In a rose pink dress and champagne-coloured shoes which blended with her skin tone and made her look almost nude, the focus was very much on her luscious body in very graceful motion. They were both less rough-edged than usual, her toes were more pointed, her movements tighter, cleaner — and I was watching from the front row, from close to. He wore black, like a stage hand, silently and unobtrusively placing the flats, positioning the scenery, creating the backdrop. Having seen her dance socially with a number of different fellow-professionals lately, I was especially struck by the special qualities of their partnership, the way that he, with his energetic but simple, never flamboyant dance, sets up frames which she fills with musical decoration and play, hints and suggestions which she takes and runs with, as they choose, together, which parts of the music to emphasise, which details to linger deliciously over. He is like the ideal pianist, accompanying the singer with tact and discretion and unobtrusive virtuosity, making every note sound richer and fuller.
“There are no full stops in nature; neither is there absolute silence. The world and everything in it would have to stop breathing. Musicians and dancers know perhaps better than anyone else about this subconscious hum that accompanies us in ordinary and extraordinary life. Composer Carl Nielsen spoke to this when he said, ‘For what is … a rest? It is a continuation of the music; a cloth draped over a plastic figure, concealing part of it. We cannot see the figure under the draping, but we know … that it is there; and we feel the organic connection between what we see and what we do not…. The rests, then, are just as important as the notes. Often, they are far more expressive and appealing to the imagination’ (Fisk and Nicholas 1997:216). Dancers and musicians are constantly playing with pauses, creating the illusion of stillness or silence, balancing interpretations between moments of overpowering sound and movement and those illusory moments in which there appears to be nothing.”
Anya Peterson Royce, Anthropology of the Performing Arts (142)
One of my favorite parts of tango is playing with pauses, creating those moments where, to an outside observer, it looks like we’re still. But within the embrace, I can feel the hum of energy. I can feel our breath and anticipation, and even in the quietest moments I can feel the music all around me.
Argentine tango, danced socially, is quite a bit different from the passionate display you see on stage. For me, it is expressive and playful and all about becoming absorbed in the music, finding and feeling that balance between overpowering movement and the illusion of stillness. To illustrate, I offer you one of the only videos I’ve ever seen of (gulp) me dancing tango, from about four years ago:
When I dance tango, the best part of the entire experience is the sense that there’s no boundary between the music and the movements. The music is felt, embodied, and expressed through each movement. The movements are inspired, shaped, and danced through the music. One doesn’t make sense without the other; that’s tango.
Murat and Michelle are inspiring teachers and performers because they bring that musicality into each one of their dances. Whatever the setting, they dance together with each other and with the music.
This is a beautiful Argentine tango performance. The performers are former dance partners Pablo Rodriguez and Noelia Hurtado, dancing their final performance together at Milonga la Baldosa in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
They don’t do anything wild or fancy. They stay in a relatively close embrace. Rather than performing self-consciously, you can see that they are enjoying each other and the music. For me, that’s the best of tango. (Not to mention Noelia’s gorgeous walk. I love how she moves her feet.)
If you aren’t a tango dancer, don’t feel bad if this video doesn’t give you chills. Research shows that the brains of dancers and non-dancers respond differently when watching dance:
We’ve shown that the mirror system is finely tuned to an individual’s skills. A professional ballet dancer’s brain will understand a ballet move in a way that a capoiera expert’s brain will not. Our findings suggest that once the brain has learned a skill, it may simulate the skill without even moving, through simple observation.
– Prof. Patrick Haggard, Human See, Human Do
In other words, when I watch that video, I can literally imagine myself in Noelia’s place and respond the way I would if I were dancing in that performance. (And because I enjoy this style of tango, I’m blissed out!) Any human’s brain will undergo a similar mirroring process, but if you already dance Argentine tango you’ll understand the movements in a different way.
Of course, I’d still rather be dancing … 🙂