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It takes three (or four) to tango

posted Jun 26, 2017, 7:42 PM by Sophia de Lautour   [ updated Aug 21, 2017, 4:56 PM ]
        
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In the old cliche
'It takes two to tango" the role of the music is ignored. The music is the ultimate leader in tango.  If therefore takes three to dance tango - or four if we consider social tango dancing and the impact of others on the floor. 

To illustrate this relationship I like to use the analogy of the earth (leader) and moon (follower) revolving around the sun (music) and the space between (others dancers)

The earth and moon both orbit around the sun. 
Guided by the music the leader and follower create their movement. The music enlightens and enlivens their movement. Inspired by the energy of the music the dancers respond with their unique physical expression, but always within the parameters of the music's rhythm, melody and mood.

The earth and moon are affected by each's gravitational pull
The leader's and follower's movement is dependent on and influenced by each other:

"If the Earth and Moon did not exert a force on each other they could each move independently of the other, but because they do exert a force on each other, their velocities are changed according to the magnitude and direction of each force and their respective masses. Since each is pulled toward the other, the Earth is pulled toward the Moon and therefore a little away from the path it would otherwise follow around the Sun in the absence of the Moon, and the Moon is pulled toward the Earth and therefore a little away from the independent path it would otherwise follow around the Sun in the absence of the Earth. If one or the other did not exist, the remaining object would orbit the Sun in an orbit nearly identical to the path the pair currently follows around the Sun, but since both exist they each follow a path that is roughly the same as their imaginary independent paths, but not quite the same paths as a result of their interaction with each other." 1

In tango a leader / follower simultaneously receives two 'pulls' - the pull of the music and that of their partner. 'Pull' here refers to a force that can suggest, open up or close off movement possibilities. The partner's pull is based on their position in space, velocity and direction.

A tango dancer needs to be able to stay simultaneously connected to the the music and ones partner.  S/he must find a way to synthesise both influences. From this synthesis comes the dancer's unique self expression.  Failure to do so will lead to loss of connection (orbit) with either the music or partner. The dance will be incomplete.

As suggested earlier, in social tango dancer there is a fourth element - the other dancers on the floor - the 'space between'.  It's a very dynamic space, the presence of which can greatly impact on the dance, depending  on how many 'others' there are!  A dancer's moves will be constrained by other dancers. When there is no room to move forward the leader may suggest the circular, spatially economic move of a giro. The follower, aware of space limits, will keep her footwork as small as compact as possible avoiding any temptation for kicks and flicks! When space opens up on a crowded floor the leader may be irresistibly drawn to take a spatially indulgent 'caminata'2.  

Not wanting to get too Newtownian, this post does not intend to reduce tango to classical mechanics. Tango is so much more than objects moving in space reacting to other objects. Tango is essentially the art of connection and an act of communion. That said, to be able to dance tango soulfully and pleasurably a practical understanding of the mechanics of tango is an essential prerequisite. 

In tango there is a complex alchemical interplay between leader and follower connecting and communing with the music and the other. From this alchemy the dynamism and magic of tango is forged!

1 C Seligman online astronomy course
2 'caminata': tango walk

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