Saturday, 4 April 2009

Joaquín Amenábar - book now available

You can now get the English version of Joaquín's book/DVD set on "Music for Dancers" here. [Edit - priced in Euros, and it seems they can't yet ship it to the USA.]

It seems worth saying that he doesn't bill or present himself as a dance teacher, or anything more than a reasonable social dancer. He said this more than once in my hearing, when I took some of the classes, and I saw nothing in the classes (or the book, which I've now reached the end of) that I would interpret as contradicting it. What he's teaching is listening skills and musical information. You read the explanations, and do some listening exercises, and then you use walking exercises familiar to dancers to get your ear and body working together. You can then repeat them walking and dancing with a partner, to practice leading or following and listening properly at the same time, so that your brain doesn't trip over itself.

I have not interpreted any of the walking or dancing exercises as generally-applicable instructions as to how to dance. They're not presented as such, and for example, I don't think you would do this with chapters 8, dialogue of melodies, or 12, off-beat. I don't think it's practical, and the results would be mostly bonkers. (Gamecat's sent me a link - the third video down is a non-bonkers interpretation of the music used for chapter 8). The point is that at the end of chapter 12 both your body and your mind - working together - understand what an off-beat is, and why it feels funny if you step on it, accidentally or on purpose.

But I mention this because I've been told that some people do take it that way.

Anyway, the whole thing fills a gap, at least if you think listening skills are something that can (and should) be taught to those who have no aptitude, or should (and can) be taught to those who do. Mine have certainly improved. I don't know whether my dancing has improved or not. If it has, it's probably more to do with fixing my posture. But I definitely hear better now and appreciate musicality better in other people.

There are dance teachers who have something to say, other than merely by example, about what musicality actually means in dance terms. I haven't encountered it often enough to say anything about how far they agree with each other, or not. I assume that they sometimes disagree, which is not exactly uncommon on matters of technique, either. If I do encounter disagreements I think it's my responsibility to decide what appeals to me on whatever basis seems to make sense, just like I do with technique. Some people use a race test; if my criteria are less silly than that, and include at least some reference to the merits of the case, at least they aren't the worst logically possible.

I personally have got a lot out of doing the exercises and exploring the details of music in a much more productive way than I would have been able to alone. Some of the people I dance with have made good discoveries, too.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the clip to someone dancing to Chapter 8 music (an eye opening chapter for me).

I find it really useful to see others dancing to music that I am trying to figure out.

For anyone who doesn't know, the book has a DVD which shows a couple dancing to the element of the music under discussion - incredibly useful for some people like me.

msHedgehog said...

I found that it took me nearly a year before I could make anything much at all of watching other people dance. I could only learn musicality from dancing with people who had some. But some people learn better visually, and once you find out the name of the music you can usually feed it into YouTube and find a few examples. In this case it's "Recuerdo" by Pugilese. Of course, there's no guarantee that any of them will be good, but even deciding (provisionally) which ones you like, is a learning experience.

Anonymous said...

I think the learning process is different for followers. Followers can learn by example and absorb from leaders who have it .. leaders can't do this..

msHedgehog said...

That's true, you don't have that opportunity (or rarely) and I think it makes it a lot more difficult.

Game Cat said...

Although leaders may not be able to learn what it means to be musical from following, I think it is more important for us to learn it nonetheless. An un-musical follower won't hurt a dance (for both parties) if she follows well, but an un-musical leader will kill it stone dead.

I may have said so elsewhere on this blog already - Joaquin's wonderful book gives us only half the solution: how to listen to and decode the music, which was his goal, as Ms H said. The other half is learning to interpret the music with the steps you know while dancing in a milonga, i.e. how to choreograph in "real time".

Fortunately, one can practice this at home, when no one is looking. All you need is a small floor, 10 minutes, and music you love.

Anonymous said...

gamecat - please expand, I'm keen to see what I can do to do this "second half".

people say, "just move to the music you love" but that's like learning to write poetry by "just scribble some letters and keep at it".

Mtnhighmama said...

Thanks for the heads up that it's available for purchase! I've been waiting.

Game Cat said...

3rd Anon,

The bad news is that I have not come across any hard and fast rules re interpreting the music. Perhaps there aren't any. That's why it's an art.

The good news is....there aren't any hard and fast rules, so you can make up whatever you think aesthetically pleases your partners. Below are what I think are some good "rules of thumb" (I don't claim them to be original). All, please comment/ add as I'm curious to hear your thoughts.

1. Always be on the beat. You don't have to use EVERY beat, but step on them when you do move.

2. Start/end steps at the beginning/end of each phrase. Don't get caught in a middle of a figure when the phrase ends.

3. Know the songs you like well - it will be easier to plan ahead when you're dancing to it.

4. Dance to the basic rhythm or melody, whichever dominates at a particular point in the song.

5. Pause when appropriate - don't be obliged to bop about when the music isn't asking for it / there's no space to step.

6. When thinking of the beats, think of the lady's steps, not yours. See the vid link of Recuerdo in Ms H's original post - Osvaldo is leading Alej to the music but he takes fewer steps.

You should be able to practice all the above (except maybe #6) on your own with your iPod.

ghost said...


Point 1 - what about syncopation?

Otherwise good rules of thumb :o)

(I have a sneaky suspicion that you need to have the fundamentals well and truly down before you can learn to dance tango with them. And so few people get to / are interested in getting to this point that there aren't enough to support actual classes in it. So we largely get left with making it up ourselves.)

Game Cat said...


Re point 1, I think syncopation is an extension of it, except you step on weak/ unstressed beats. The challenge (and beauty) of it is picking out which beats to step. Again, the Recuerdo clip is a good e.g. - notice Alej's quick steps in multiples of 3 into ocho cortados. Also I think it's beautiful that those syncopations are mostly Alej stepping, not the leader.

Re fundamentals, I agree. For me, that's the point of tango. The music isn't a lovely background noise for one to step to; the steps should be used to give life to the music. Technique is a means to an end, and not just for men - women who choose not to improve their technique will be less able to enjoy the music, even with a competent, musical leader.

I also agree not many people seem interested enough in musicality classes on a regular basis in London (do others have a different view?). They are often left to workshops like Joaquin's. Question is, if good technique is a helpful foundation, what's the demand been so far for good regular technique classes?

ghost said...

Gotta love watching a good follower do her stuff :o) I was thinking about 75/25 syncopation were you're stepping on sub-divisions of beats rather than beats themselves.

There are two other catches.
1. I could design a sequence that last 4 beats and dance it over and over again - and I'd be within your guidelines.
2. I could apply your guidelines equally well to say Ceroc.

So while I agree thay are good musicality guidleines, I think there has to be something more to dancing tango. A specific structure. It appears that these structures exist, but aren't widely taught (or are taught a tiny bit here, a tiny bit there). I think different teachers / schools have slightly different structures. It's something I'm very interested in, but I'm still finding my way.

Re Tech Clazsses, from what i've seen and heard in London they have abysmally low numbers :(

Game Cat said...


I agree that those guidelines are applicable beyond tango and that there is more to it than that.

"Structure" (which I take to mean choreographing coherently to the entirety of a song, not just point-in-time music) is I agree important, but it has to be built on top of more pre-requisite type guidelines like those 6 to be meaningfully executed.

However, unlike technique I think it could be easier to self-learn by observation and experimentation. Taught classes on this I think are nice to have but not necessary for better dancing in milongas.

David Bailey said...

I've ordered the book - yay!

I fully expect to become a real tango dancer, and I'll demand my money back if I don't achieve thar within 10 days.


Mtnhighmama said...

Just thought I'd update that the book is NOT available for shipment to the US yet. He still does not have a distributor here and it is really difficult to arrange the payment and shipping options. Maybe you could add that to the blog post somewhere?

ghost said...

@ Gamecat
Yup I agree, musciality is definetly something you have to have in place to dance.

But I think we both agree it's not in tself enough - connection, technique etc are also necessary.

This quote is bothersome
"Stefano made another comment, to the effect that almost no-one in milongas is actually dancing - they're mostly simply moving from one move to another. Basically, they're exercising, not dancing."

but sadly I think it's right.

If you put tango together yourself, you will most likely end up with your version of it rather than the actual thing. I'd rather learn the actual thing, then personalise it.

Ask me in another year or two, I might have it figured out by then. But for now, sadly I accept that I cannot dance tango :(

(Thankfully I do enjoy the muscial hugging I seem to be doing at the moment :o) )

PS Obviously I accept everyone else's right to define "dancing tango" as they wish :flower:

PPS Lol Good luck David

msHedgehog said...

I think we'd be crazy to think any of these problems are unique to tango. Maybe they show up more - maybe not. But you only have to watch the video I posted last week (Salon Swing), and compare the dancers visible in the foreground with Miss Hampton and Mr. Dokes.

David Bailey said...

@ Ghost:
"This quote is bothersome
"Stefano made another comment, to the effect that almost no-one in milongas is actually dancing - they're mostly simply moving from one move to another. Basically, they're exercising, not dancing."
but sadly I think it's right."
- you think that's bothersome, you should have seen Stefano's impressions of working out :)

"I think we'd be crazy to think any of these problems are unique to tango."
Absolutely not. By Stefano's criteria, almost no-one in London is dancing salsa either.

Although, interestingly, I reckon a higher percentage of MJ-ers are actually dancing MJ. Albeit mostly with horrendous technical problems.

ghost said...

Lol - but yes I agree, I actually did have some MJ dances last night. Yay!

One pesky problem with learning tango is you can't trust your own body! For example, pretty much everyone starts by feeling that in a certain point in certain moves your foot should turn (sickle) inwards. Teachers tell you to turn it out, but it feels wrong.

But then after a while it feels right to have your foot turned out in at that point and wrong to have it turned it.