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January 18, 2011

Olga Besio on Embellishments

Prof. Olga Besio (2007)

Translation: Maria Celia Arias

In order to speak about embellishments, and to give support to all that comes along with them, it would be important to mention some of the origins of the essence and existence of Tango and it’s dance.

It is necessary to clarify that the word “dance” does not only refer to the practice of a technique. On the contrary, its more general use and meaning refers to all forms of dance. And this reference alludes to that which occurs naturally, primitively, remotely, that which is visceral and even animal like in the human experience. In this sense we are talking about an experience that comes from an earlier time historically, chronologically and ontologically than this concept of technique we speak of today.

If we understand the dance as a profoundly natural act, which is born from the human experience, then as we speak of popular and social dance (where perhaps the tango dance is our most intrinsic example) we immediately discard all that would seem redundant or obvious.

So then: What is the Tango? What we already know: a dance for two, a deep communication with the other, and with the music, and then we can even say we begin to “discover” this idea of dialog. The dialog between the dancing couple, the dialog with the music, the dialog that happens between the feet when they draw famous figures on the floor such as the “ochos” and so many others. We can even take this idea further, and mention the dialog that happens between the feet, the legs and the air, when drawing “boleos” with precision and fine clarity, creating and recreating the same, yet new shape, with each occurrence.

But, then what is the embellishment, which has also been called at times, the decoration or the dancer’s expressiveness? The embellishment consists of the precise expression of the essence of the tango. There is no purpose in embellishments stemming from mere technique alone, if one does not understand “what they really mean and stand for.” The legs of the dancers create and form a dancing couple as one. They embrace, they join, dialog together, they caress… and this all technically happens due to a game of rotation in their joints and articulations. But this game of rotation should not be understood as something cold and technical; on the contrary, it is something absolutely natural and as logical as any kind of language. The legs “express”, and are “expressive”, when they have and know the language; not merely because they move or know how to move.

Therefore, we have just destroyed various myths about embellishments.

· One being that embellishments are ‘moves that must be learned or copied from another’. In no way is this ever the case. The technical study and training is of utmost importance, but it is by far not enough. There are excellent dancers who perform embellishments with true emotion, but we also often times see, unfortunately, the mere repetition of movements or copies of those excellent dancers performed by others who did not understand the true essence of the movement. Generally, in these cases, the original dancer is excellent, and the copycats result as irrelevant, and sometimes even unpleasant or grotesque interpreters.

· Another myth is that which state that the embellishment belongs to the woman. In no case is this true. The embellishment is everything that the man or woman does without interfering in the mark of the dance, the steps, figures and sequences, and etc. This includes being able to stay in exact union with the music without producing any awkward pulls or tugs off rhythm. For this to happen, it is absolutely necessary to first know how to lead and follow, and to have a very well developed ear for the music. I always say to my students that they should only realize their partner was doing embellishments when they watch the video. This actually happened to a famous dancer who, when he watched the video of his performance he saw for the first time what his partner was doing, and then understood why she always received so many complements and comments.

· Still another myth is that for the woman to be able to add embellishments, the man needs to give her time. This may be the case when we are speaking about choreography, where these moments can be planned and elaborated in agreement between the partners, or even a third party. But in the improvised tango dance, the embellishments come from one’s intelligence, ability, the “Tanguerismo” of the woman, in the ability to decide whether it would be appropriate or not, and to know when and what type of embellishment is more appropriate for the current circumstance. Of course, if the dancer has little experience, it is not recommended that she try this in the milonga: that is what classes and practices are for.

The last myth I will mention is that of the ear and musicality, and that some dancers consider it enough just to be able to hear the rhythm. Other more advanced dancers speak about dancing the phrase. I must clarify again, that this is not enough; it is necessary to understand the melody and the particular expressivity of each musical piece, of each orchestras arrangement, of each version… and in this same vein, understand the musicality needed by the dancers is much more than rhythm, the compass, the down beats, the silent beats, the double-time beats, and all of those elements that are so often spoken about (and often times confused with one and the other). The musicality, which is required here, is the kind that can translate, create and recreate time and time again the sentiments, compositional structure, and the essence of the particular piece, which the couple has the said opportunity to dance and express.

Last but not least, it is necessary to mention that the embellishment is not limited to movement, and is not limited to the feet and the legs. It is true that this may be the most visible in many cases, but the embellishment exists in the whole body, in one’s attitude, in the silence, in the closing of the eyes, in the pauses, in the changes of speed and in the thousands of variables that can occur and need to be practiced technically, and methodically. The embellishments purpose is to definitively show the love and passion for the dance, that each individual and each couple is capable of feeling and expressing.

Posted by joegrohens at 02:28 AM | Comments (0)