20 Oct 2007

Female embellishments: Part II

In the present moment, Oct 2007

Living up to her reputation as a mature and experienced dancer, Milena Plebs offers good advice on the attitude towards adornments (see preceding blog). It sparked off my own thoughts.

Many women are concerned about making beautiful and as many embellishments as possible. One reason of course is it an aspect of preening in the dance, the natural desire to look asethetically good. The other motivating factor is another aspect of preening, of showing that yes, I am capable of making these technically challenging moves. So hence, I am a better dancer than those who do less "moves". The desire to prove oneself in this manner gives rise to the anxiety mentioned by Milena.

Looking deeper into this topic: now, exactly what are female embellishments?

For me, the answer is - embellishments are one way of expressing the female voice in the dance.

The Female Voice
To me, embellishments are important in this context only - in that it is my expression of what I feel from the music. It is the female composition on the music.

One doesn't add embellishments in the dance "just because one can". We are not Sir Edmund Hillary climbing Mount Everest here. Women who understand this point are the wiser.

So, why do some embellishments done by one dancer seem so marvellous, while embellishments by another dancer are at best ho-hum?

Because the best embellishments seem exactly right for the section of music that it was done for. In short, embellishments are born from the woman's musicality and creativity.

A Question of Substance
Expressing myself in the dance is important.

For a start, remember that adornos are only one way of having a female voice. For the woman, there are other means of self-expression in the dance than making "visible" adornos. For example, the quality of my movement. The feel of my body in the mood of the music. Personally speaking, these qualities matter more to me than adornos, because my dance partner can feel these transmission from me, whether dancing in close or open embrace. It is the bodily pleasure in the dance that I want to enjoy, that I want to give back to my partner.

When I was young, I once read that Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923), celebrated french stage actress, had a quality of voice that she could bring her audience to tears by reciting the alphabet. This statement was etched into my mind, although it was many years later that I fully savour its meaning.

The female maestro who I admire can transmit beauty in the dance simply by moving. Its not even her walk. Its how she moves. It is her.

Style is nothing without substance.

Now, what about the actual adornos themselves?
Adornos are nothing without musicality.

To train to do adornos cannot be separated from learning to express one's musicality. Perhaps, the only way to develop musicality is to dance and practise a lot. Most importantly, really listen to the music when you are practising the adornos. Listen to different orquestas, recognise the sentiments expressed in the music, experiment with how it feels on the music when you do different movements and how to time the movements.

But how to gain the ability to execute the move?

Thats what those tough technique exercises are for. They train your body in the movement, before one attempts it in the practica. Then, practise till the adornos do not interfer with your partner and the dance.

This is what Milena Plebs meant by "It is good to work on decorations so that they form part of the global dance, without interrupting the energy by doing them and keeping the connection with the partner at all times."

Finding Your Own Voice
In the first 2+ years of my dancing, I was almost stubbornly anti-adornos. From the start I believed I need to concentrate on the fundamentals long and hard. I felt the embellishments can come later on. My reasoning was that if I have the fundamentals, it shouldn't be very difficult to pick up the embellishments at a later stage.

Much later on, from doing technique exercises and from watching female dancers with excellent musicality, I started adding simple adornos to my repertoire. True enough, the simple ones were not terribly difficult to pick up (I didn't say I am doing them well).

What I discovered to be more important and challenging is to express them to the music. To grasp the right timing, with embellishments that are appropriate for the sentiments of the music, within the framework of the dance proposed by my partner. In short, finding your own musicality.

For myself, often I find enough gratification in expressing my joy in the music by quick rythmic taps to accent points in the music, rather than feeling it is essential to pull off something complicated and showy. Because my primary goal is to enjoy the music with my partner, respecting that my partner has a musical composition in mind, and to be in time for what is proposed so that the musical dialogue flows back and forth between the two of us.

At the end of the day, Milena put it best in her advice to us ladies:

"A time arrives when one relaxes, no longer worried about how many and how various embellishments one does, and paradoxically, they (the embellishments) begin to flow naturally, they respond to an inner security and an enjoyment of the female dance role."

Her concluding statement "I believe also that, many times, less is more......."

What about for the Men?
By the way, many of the same aspects apply to the men too.

Doing a lot of figures (no matter how well you lead them) and embellishments do not equate to musicality in dance. At best it was exercise on the dance floor. At worse, not only are you ignoring the music, you are ignoring the musical communication that I am trying to have with you. To put it in a not-so-nice way, you are actually "dancing" only with yourself.

free hit counter script

19 Oct 2007

Female embellishments: Part I

In the present moment, Oct 2007

This Sunday 21 de Octubre is El Dia de la Madre (Mother's Day) in Argentina. It is not intentional on my part but this month's musings have a strong female favour.

My thoughts on the subject of female adornments was sparked off by Milena Plebs, who wrote her views on this in her column in this month's El Tangauta:

"When taking tango classes, women request a lot to be taught embellishments. That is to say, the foot movements added by women, that are not, specifically, a response to the movement proposed by the leader"

"I perceive a lot of anxiety in a great number of the women attending our classes to learn to do embellishments. Many, pretty, varied and complex as possible!"

Milena Plebs, Page 35, Oct 2007 issue of El Tangauta

Milena went on to explain that early in her career, she too was preoccupied about how many decorations she was able to "put in" when dancing, feeling that her partner always "did more" than her... (since) the responsibility and complexibility of the creative part and the leading of the dance lies with the man.

Then she says "It is a priority to work on the basic technical facets of tango before devoting ourselves to decorations. Without a good base, balance, connection and response to our partner, we are not prepared to beautify our dance." She points out there are 2 groups of female embellishments: those done by the woman during the dance that should not interfere with the man, and those during the moments when the man pauses, giving opportunities for the woman to do embellishments.

Milena continues "It is important to be alert to the environment and to grasp the timing in the dance floor, so as to not over-extend ourselves.....without interrupting the energy by doing them and keeping the connection with the partner at all times"

"Choose the ones that feel comfortable to you, and it is better not to repeat or copy what others do.... At times one can see women that do too much, perhaps that is part of the anxiety that I mentioned before.."

And finally, her observation is this:

"A time arrives when one relaxes, no longer worried about how many and how various embellishments one does, and paradoxically, they (the embellishments) begin to flow naturally, they respond to an inner security and an enjoyment of the female dance role."

free hit counter script

14 Oct 2007

For the Ladies (Women’s technique classes)

In the present moment, Oct 2007

Technica para mujeres
There are a number of group women’s technique classes held regularly around Buenos Aires. I will list the most popular ones. These classes range from fairly well attended to very crowded.

By comparison, there are far fewer men’s technique class. Harder working ladies perhaps? :D

Besides your dancing shoes, do bring socks along too because often the classes will switch between the two. Although dance sneakers are ok, some teachers prefer their students work in heels if possible. Heels can be more technically demanding of course.

Try to wear pants instead of skirt to class. Choose comfortable stretchable clothing. I won’t recommend jeans for this reason.

You can get some ideas for adornments from the exercises lead in class. But beyond a brief explanation perhaps, don’t expect the teacher to break down “the how” of the adornos.

Aurora Lubiz
Aurora’s energetic classes for women technique at Escuela Argentina de Tango (E.A.T) appeal to ladies young and older. Pint-size Aurora lead the classes through a series of adornos exercises. Often a bit too crowded for my preference.

Carolina Bonaventura
Classes at Mariposita attracts a fairly young crowd. Carolina pays a lot of attention to working the core to build strength, so be prepared. Well, strong lower pelvic muscles are always good for women. Male readers, just take the statement at face value. Please.

Caroline starts 3 classes for women technique per week from Oct. She says the Monday class will be the most technically challenging. Wednesday class is intermediate in difficulty level while the Saturday class would be the “easiest” of the lot.

Rosana Devesa
Besides exercises, Rosana’s women technique class carries a relaxation component which is influenced by her background as a professional therapist.

I like Rosana’s class. The approach and energy is different from most other women’s technique class. She is my teacher in the milonguero style.

Twice-weekly women’s technique class at D.N.I are popular and crowded. I often think the premise is simply not large enough to accommodate the sheer number of devout D.N.I followers!

Once-weekly class is lead by the female teachers at Tangobrujo on a 4-week rotational basis. Each teacher has her own style of leading this class. For example, one teacher may decide to work on a thematic basis eg. working on boleos. Another teacher may lead strengthening exercises instead.

See A Handful of Handy websites for details of the schools above, and how you should go about getting the current class schedule for each.

free hit counter script

9 Oct 2007

The Women of Tango

In the present moment, Oct 2007

From time to time, there are defining moments in our journey.

Today, the women of tango walked into my life. The female singers I mean.

Before today, beyond a cursory acquitance, my familiarity with the female singers of tango was sadly limited to Ada Falcon (see the section on “Yo no sé que me han hecho tus ojos" in Música del Alma). I don’t know why I never felt the urge to expand my repertoire beyond the male singers. Sometimes, things fall in place naturally when we are ready for it.

Well, earlier today I was happily shopping for tango music and chatting to the nice lady helping me in the shop. For some reason, one after another, female tango singers kept popping into the picture. Starting with Ada Falcon. Next came Azucena Maizani. Then Mercedes Simone. A while later, a record was playing and I managed to identify Libertad Lamarque singing. No mean feat since I can count on my 2 hands the number of times I have heard Libertad Lamarque.

Finally, the lady bought out a CD “Se Va La Vida – Tango Ladies, 1923-54”. It has the range of era in tango music that I like. I even liked the cover. Sadly the CD was a bit pricey so I didn’t get it.

Inspired by the appearance en masse of these grand dames of tango in a single afternoon, I came home and looked up the singers on Todotango and sampled their songs respectively. I enjoyed the write-up on the singers, the descriptions of their voice and what characterized their singing. I have added the links, you can read about Rosita Quiroga, Azucena Maizani, Mercedes Simone, Ada Falcón, Libertad Lamarque, Nelly Omar and Tita Merello.

In particular, 2 anecdotes from Todotango caught my attention. The first was a piece of “tango tabloid”☺. Many singers of bygone eras also starred in movies. The same phenomenon happened in the East. Anyway, Libertad Lamarque starred in over 20 movies in Argentina. During one shooting, a harsh argument arose between Libertad and the actress Eva Duarte. It was said that after the incident, difficulties to Libertad Lamarque’s career sprang up and she had to emigrate to Mexico. And yes. This is the same Eva who latter married a man named Juan Perón. At the time of the “fight” she was already linked with the future “El Presidente”. Read about the woman Eva Perón loved to hate in "Two Tough Dolls".

The second was a touching letter to Rosita Quiroga from Yoyi Kanematz of Japan, a lover of tango music, written in 1970 in his anticipation of Rosita Quiroga’s visit to Osaka. It holds an account of what tango music meant to the author in the last days of World War II.

Grand ladies of tango, I shall enjoy getting to know you better in the coming days.

free hit counter script