Sunday, July 27, 2014

The musical "trigger" that does NOT mean "go!" (musicality lesson with audio example)

In Saturday's post, "The magical 7th beat - and the real reason you rush!" I revealed that in a normal 8-count phrase of tango, the 7th beat is often the last beat of rhythm that the bassist plays in the phrase

When he then takes his hand off the strings, he creates a pause!  That is, he gives the orchestra and YOU, the dancer, the counts of "and-EIGHT-and" to rest.

But many of you don't realize that the phrase hasn't yet ended, and that there's a whole 1.5 beats left after "SEVEN", the last rhythmic note! 

If you don't realize it, it's because the "and-EIGHT-and", while empty of rhythmic sound, is not silent.  It's usually loaded with something else that's melodic and interesting.  

And that "something else" is what so many of you are responding to.  

When you hear something new starting, you feel the urge to move! (Very many of you are doing this, tangueros and tangueras alike.)  

This is exactly where we find the "trigger" that makes you rush!  

Whenever the bassist gives the orchestra a pause, one or more of the melodic instruments usually take the opportunity to do one of three things:

1) They may embellish - like when the violins do a flourish, or the piano plays a melodic "plink-plink-plink". Melodic embellishments decorate the end of the phrase, and sometimes the middle of the phrase, adding artistry and expression to the tango being played. 

2) They may play an accent - just a single strike or two of a piano key.

3) And they may use the pause to introduce the next phrase!!

BINGO!!  Number 3 is your trigger!  

It's a melodic introduction to the next phrase, but it happens at the end of the current phrase.  The phrase you've been in hasn't ended, yet you hear a new musical theme beginning. And that makes many of you want to "GO!"  

In fact, that trigger to "go!" gives many of you anxiety, because you're afraid you'll miss the beginning of the new phrase . . . and look like you don't know what you're doing!  Well after this lesson, you WILL know what you are doing.

So when you hear the trigger of the melodic instruments introducing a new phrase during the pause at the end of the phrase you're in, what should you do? 

Your job as interpreter of the music is to stay where you are and complete the phrase with your axis still, enjoying your possibilities within the pause.  (In my next post, I'll talk about those possibilities.)

The bottom line for your dancing is that by learning to recognize and respect those 1.5 second pauses, staying calmly in your axis with your free leg relaxed, and being present with your partner, you start to become a dream to dance with.

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Now I'll show you some examples of the melodic introduction of a new phrase during the rhythm-less 1.5 seconds after the 7th beat.  We'll look at a tango that everyone knows well, "Al Compas del Corazon", by Miguel Caló with Raul Beron. 

"The trigger" - that is, melodically introducing a new phrase in the pause after "SEVEN" of the previous phrase - happens in 9 phrases of this tango!  The introductions are sometimes played by the violins, sometimes by the piano, sometimes by the whole orchestra and sometimes by the singer. 

So there are 9 points at which you might otherwise rush, by anticipating the new phrase!  I'll show you two of them right now.

Please play this Youtube recording of "Al Compas .  . ." so you can follow along with my description below:

Preliminary note:  At the end of the first phrase, at around 0:8 seconds, violins introduce the next phrase, but the bass plays rhythm all the way through "EIGHT-and", so you'd be driven to keep walking or stepping. And you'd be accurate and correct.

Now for the two example triggers: 

Example AThe second phrase starts at 0:9. Here the bassist plays "ONE-and" through "SEVEN".  At 0:15 there's a deep piano accent on the " 'and'-after-the-'SEVEN' ", followed by the whole orchestra's introducing the next phrase on "EIGHT-and". The new phrase begins at 0:17, when it's time for you to "go".

That means that for 1.5 seconds, from about mid-0:15 (deep piano accent) through 0:16, you are still!  STILL!  You're not traveling in any step, until the "ONE" of the next phrase, which you'll hear at 0:17 seconds.

Will you take a moment now and go through the second phrase of this tango, from 0:9 - 0:16 seconds, and make sure my description makes sense to you?  If this is new for you, you may have to listen to the phrase and review my notes a few times.

About that moment of stillness at 0:15 - 0:16, during which you make no steps on the "and-EIGHT-and":  Saturday I said that you don't have to "stand there like an idiot" while there's music going on.  

Do you have any ideas about what you could be doing instead, during the 1.5 second pause? Make a note of your ideas. I'll make some suggestions in my next post. 

Here's Example B - It's a solo violin introducing the next phrase, and it's the only one in this tango using the entire "and-EIGHT-and".

This passage occurs at about 2:08 in the recording, in the first phrase the orchestra plays when Beron stops singing. For the next seven counts the bassist rhythmically accompanies the orchestra as it repeats the main theme, but in a new key. 

Then, at 2:16 (on "SEVEN"), the bassist plays his last beat of the phrase, then disappears, as a single violin enters to melodically introduce the next phrase during the "and-EIGHT-and" pause!  This is really a classic formula that you'll find in many tangos.  (The violin solo continues for the whole next phrase, but you can dance on that because there's bass rhythm accompanying the violin through "SEVEN". We're just concerned right now with the pause at the end of the preceding phrase.)

So for the second half-second of 2:16 ("and-"), and all of 2:17 ("EIGHT-and"), be still and don't go anywhere!  

If you're traveling on those first notes of the violin solo, before the bassist comes back in on 2:18, you are rushing!

When that solo violin starts playing, you're still in the same phrase!  There's a rhythmic silence, so stay where you are. No steps, no figures for that 1.5 seconds.  

But that doesn't mean "stop dancing".  On the contrary.  These silences in your dancing can be the key to your greatest moments of connection, communication, and even seduction in your tango!  

And that will be the subject of my next post.  I'll also have another audio example for you.

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Did you jot down some thoughts about what you could be doing in the 1.5-second pause when the bass disappears after the 7th beat?  Please leave your ideas, or tell us what you already do, in the comment section below!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The magical 7th beat - and the real reason you rush!

Many of you have told me about your problem of rushing on the dance floor . . . or that your partner rushes.  

There is no rush in tango.  Not even in milonga.  Not even in a corrida (a “run”).  Every single movement, and non-movement, in social tango is done calmly and deliberately, even when the music is fast or when it’s dramatic and passionate.  

I’ve always said that “Rushing in tango = ANXIETY”.  When one partner rushes, it means they’re stressed. Rushing kills all the pleasure for both the rusher and the partner. 

When you rush, your partner can’t enjoy your company.  If the man is rushing, the woman can’t feel safe with him, because he doesn’t give her the time that she needs to be secure in her axis between steps. If the woman is rushing, she’s anticipating.  In both cases, the partner who's rushing prevents any meaningful dialog or artistic co-creation from taking place. 

I’ve written a number of articles on my blog about why you may be rushing, and what you can do about it.  I’ve written a number of articles on my blog about why you may be rushing, and what you can do about it.  My main premise was that if you’re a rusher, it’s because you’re afraid - 
- afraid to be still and silent on the dance floor,
- afraid to miss a beat in the music,
- afraid you’ll be judged and criticized for not “doing” something,
- afraid your partners will think you don’t know what you’re doing.  (On the contrary!  Those who do less are those who know more.)

But I recently made a breakthrough discovery about the true source of anxiety that makes people rush and I can’t wait to share it with you:

Almost everyone who rushes is misinterpreting the music at a very specific, recurring point that happens in phrase after phrase of many tangos. 

* * * * *

I’m going to tell you the precise cause of this problem, and how you can recognize the musical trigger that throws so many people off.  I’ll tell you how you can - and must - do something much more musically accurate and emotionally meaningful, as you effortlessly eliminate the rush.

“The trigger” happens in the last two counts of a musical phrase.  And it’s part of the repeating phrase-structure of a great number of tangos.

But first I must give you some background info about how tangos are structured.

If you saw my two “quick-and-dirty analysis” musicality training videos over the last couple of weeks (going back into the archives on Monday), you saw me counting and marking on a chart mostly phrases of 8 rhythmic counts.  

Now, I don’t want you to count while you’re dancing in a milonga; I want you to FEEL the music, and “dance with your heart”.  However, I DO want you to count when you’re studying a tango so you can really understand what’s going on in the music.

Most tangos are structured in phrases of 8 counts.  The 8 counts are made of downbeats (strong beats) and upbeats (weak beats), that are played by the single rhythmic instrument in the orchestra - usually the double bass (contrabajo), or occasionally, the low keys of the piano.  

The count given by the bass usually goes “ONE and TWO and THREE and . . .”, continuing through “EIGHT and”.   The integers (1, 2, 3, etc.) are the downbeats, and the “ands” are the upbeats.  

Please make sure this is clear to you before reading on.  If it’s not, go back to the video of my “stick-chart” analysis of a Regular tango.

Tango music usually calls us to step on the downbeat, and to rest on the upbeat.  The upbeat is most often a moment when we can ground ourselves between steps, relaxing our free leg as it swings.  

I call that split-second rest the “micro-pause”.  I also call it the “Split Second Difference in Your Tango”, because this micro-pause can make the DIFFERENCE between mediocre and excellent dancing.  

When the bassist takes his right hand off the strings of his instrument, for a full beat or longer, he’s offering a greater pause, a “macro-pause”, to the orchestra and to the dancers.  

In the most commonly structured tangos of the Golden Age, the ones I call “regular tangos”, . . . and here’s my “writer-downer” message to you today:   

. . . the 7th beat is often the last beat the bassist plays in a phrase!  He leaves “and-EIGHT-and” quiet, inviting you to pause.  

You can eliminate what is possibly the major cause of your rushing by  listening for the rhythmic sound of the bass through the 7th beat in a phrase of tango, and respecting the rhythmic pause that often occurs in the “and-EIGHT-and” at the end of the phrase.

If this is new to you, please take a moment and let it sink in before continuing.  

"But," you might argue, after listening and indentifying the 7th beat in several phrases of a classic tango, “there’s plenty going on in the music after the 7th beat!  Am I supposed to just stand there like an idiot while music is playing?” 

Great question, and you’re right.  Rarely is there total silence when the bass gives the orchestra a pause at the end of a phrase.

Which brings us to this week's BIG LESSON:   the "musical trigger" that makes so many people rush!  

I'll be back in my next post to reveal exactly what the trigger point is, and I'll even give you some examples of where it happens in two popular tangos.  Then I'll tell you how to use it to your great advantage, to make your tango feel beautiful and to increase connection with your partner!

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Meanwhile, please leave your comments below!  Do you sometimes rush during your tangos?  What do you think is causing it?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Tango tip for men: Lose the Gringo Triangle!

Here’s another quick tip about your embrace, tangueros.

I’m always picking on North American and European men, who are the people I most often help with their tango. (Tangueros from Asia, Australia and Africa, you listen up too!)

Gentlemen, you usually have a little geometric detail in your tango that I want you to eliminate!  

I call it “the Gringo Triangle”.  It’s a little triangle of space between the inside of your right elbow and the woman’s torso.  

Close this gap!  

When you raise your right arm to enter a close embrace, seek contact first with the crook of your elbow, and keep that contact as long as you are in close embrace.  If you’re not doing this already (I’ll bet you’re not), this little detail will transform your embrace. It will feel wonderful to the woman you’re dancing with.  

I did some research over my last few months in Buenos Aires. Every time I danced with a Porteño who felt like a dream, I observed that the ribs on my left side felt nice and warm, in full contact with my partner’s arm.  

In this video are lots of examples you can study for a great right arm:

[I noticed one man in the video who seems to have the Gringo Triangle.  Maybe you did too. I won't identify him, but he’s a regular at Lujos and a pretty nice dancer, and he’s from Europe.]    

Tangueras, please notice this when you’re dancing in close embrace with someone wonderful.  Do you feel that spot on your ribs, near his right elbow, nice and warm and cozy - connected to him?

Then, tangueros, once you’ve made good contact with the inside of your elbow, let your right hand be full of energy and taking responsibility on the opposite side of her torso.  (See Gustavo's right hand example in yesterday's post, as well as almost every example in the video from Lujos above.) Your forearm will feel to your partner like it’s flexible and curving around her, because the important, purposeful contacts are your right hand and inside your elbow.

Close this little gap if you want to increase connection, and make your embrace feel magical.  Or if you want to be mistaken for a Porteño on the dance floor!

Let me hear from you. What do you think about the "Gringo Triangle"?  Please comment below this post!

Friday, July 18, 2014

A tango tip for men: Your hands in the embrace

Last week I posted about a problem many tangueras have with their right arm and hand, and how to easily fix it.

Now let’s look at the tanguero’s left hand . . . and his right hand, too! 

A picture is worth 1,000 words.  I recently found this image on a Facebook page for an event with Gustavo Naveira and Giselle Anne

What an embrace!!  

It's an almost perfect example for you of what I described on the recent podcast, and have been teaching for years.

Aside from Gustavo’s being in love with the woman he's embracing, and the father of her children . . . Gustavo is literally a master of masters.  

Notice his right hand on Giselle Ann's body, just below her shoulder blade.  In our recent podcast on “Embrace, Intention, and Decisiveness in Your Lead”, I had said that Porteños tend to have a rather “possessive” quality in their right hands on their partners‘ upper bodies for the 10 minutes of a tanda.

When you look at Gustavo’s photo, do you see what I meant by "possessive"?  He is not afraid to let his masculinity "intrude" or presume. There is absolute confidence - and authority - in that hand.  

There’s authority in his left hand too.  Gustavo uses his left hand slightly differently from what I recommend to you, but it’s close!  His palm faces the center of the embrace (my preferred position is palm facing your cheek).  He positions his left hand close to the midpoint between their bodies, slightly back toward his shoulder, and outstretched just enough to let Giselle’s arm fall gracefully into a comfortable, relaxed position.

Notice the "kiss my hand" energy of her beautiful right arm.  It is relaxed, but not limp! It’s energetic, because there’s life in her hand!

Gustavo's other variation from the classic left-hand Tango Salon position I always describe to you is that he grasps Giselle’s fingers, so their palms don’t connect.  I recommend to all of you that you make great contact palm-to-palm. Remember, your hands are on a 3-mintue date, just like the rest of you!

Tangueros, I recommend that you go ahead and copy Gustavo's embrace!  (Just turn your left palm a tad more toward your cheek, and let your partner fully connect her palm with yours.)

Have a great weekend, and let me know your thoughts about what I'm saying about the embrace!  Just write in the comments area below.

A tango tip for women: your right hand!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

On the July Q&A coaching call for members of our "Tango Improvisation Mastery" online home study system, one tanguero asked, "What do I tell a woman whose right arm is limp?" 

Our tanguero was talking about his not enjoying a tanguera's embrace in a practica situation, where it's often appropriate to give feedback, unlike in a milonga.

The answer to the woman's limp right arm problem is so simple, I can explain it in one minute:

In the tango embrace . . .

Man/woman handshake.

. . . the energy in the woman's right hand should be just like the energy in a good handshake, with a solid, palm-to-palm connection.

"You may kiss my hand" gesture.

But her arm should relax, as if she were offering her hand with the unspoken comment:  "You may kiss my hand".
Tangueras, this combination gives your arm just the right degree of resistance and responsiveness to your partner's lead, without your doing anyting artificial.  And it beautifully engages your right side in the "circle of energy" that constitutes the tango embrace.  (Remember, I am always talking about Tango Salon.)

Whenever I have taught embrace to beginner or experienced tangueras, I have always said, "The energy in your right hand is like . . . " and I offer my right hand, saying, "I'm Helaine.  Pleased to meet you."  And the woman shakes my hand, as if we were two businesswomen meeting for the first time.  "And the energy in your arm is like . . .", (and I demonstrate the gesture) "You may kiss my hand." 

It is so natural, and everyone "gets it" immediately!  My Tango Ladies have always had beautiful right arms with good energy.

Why don't you try this at your next class, practica or milonga?

There are other factors to consider on the woman's right side of the embrace, but I'll save them for future tips!  

I'd love to hear from you. Please write your questions or thoughts in the comment area below!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Tango Mojo Weekend Video: It ain't "Rose Vine Tango", but it's great! (Capussi/Flores)

I found this video on Facebook today.  It's a brilliant comic performance, two outstanding pieces, by Eduardo Capussi and Mariana Flores (the by-now-legendary tango vampire and bride).  IT MAY TAKE A FEW MOMENTS TO LOAD.  Be patient - it's worth it!  Then hit the "enlarge" icon on the bottom, far right of the video, and watch it enlarged from the beginning.  Have fun and have a great weekend!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Ask Helaine AND Videos of the Week: Who were the tango legends?

Today's question comes from a tanguera in Switzerland.

"Do you have any suggestions of videos I could watch of “older” tango dancers? 

I want to learn more about how tango started. Any legends you would recommend?" 

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Thanks for your question, tanguera!

For an overview of the origins of tango, you might start with Christine Denniston’s website:  "The History of Tango"

But today, to answer your question directly and show you some special videos, we can get started by looking at a few of the early legends who helped shape tango history.  

One can hardly talk about the history of tango dance without mentioning “El Cachafaz” ( Ovidio José  Bianquet, nickname Benito, 1885 - 1942) and his last and longtime partner Carmencita Calderon (1905 - 2005).  

“El Cachafaz” - talk about a legend!  I don’t know of any other “bailarin” from the first few decades of the 20th century who made history as Cachafaz did. 

El Cachafaz and Carmencita have been captured in very few films, but they star briefly in one scene in the 1933 film “Tango!” 

(The clip has a great cabeceo in it, but it's not about dancing. The frustrated lady "getting cabaceo'd" is the great singer, Tita Merello.)

You might be surprised by the "kick in the butt" that seems to occur at 0:19, coming from this calm and elegant man, while Carmencita doesn't batt an eye.  Carmencita spoke in interviews about how respectful Cachafaz had always been to her, referring to her as "usted" (the formal "you") rather than "vos" (informal), even though they danced together in close embrace for a decade. The kick seemed out of  place to me, until a friend referred to that move as a "gancho" by Cachafaz!  Very different from the ganchos of the last 50 years, isn't it?

According to one resource, the film “Tango!”, available in its entirety on Youtube, was Argentina’s first motion picture with sound.  It has an all-star cast of tango singers and orchestras

Back to Carmencita Calderon, notice the dates of her life.  She lived to be 100!   In fact, on her 100th birthday in 2005 there was a big party for her at the milonga “La Baldoza” in Buenos Aires.  My friend and teacher Jorge Dispari had the honor of dancing with her. 


At 100 years old, Carmencita had not lost her rhythm, nor her footwork!  Jorge told me that she felt so fragile, he was afraid to hurt her!  In this birthday tango, this master leader improvises very simply.  But if you watch carefully, you may notice that there were a few glitches between them.  Who cares, really?  However, I mention this just to underscore that tango has evolved over the decades; some of the elements Jorge leads and that we commonly use today surely go back to the time of Carmencita’s prime, but some seemed to be unknown to her.  (And perhaps vice versa! Carmencita does some deliberate movements that I don't recognize from our current tango language.)

To be fair to Carmencita as a legendary dancer, here is a video from 5 years earlier, where at 95, she performs a milonga.  Her partner is Juan Averna.  The piece is “Milonga Vieja Milonga” played by Juan D’Arienzo’s orchestra. 

Her timing is impeccable!

And here she is again, much younger with her partner of that time wearing a white "compadrito" neck scarf, as she points out, in a segment from a 1970 documentary.  

They're dancing to a tango from "La Guardia Vieja" (the Old Guard), called "El Apache Argentino".  Can anyone identify the orchestra?  It sounds to me like Juan Maglio Pacho, who first recorded it in 1912, but this is clearly a later version!

How do you like those legs, tangueras? She's decisive, and she's creating this tango with her partner!

If you look for Carmencita Calderon on Youtube, you’ll find other performances, and some very informative and eloquent interviews and speeches.

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Today, by the way, May 31, is the 83rd birthday of legendary tango artist Juan Carlos Copes, whom I’ll feature in an upcoming article, together with his longtime partner Maria Nieves and two other important couples who played a big role in bringing tango to rest of the world!

I encourage everyone to leave your comments in the space below the article!

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Do you have a question or a challenge in your tango that I can answer for you in our no-cost program "Ask Helaine?" 

I invite you to submit your question on any tango topic today!  Just copy and paste the form below into an email to  Please use "Ask Helaine" in the subject line.

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