18 October 2016

Seizing the stars: exploring musicality in tango

It’s not musicality. They’re just doing rhythms.”

I’m thinking about musicality again, trying to understand what it is. It seems we sometimes reduce it to only a reproduction of rhythmical structures. And I’m thinking that since music is more than rhythmical structures, dancing to music should be something more than that, too - like being observant of which musical ideas and elements and qualities that exist in each piece, and noticing how they all have different flavours, and understanding which choices you have in any given moment, and seizing the ideas and elements and qualities that you believe are beautiful and interesting, and recognising how they make you feel, and expressing it all clearly and precisely.

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Maybe some have more musical talent than others, but I believe that people are musical as long as they are somehow touched by music. Having musical skills is something else, though. Musical skills have to be learnt, worked with, practiced consciously. It doesn’t have to be done in class, nor do you need to have played an instrument at all - some of my favourite musical dancers tell me that they have no clue about the technicalities. But it has to be worked with.

So how do we grow our musical skills? I haven’t got all the answers, but I have some ideas. Starting with listening: not just hearing the music, but really listening to it. Listen to everything in the music, try to understand what the sounds are doing, why everything is there. It’s useful to listen a lot to tango music because it’s good to know the music you’re actually gonna dance to, but you can do the listening to all kinds of music. The idea is to practice listening.

The second thing we have to do is to revise our repertoire: Are the moves we’re doing automatised, old habits? And if so, how can we change our habits so that our repertiore can be used to serve the music instead of existing parallel to the music? And how can we be more creative with our repertiore? And, finally: even if you think that good technique isn’t necessary to be a musical dancer, keep practicing technique, too, because you’re going to discover that you cannot really express a musically rich-spectered interpretation without it. Why? Because musicality in dance doesn’t just exist in your analytic head and in your foot hitting the floor. It must be expressed through your whole body.

And in all this, let’s not forget this weird thing that we often say is undefinable, the thing that happens when the music resonates inside ourselves. The artistic expression, or the feelings, or the presence, or the passion, or whatever we try to call it because we don’t know what it really is. Maybe it’s not so mysterious, though. Maybe it’s just about believing that the musical idea you just seized is the most important and beautiful thing in the world right now, because you’re letting it seize you.