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How to dance the messa di voce?

posted Aug 13, 2014, 4:19 PM by Sophia de Lautour   [ updated Nov 13, 2014, 12:38 PM ]
A frequent question from my students over the years has been 'how to dance the long drawn out moments in tango music?  They are referring to the moments in a tango song when there is no beat; when all you hear is the singer stretching out one strong, clear note.  

In musical terms this is defined as messa di voce -  'a musical technique that involves a gradual crescendo and diminuendo while sustaining a single pitch'.1

So how does one dance such moments, where the vocals glide, and it feels as if time stands still?

'You can try to hold the position you're in, if you managed to be ready and stable when the note started - otherwise you are forced take a step, mid-note, where there is no beat. It used to feel absolutely maddening to me - moving during the note didn't feel right, but neither did simply stopping.' -  Mari K Johnson

Mari is referring to a messa di voce moment in Pedro Laurenz's Alma de Bohemio


Here's a video of one of my favourite tango bloggers Iona Italia, a.k.a Terpsichoral Tangoaddict, dancing with John Miller, to Alma de Bohemio. It's an excellent example of how to dance the messa di voce.

Notice how they treat the vocal glide at 1:18 - 1:33. John pauses and breathes in the music. Iona ornaments, her free leg expressing the melody. It's a beautiful moment in their display; a moment where their connection, their communion, is accentuated. 

Moving on from the topic of  sustained notes; and as So Tango's intermediate class is currently focusing on the americana  - I draw our students' attention to the americana moves at 0:14, 0:20 and 0:38. 

There's also some lovely ornamentation to the faster parts of the music. For example, see Iona's footwork at 2:18 - 19. How perfectly her little taps mark the end of the musical phrase.

John and Iona show great connection to each other and respect for the music, and that, for me, is what tango is all about.

Iona is a writer and tango teacher based in Buenos Aires. She can be contacted for her teaching and writing services via her Facebook Page.  John is a teacher, performer, and DJ based in Denver, Colorado.

This post was inspired by 'Dancing the Note - Laurenz "Alma de Bohemio' in My Tango Diaries.