once not to do it when you might have done, and you feel the difference. Suddenly, you see other people (or yourself) gyrate through silence and fill it, not with stillness or a movement that expresses silence, but by dancing to what just happened, or what they anticipate will happen next, or what they imagine is happening in some alternative universe. They were doing it before, and perhaps so were you, but you never noticed and you can't remember. It's alarming.


Anonymous said...

I find this tough too. The internal clock starts ticking and keeps going even when the music "stops".

Interestingly his classes cleared up a common misconception for me, and others who ill advised me. With things like counter-beat people told me to dance when there is no beat or in between beats. JA corrected this by maintaining that you do still dance with the music, but that the music changed to counter-beat. Thus you don't dance against the music.

Though this does raise a new point:

1 should one dance to imitate the music, to mirror and reflect it as accurately as possible?


* should one dance as if you were an additional instrument, adding your own rhythms or melodies to the existing music, and hopefully complementing it?

If the second is right, then you are ok to dance through the silent bits to your own clock or own sense of the music, you would be a different instrument playing even while the other instruments had quietened down....

msHedgehog said...

Hi Anon - that's an interesting point. Put like that, it's clear that there is a choice. And, put so clearly, it seems like a fairly easy one; since the chances are extremely high that if out of vanity we take the second option, we'll be rubbish. Especially from our partner's point of view.

Game Cat said...

Anon - I think it may be tough and not necessary to "imitate the music". It may be better to aim to "make full use" of the music. How one reflects the music is a matter of taste and ability, in much the same way as different orchestras impart their own personalities to the same piece of music.

Ms H - I presume by "not dancing to what's not there" you are referring to the accents of the melody? If you're stepping to the basic rhythm, then I'd guess you would only dance to what's not there if the basic rhythm changes (e.g. sometimes for Pugliese).

If you are stepping on the accents to practice linking sound to movement, then I think memorising the song is the only way to avoid the silent bits.

If you're referring to using accents/ beats in a milonga, I think one can be less strict. The principles I try to stick to are:

1) Step on time to the basic beat or melodic accents, whichever is stronger/ more meaningful at the time. For an unfamiliar song which has an unpredictable melody, I often default to beat.

2) Close/ Pause at the end of a phrase.

3) For ornate melodies, follow the simple melody/ beats and decorate to accents.

4) Pause/ step half-time when the music calls for it.

If anybody has good rules, would be interesting to hear them. Thanks.

Tango commuter said...

'Not dancing to what's not there.' You sound like a Zen master!

I've heard dancers say that in tango (perhaps not so much in milonga) the feet keep the rhythm and the upper body expresses the phrases of the melody, which would make it difficult to dance mechanically. The primary concentration might not be on the feet, the rhythm, but on the melody: you choose a movement because it follows a melodic phrase.

If the book doesn't have videos of dance, YouTube might help: enter the name of the tango +tango,and check how different dancers respond to that music. But for the most part these are performances by performers, and it might be worth hunting down film from milongas. But watching still might not help your anticipation!

msHedgehog said...

@Gamecat; I think he is probably right when he says understanding is not enough, you have to practice and train yourself.

@TC; it does have videos, yes, illustrating the exercises. I don't think that's what he meant by dancing mechanically, at least it's not what I mean; specifically it was about not stepping mechanically. Nothing more sophisticated than that.

Johanna said...

I guess I don't understand the exercise. But it seems like he's talking about "anticipating"?

I find it hard to verbalize the physical experience of moving to the music. For me, it is as if the sound waves animate my body. But my primary input is from my partner.

msHedgehog said...

Anticipate was my word, not his. The primary input is from the partner when you're dancing as a follower, but the exercises I had in mind include a lot of walking alone to the music with no distractions. The aim is to give you the ability to connect your body with your ear better, seperately from the other physical skills of leading and following. It's about conscious recognition of what is happening in the music and then feeling that in one's own body. Hang on ... here's a little quote from page 11 that puts it more clearly, in as far as this can be put clearly in words:

"... Thus we change the roles in a dancing couple from:

Leader <--> Follower
Rhytmic leader: the music <--> the dancing couple."

Johanna said...

LOL! Then I've been doing this "exercise" for years!

msHedgehog said...

Yep, exactly, that simple. Specifically the bit I am talking about was not moving to rhythms that aren't in fact being 'sounded' at any particular moment.