Monday, 12 October 2009

A tango class with no dancing

I took a class last week in which we didn't dance.

We sat in a small circle and listened together to mostly-40s tangos, with Adrian Costa playing air-bass and air-piano (I don't think he ventured air-bandoneón) and pointing out the structure of the music, the characteristics of the styles and arrangements, and their implications for dancers. Amanda intervened occasionally to play air-violin, help with explanations, or reel him in if he got off the point in answer to a question.

He talked about Compas, Cadencia, phrasing, double-time, contratempo and traspié, and what sort of music is salón or milonguero and what that means. I got a lot out of it, most of all on how to go about identifying the features of different orchestras, and the points about the relationship between musical structure and dancing style.

And in a little preamble he said "This is the tango class I have always wanted to teach, the real proper tango class the way it should be. I'm really pleased to be able to teach this class." Or words to that effect.

I liked it. It would be nice if more people demanded this sort of class. Or if all the DJs took it.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

what is cadencia and how would you dance it?

msHedgehog said...

@Anonymous - I have a lot in my notes, but I am not qualified to teach you this. Ask your teacher. You might get a good class.

maya said...

It sounds like a good class. The one that a hard of hearing dancer who normally misses lots of stuff would have enjoyed.

Game Cat said...

Anon - I've heard Adrian explain 'cadencia' before. Different people describe it differently - some describe it as a 'step', others as a musical feature. Here is my personal interpretation of it.

Firstly the musical feature - best described as a pause in the compas, which can be filled by silence or a some musical flourish (usually piano or violin). This is what I take Adrian to mean. Whether this is the original definition of 'cadencia' I don't know, but it's a good enough label of a common enough musical feature that can be used by the dancer for me.

Second, the 'step' - I don't think there is consensus on what this is. Adrian says this should just be a pause for the man, allowing the woman to express the flourish if she so chooses(e.g. with an adornment). I think this is right - if the man has been marking the compas, it is logical for him to pause when the compas pauses. However, I've also heard others describe 'cadencia' as a specific step like a check, similar to a balanceo.

No matter the definition, the underlying principle is to use the music.

msHedgehog said...

@maya, I remember a tip you would have liked; he advised us to put both feet flat on the floor to hear the compas better, because it is usually in the low notes - the bass and the left hand of the piano and bandoneón. So you hear it better from the floor, coming up through your feet. It worked really well for me - for getting to know a piece at home, you could take your shoes off too. It helped me a lot as I tend to overlook that part of the sound in favour of the part that's within or close to my own vocal range.

Anonymous said...

so is a cadencia the end of a phrase ... the sigh, the out breath, before we rise up again for the next phrase ...

Panayiotis said...

I hope more people can appreciate classes like this. So many are impatient and want to learn "moves" without ever learning how to feel the music.

Thank you for sharing!
Pete | The Tango Notebook

msHedgehog said...

@anon2 - one of the examples was exactly like that - it was Di Sarli, "No estas". Another example was Caló, "Si tu quisieras". That had the cadencia on the 2 and the 6 instead.

I think of it as the wurbley bit - the double bass paused and the rest of the orchestra did something else. I suppose it could go anywhere but he was showing us that once you get it you have a pretty good idea where it's going to be for the rest of the song, there's always a pattern, just not always the same one.

Andreas said...

I sympathize with Adrian here about the class he wants to do - you don't always get to do that, and taking this step is ballsy. As a teacher, with class concepts like that you are always afraid people will get bored. It's a bit like the repertoire angst of tango leaders.
Sounds like a great class.
I once did a two-hour sit-down lecture on tango orchestras a while back and only one person fell asleep (a certain person, on a sofa...you know her). ;-)

msHedgehog said...

I really enjoyed it. I don't know how big the market for it really is - probably a lot bigger than the 10 people who were there, but I don't know how big. It's obviously for the person who wants the information rather than the person who just wants to go to a class as a social thing. It also wasn't much advertised, so it might have been a bit of an experiment. This week they did another one about milonga, which I really enjoyed too, and there were some more that I didn't go to.

It's a lot of fun to just listen quietly together with a person who understands the music and can explain it, and especially it helped a lot when Adrian got up and walked around to show us exactly what he meant by being on or off the music. For instance he was showing us how, if you mechanically do the same thing, you will get out of sync with the traspié as soon as there is a pause. It's possible to write that explanation down, but it's much easier to understand by watching him walk while you try to play air-bass so you can see when he is with you and when not.

I think the group was the right size, small enough so that people could ask questions and followups without it getting too far out of hand.

Ann said...

Stefano Fava at Tango in Action gives masterly musicality classes when he's inclined to - he's a classically trained musician and has a knack for explaining it. He cracked valses (well beyond the 1-2-3 1-2-3) for me a few years ago and I'm forever grateful to him.

Game Cat said...

Re Andrea's point about why teachers may not feel inclined to teach musicality - I'm inclined to agree, sadly. However I also lay the blame with all students who want more of this but don't speak up and ask teachers about it (myself included). If we want this, we should show teachers there is demand for it.

Re Ann's point about SF - I've heard that he and AW have just re-started going deeper into the music on their Wed evening second class. They used to do this a lot, but eased off when interested (and technically able) people naturally attrition-ed away. I have seen them teach musicality in other classes and some students actually walked out because "I'm here to learn steps". I'm hoping SF and AW keep it up. Feel free to email them if you want to find out more.