Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The man who taught me tango musicality (video)

I have a story to tell you about tango musicality, and two holiday treats:  a wonderful tango video and a special holiday offer that it inspired!

Here's my story about how I became a tango musicality specialist:

Like some of my readers - maybe you, among them - I, as a developing tango dancer, always seemed to have a good, innate sense of the music, even though I had studied very little music as a kid.  At local milongas as well as in cities abroad, I'd sometimes receive compliments like, "I love how you feel the music", or "Your timing . . . it's amazing!" or "My favorite things about you are your embrace and your musicality".  

When I started to teach, it pained me to see my students focusing on their steps and not knowing what to make of the music.  I had naively expected it to come naturally to them, as it had for me. So even in my early years as a teacher, I devised a few simple systems to help my students better understand the music.  Though I was winging it back then, creating by intuition, my efforts helped many of my students.  Back then, by the way, not many people were using the word "musicality"!

Fast forward to around 2006, when my school in Italy, UmbriaTango, was maturing and had 150 students.  I consistently brought in top Argentine instructors who were traveling in Europe.  One of my students convinced me to invite Jorge Dispari and Marita (Maria del Carmen, a.k.a. "La Turca"). I knew of them, but only as the mother and stepfather of tango diva Geraldine Rojas.  

Jorge Dispari and Maria del Carmen
Jorge and Marita turned out to be wonderful teachers for my students, and models for me as a teacher.  I'd bring them to my school for a month at a time about twice each year, for a couple of years. They were so much fun to hang out with after hours, especially at long, private dinners in the homes of some of my students.  They'd keep me up talking about tango long into the night. 

I was very proud of my students, who were often admired in other tango communities, and were generally successful in local and out of town milongas.  I'd receive appreciative comments like, "Helaine, you can always tell who are your students."  However, during Jorge's first teaching week in my school, he remarked, "Your students are good, but they're missing something critical".   My ego flared up inside, because I had a lot invested in being recognized as a good teacher.  But I humbly and eagerly asked what it is.

Jorge Dispari
Jorge said, "They don't know how to dance the pauses."  My jaw fell, and I felt like a jackass.  Up to that point, I had not made pauses in the music an important element in my teaching.  I had worked with my students on phrasing, but did not identify the pauses at the end of, or sometimes in the middle of, a phrase.  I wasn't sure I could figure it out on my own.  

It hurt to hear my teaching criticized, but that criticism turned out to be one of the biggest blessings in my career.

In the weeks that Jorge and Marita were with us in Perugia, the word "musicalidad" flew around a lot.  He "dripped" bits of his precious musicality knowledge into our classes.  I was hungry to know it all.  

Finally, I took the bull by the horns and booked a private, 3-hour musicality session with Jorge, their last week in town.  I brought my tango shoes and a notebook to the home of my student who hosted them.  We all had an Umbrian country-style lunch, and then Jorge and I moved to the living room with all the furniture pushed to the walls, as it had been all month for private lessons.  

Jorge said, "No, don't change your shoes", and told me to sit on the olive-green plush sofa. He began to hold forth, standing two meters in front of me.  I received a 3-hour, private lecture, with ongoing demos in which Jorge snapped his fingers to various tangos he played on the stereo, and then tested me with "Now you do it".  I did good.  What Jorge taught me felt so right.  It immediately raised my sensitivity to precisely what the orchestra was doing.  It gave me clarity that went way beyond my innate feeling for the music!

When I went back to the U.S. in 2008, I worked with tango students in Naples, Florida and gave private musicality lessons to a few.  I started with Jorge's system, as much as he had given me in three hours. Over time I developed my own system, with Jorge's key principles as my foundation.

I grew to love watching Jorge and Marita dance, because I love their musical interpretation.  Sometimes, they strike a deep chord with me in the music. (No pun intended, really.  I mean "a deep emotional chord".) 

Here below is one such performance.  They're dancing three pieces at one of my favorite milongas in Buenos Aires, "Viva La Pepa" at Villa Malcolm.

Let me know in the comments section below how you like these two tangos and one milonga.  Watch particularly Jorge's use of pauses!  Also look at that walk - calm, grounded, and powerful.  (You might notice that sometimes Marita's feet do not glide on the floor, but she seems to lift them. That's because of the power in Jorge's "intention"!  Knocks her feet right off the ground. I've experienced it myself!)

In the two tangos, sometimes Jorge seems to be pausing even while the bass is playing rhythm.  Yes, he's still, but he's actually observing the rhythm - by painting it with Marita's feet!  

Enjoy these two tangos and one milonga, and tell me what you observe about Jorge and Marita's musical interpretation, in the comments section below!

Jorge Dispari and Maria del Carmen (Marita) in a performance at "Viva La Pepa" milonga in Buenos Aires.

* * * * *

Tangueros, would you like to dance as simply (except for some of them wicked giros), and right-on-the-money as Jorge does here?  

And, tangueras, I don't believe Jorge could do what he does without such a perfect co-pilot as Marita, who loves and knows the music as well as he does.  

In honor of Chanukah, the festival of miracles and of light, and to start off the holiday season, I have a special musicality offer today.  Would it feel like a miracle to you if in a few weeks you knew an important part of what Jorge knows? I'd like you to get the benefit of what Jorge taught me, and the way I've made it the foundation for the program I created for my students and coaching clients.  CLICK HERE for a special introductory offer

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