Metaphorically dancing…


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Metaphors in speech and dance

As you may have realized by now if you follow the blog, I love using metaphors to explain tango-related issues. One of the most common metaphors that I use (and a widely used one in general) is that dancing tango is like speaking a language or having a conversation. Based on this parallel I have written about so many things. Just to mention a couple musicality is the opinion on music and dancing is like storytelling.

However, I have never really thought about the connection that metaphors can have with dancing. You can actually dance a melody literally or metaphorically. It dawned on me the other day. I was on a musicality workshop about counter melodies with Horacio Godoy and at some point he told the phrase… “you can do something metaphorical” (speaking about dancing to a counter-melody) and they demonstrated what they meant with Maricel the second after. The counter-melody was played by the violins so they did a kind of fluid and soft motion resembling the softness and fluidity of the violins we were listening to. It was metaphorical because their movements were not totally in sync with the melody. I mean there was no specific step or movement in sync with every different note played by the violins but they were just following the idea and sensation this sound created in them. On the other hand, when he later explained about dancing to some other melody he showed us what dancing literally to the melody means by stepping exactly on each different note played in the melodic line.

An opposite analogy?

Usually speaking metaphorically is slightly more difficult and complicated both for the speaker and the listener. Simply because they both need to understand the connection, the similarities, and the parallels between the metaphorical and literal concepts. That’s why some of my texts are quite long. I need to take time to explain what the connection is and what we can learn and transfer from the metaphorical concept to Tango dancing.

When dancing, however, being literal can be quite a big challenge. Depending on which layer of the music you want to dance to, literal can be from very easy to very challenging. For example, if you want to dance to the rhythm of DiSarli’s famous Bahia Blanca, things can be very easy. That’s the reason why such songs are quite often used in beginner classes. If you however want to dance to the melody layer of Malena from Troilo things get a bit more difficult. The more complex and varied the phrasing of the melody is, the more challenging it gets to nail it literally with different steps or moves.

Why is that so? Because we are simply programmed to work very well when we need to move in a specific rhythm but not so well to move at a constantly changing unpredictable pace that goes from 0 to 100 and then to 50 in seconds. This is what is often called phrasing…. or simply put the variation in the times between each different note in a melody. A melody can start with one note now then the next after one second and then the next three after that cramped in a space of one second. The rate the notes will hit you is totally unpredictable and we are not used to moving in such ways. Add to it, that you also need to sync with your partner and it gets even more complicated.

So if we say that the melody is the main theme of each song, depending on the song, the orchestra, and even the period of recording, it can be quite easy or difficult to dance literally and in most cases, it tends to be difficult. On the other hand, speaking is easier when you do it literally than metaphorically. Would that mean that dancing metaphorically is easy? Is there an opposite analogy here?

Understandable metaphorical dancing

Given the fact that in metaphorical dancing you don’t have the difficulty to match exactly the phrasing of the melody, one can say that yes, metaphorical dancing is easier. You can dance to whichever notes of a melody you like and claim that this is metaphorical dancing. You might even dance using your own timing and claim that you are dancing metaphorically. Everything can be claimed to be a metaphor in dancing if it does not follow exactly a specific musical layer. But is it really?

Think about a person who tries to communicate a message to you using a metaphor that barely relates to the message. It would take a considerable effort to explain what is actually the connection with the literal message. Even so, the connection might not be understood, flaws in the logic might be identified and in general, the metaphor is creating a bunch of problems and miscommunications that don’t help at all in transmitting the actual literal message.

Metaphors need to have a clear connection with the literal message to be easily understood and help in the message delivery. The same stands for dancing too. If you dance metaphorically a melody you need to make sure there is a clear connection to it. Pick some qualities of it and express them in your movement. Is the layer of the music soft?… light?…heavy?… quick?… etc. then adjust your movement accordingly.

The more distinctive the quality you pick the better! It will make your connection between the metaphor and the literal message (the music) evident. Your dance will make sense much easier. People will be able to understand much easier what you dance to and most importantly, your partner will get your message much easier. This will empower them to decide what to do next. Follow you… Or pick a different layer to dance to (if this is possible technically)

Finally, metaphors in dance make sense mostly when we dance to melodies. If you dance to the rhythm there can be no metaphors there. The message is as clear as it gets and no metaphors fit to communicate it.

Tonight’s Goodnight Tango

Tonight’s Goodnight Tango is from Adriana Varela and the title “Garganta con arena” (Voice with sand) is a metaphor referring to the voice of Roberto Goyeneche. A singer whose phrasing and expression of melodies is so unique that it left a mark on Tango. A singer whose phrasing is a real challenge and an amazing pleasure when you manage to dance it literally!

How about you? Have you ever considered the parallels between literal and metaphorical speech and dance? Do you have difficulties dancing to melodies literally? Do you consciously choose to dance literally or metaphorically a music layer? Are your metaphors successful? Are they understood by your partner? Do they make sense? How do your partners react? Let me know with a comment below, an email, or a PM on Facebook… oh… and if you liked it… don’t forget to share it with your friends.


2 responses to “Metaphorically dancing…”

  1. davidtangotribe Avatar

    Your essay on the Literal–Metaphorical continuum is a deep cut on dancing musically. And your choice of Adriana Varela’s “Garganta con arena” beautifully illustrates your thesis. I especially like your point about connecting with something in the music. If we can’t connect with others through some shared connection (responding to a recognizable element of the music), then our movement poetry becomes merely word salad.

    Thank you for making me aware of the ReadAloud Widget. For those who prefer listening over reading, it is wonderfully intelligible.

    Tiny typo: On the other [hand,] speaking is easier when …

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