Article written by Olga Besio for the Asociación de Maestros, Bailarines y Coreógrafos de Tango Argentino. Translated by Jocelyn Guizar.
In order to talk about embellishment – and how to support everything that may come about in effect – we should, in the first place, consider the origins of the essence and existence of the tango and the tango danza.
It is necessary to clarify that the word danza has a meaning that connotes far more than technique. Far to the contrary, the most ample and general sense of the word refers to all forms of danza (in a particular sense) and dance, and alludes to the most natural, the most primitive, the most remote, most visceral, and even most animal aspect of being human. This allusion is anterior to, in a historic as well as chronological sense, all conception of technique.
If we understand danza as a profoundly natural happening, that is, born with the human being – and we speak this way about popular dance, in which tango is perhaps our most intrinsic example – then all which is superfluous is immediately rejected.
Then, what is tango? What we all already know: a dance for two, a profound communication with the other and with the music, and…, and… and we “discover” in this way the idea of a dialogue. The dialogue of a dance couple, the dialogue with the music, the dialogue between the feet and the feet with the floor, drawing the famous ochos and thousands of things more – and, if it is called for, the dialogue between the feet and the legs with the air, drawing, with precision, boleos with clearly defined forms, created and recreated every time.
But, what does “adornment” consist of, also referred to as – hereafter – “embellishment”, “expressivity”…? The embellishment consists upon, precisely, expressing the essence of tango. It serves nothing to perform embellishments by means of technical procedure, if it is not truly understood “what it’s all about”. The legs of the (Female) dancer (and ATTENTION: also the ones of the (Male) dancer) are equivalent to one tango couple. They embrace, they come together, they dialogue, they cares… technically, this is fulfilled by means of a game of rotation of the articulations. This game of rotations must not be taken as something coldly technical, but instead as something absolutely natural and logical, as natural and as logical as language. The legs “express”, “are expressive”, when they have a language; not solely when they move.
In this way, we finish dispelling various myths:
- One, is that which says embellishments are “movements that one should learn to do” or “copy”. In no way is this true. Learning technique is of the upmost importance, but it alone is not enough. There are marvelous dancers that perform embellishments with true emotion, but we also see, unfortunately, the mere repetition of movements or copies of such or such dancer, without having truly understood their essence; in these cases, the “original” dancer is generally excellent, and the copies result as inconsequential, and sometimes unpleasing or even grotesque.
- Another, says that embellishment is merely “a woman’s doing”. In no way is this true. Embellishment is all that the man and/or the woman does without interfering with demarcation, or the step, figure, sequence, etc., including, with exactitude, the music and without producing any sort of vibration or yanking. For this, it is absolutely necessary for one to know how to uptake and follow, and to have a very good musical ear. (I always tell my students that a partner needs only find out that their partner does embellishments when they are watched on video. This happened to a famous dancer, who one day saw himself dancing with his partner and discovered that she embellished, and the reason why she received so many compliments.)
- Another: the one that says that “in order for the woman to adorn, the man must give her time”. This is only valid when choreography is concerned. But in improvised tango, it is in the intelligence, in the ability, in the tangueridad of the woman, to know if it corresponds, and in the affirmative case when, how, and what embellishment or type of embellishment is most adequate in each given circumstance. Of course, if the (Female) dancer has little experience it is not advised that she attempts it at a milonga; for that there are classes and practicas.
- One more: speaking of musical ear and musicality, some dancers (or apprentices) consider it enough to “listen to the rhythm”. Others, more advanced or exquisite, speak of “dancing the phrase”. We must clarify that this is not enough; it is necessary to understand the melody and particular expressivity of each musical piece, of every arrangement, of every version… And in this sense, the musicality that the dancers need goes much further than that of recognizing the “rhythm”, the “measure”, the “strong beat”, the “weak beat”, the “counter-time” and all those things which we habitually hear about (sometimes mixed around or confused). The musicality that is required is a very language that can be translated, that can invent and create over and over and a thousand times more the emotion, the compositional structure, the essence of this work in particular, and that this man and this woman have the good fortune of getting to dance this here and now.
- Lastly, it is necessary to mention that the embellishment isn’t limited to movement, and also is not limited to the feet and/or legs – these are perhaps simply the most visible - it is open to the entire body, it is an attitude, a quietude, the closing of the eyes, a pause, a succession of velocity changes and many other things that may and often times do need to be worked out technically, methodologically, but most definitively express the love and passion of dancing tango as each and every dancer and couple is capable of feeling.