What is musicality?
We had a very interesting conversation last week in the newly founded group about what is musicality. If you haven’t yet joined, do so! I read so many different responses but amongst them, there was almost always a common pattern. Most people agreed that at some level, musicality means being able to understand the different elements in the music and intentionally select one of them to dance to. Sounds easy… right?
But if you select one musical layer what do you do with the rest? If you select to represent one of the 3 or 4 elements then your dance focuses on them and the rest becomes irrelevant… They become noise! Sound that doesn’t have a specific meaning for you at that specific time.
The spotlight effect
Last May I visited Paris and went to quite a few museums, including the Louvre Museum. There are some artefacts in the museum that almost everyone knows and comes to see. The Niki of Samothrake, the Mona Lisa, the Aphrodite of Milos etc. Those masterpieces are usually placed in prominent places in a room. Mona Lisa for example is right in the center of a large room alone without any other paintings around it. Niki of Samothrake is on the of a staircase at the end of a long hallway again without any other artefacts around. The choice of creating a space just for one piece of art signifies that it is very important. It is so captivating, beautiful, and mesmerizing that you don’t want visitors who admire it to get distracted by other pieces around it. You want them to focus their attention on them and only them. So, to achieve this, you remove everything else around them.
As pointed out already, musicality is selecting and expressing one layer of the music. If the different layers in the music were museum artefacts, the one we express is the masterpiece that we want to highlight. If we follow the same logic as museums we should take away anything else around it. But what does this mean? How can you remove from music elements that already exist in it?
Well if can’t take away the surroundings, there is always another trick you can borrow again from museums and galleries. The spotlight effect. Think of your body as a spotlight in a dark museum room which includes the different elements of the music. If you want people to pay attention to the rhythm you turn the spotlight on it. The rest of the elements stay in the shadows. Your body, the spotlight shows only the rhythm. If you keep your body in the rhythm people will listen to it more prominently because you shed light on it. Easy… right?
Struggling with focus
In a workshop about milonga with Carlitos Espinoza, he told us that one of the biggest challenges in milonga is that it is quick and has too many stimuli for our brain. It makes us move much more than the usual tango music. Instead, as he said, we should be trying to silence our body and make it move to only what we want to. Our body might be the spotlight in the music museum but our mind is what controls it. When our minds get too much stimulus and have too many things around them they go crazy. They want to show everything. They get distracted every other second and turn the spotlight to a different artefact. This is the core difficulty. To focus our minds and keep them focused on a specific element when they are bombarded with an overwhelming amount of stimulus. If we manage to focus our mind we can then control our body.
When you struggle to stay focused on a specific element it is most probably because your mind doesn’t allow you to. You dance for example to Loca and you get to this last past where the violin solo comes in. You want to focus on this violin… it is slow, tense, and irresistible… but somehow… at the first opportunity the violins drag a note a bit longer, you can’t help it… you want to step on the double base hitting the beat below… so you switch to them and then the violin gets again your attention… and you want to switch back to it and so on. It’s a struggle…. your mind is battling… half of it screams listen to the violins…. while the other half jumps up and down on the beat! If you try to follow both halves you create a result like someone is turning this spotlight all over the place in the darkroom and in the end, you leave the room without having actually seen anything!
This is one most common problems even for advanced dancers. Letting the “noise” of the music interfere. People get overwhelmed by the music and instead of focusing on one aspect and turning the light on it, they turn the light all over the place every other second. I struggle with it myself too sometimes but I try to keep myself in check. I try to be aware when it happens and I immediately try to stop and focus on something specific again. Sometimes I even catch myself hating my choice and struggling to stay there, waiting for the right moment (end of the phrase) to jump on a different element.
What worked for me
So how can you shut your brain down and make it ignore all this amazing musical stimulus? You can possibly train it to do so. What I usually do (and this is partly advice from lessons) is to isolate the part I like and sing it myself alone. For example, let’s say I want to focus on this violin solo at the end of Loca. I listen to the song, and even better only the part I am interested in and then I stop the music and l just start singing it… again and again… like someone pressed the repeat on that specific part. Singing forces me to isolate that one part of the music and helps my brain isolate it. Later on, I start introducing small movements. Most of the time I tap my fingers because it’s super easy and you can do it anytime and anywhere you are. This helps my body tune in with my mind. Finally, I will try stepping on it. All this without listening to the actual music but just singing it myself. This way I manage to isolate the part I want and train my brain to stay focused and ignore all the other elements.
After I manage to do that when singing the element by myself, I then move on and challenge myself by adding the rest of the “noise”. I listen to the song again and try tapping my fingers to the element I like. If I see that even while listening to all the other aspects I manage to stay focused on my choice… then I know I am onto something! When I finally happen to dance it in a milonga… it is much easier both to focus and to stay there no matter what else is going on in the rest of the music.
As I already said multiple times I am no teacher and this is not a tutorial blog. I can only tell you what I found out working for me. It might not be the best practice and there are probably tons of other ways to achieve this isolation and focus of your mind but this is what worked for me and I thought I might share it. If you happen to have a trick or a brain hack that works for you… let us know.
Tonight’s Goodnight Tango
Tonight’s Goodnight Tango is of course Loca by the Tango Bardo orchestra who managed to make the role of violin in this piece even more irresistible throughout the song! Just wait for the final solo at 2:44 and try to focus on it!
So how about you? Do you struggle to focus on a part of the music? Is your dance clear or noisy? Do you catch yourself in this internal struggle between rhythm, melodies, bridges etc? How do you manage to avoid introducing noise in your dance?