Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Philosophical Question

We were having lunch with Alberto and Paulina at a cosy little parilla called "La Cañada" (coincidence? No, it's not the same as "Canada") one sunny afternoon.  Our conversation turned to musicality - and to one question that has been bothering us ever since we started tango.

"When you teach, you always emphasize that people should listen and dance to the music. That's straightforward, intuitive advice. However, how can we explain the droves of people in tango who don't listen to the music when they dance?  We can't believe that there are teachers out there actually teaching people to completely disregard the music.  Could it be true that there are some people who are born with an inability to hear or move to the music?"

Alberto and Paulina thought for a moment, and Paulina spoke.  "Well, I suppose that may be the case...that people's perceptions are different.  What I consider to be 'to the music' may not be the same as what someone else perceives - this is a possibility that you have to account for."  Paulina is a professor of philosophy and is a licensed psychoanalyst as well, so perhaps that's where her viewpoint is coming from.

"So, let's recap - while it appears that we (you and Alberto and the two of us) seem to be on the same wavelength as to what is "to the music" or "not to the music" when it comes to dancing, there may be some people out there who we would observe on the dance floor and conclude are completely "off." We have to realize that these individuals could actually think they are doing a perfectly fine job of listening and dancing to the music?"

Alberto and Paulina both nodded.  "Precisely."

"Is there any way to help these poor folk? And what we mean is - the most obstinate, intractable cases?"

Paulina shrugged.  "It's hard to say." 

We're just glad that we aren't one of those who Alberto and Paulina would consider beyond hope!


This April, we had the chance to present the same question to Osvaldo and Coca.  We were zipping along in the streets of Buenos Aires in their little brown car, on our way to yet another milonga.  We just had an excellent class with them at El Tacuari - in which they exhorted to their students their endless mantra, "Listen to the music!  Listen to the music!"

"In class, you asked your students to listen to the music.  But so many people don't, and not just the beginners, but world famous professionals too. We cringe when they dance.  Could it be that they are unable to?" we asked.

Osvaldo and Coca both erupted in unison. "No, don't be silly!  Everyone can!"  The car swerved. "They are just not listening!"


So, take your pick:  Are you not listening to the music when you dance because you can't...or because you won't?


Tangocommuter said...

I think a lot of people can't yet: they are used to dancing to the basic 4/4 of rock/pop/whatever, and tango's a more sophisticated language. Most of the tango we know was developed by classically trained musicians, and classical music isn't so familiar. & many teachers don't help: even if they can listen to the music themselves they don't want to discourage their students. In a way, they are right: you're only going to pick up the music if you get on the floor and keep dancing to it. It takes time. & 'nuevo' is generally danced to a background of tango, rather than to the music. Some years ago, when I asked how to fit a choreography to the music, a teacher airily told me,'Oh, we dance THROUGH the beat in tango'!???

Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear Tangocommuter,

Interesting and true observations! Sometimes we don't have the heart to point out - but there are professionals and veterans of tango out there who say they dance to the music, and even exhort to others to dance to the music...but they can't find the beat even if painted it neon and directed a spotlight at it. Yet some others impose a clever system to "aid" their students in finding the "beat" - like your "quick quick slows" and "one two one two threes". After a while they become hindrances rather than help. Man Yung, who has a natural knack for the music rather than a learned one, was so confused by one instructor's "quick quick slows" he looked like a complete idiot trying to follow the quick quick slows rather than the beat itself! Thank god he didn't give up right there and then.

Thanks for your comment!

Irene and Man Yung

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