Musical Interpretation with the 'Turn'.
Dearest Reader: A very important component in modern argentine Tango is the ‘turn’. Without the turn in the equation almost no one would be able to dance. Why ? While most people think or believe, and as is oft repeated, “Tango is a walking dance.” This is no longer the case. That being the state of the Tango world, then we as dancers need to understand the ‘turn’ and more importantly, how to apply it…musically. While anyone can perform a turn, which is easy once you’re over the hump of the steps you’re ‘supposed’ to do, the issue at that point is to apply it musically! And more importantly where to apply it. Today’s Tango Topic deals with the when and where but not the how. So without further yapping, a Musical ‘Turn’.
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Before we dive into talking about Musical Turns, we have to address a few things that will come up in reading this article –
1.) Tango Topics does not advocate the non-musical practice that some people teach or engage in known as ‘counting beats’ but rather understanding and then employing the 5 Musical Pause Types. Everything that Tango Topics advocates musically is built off this construct.
2.) In the instance of the Musical Turn, while we don’t have to hear a specific pause type, as is the case with the Argentine Cross, we do have to be able to hear them religiously without fail. This is one of those things that has to be so ingrained in you that you quite literally have to do it in your sleep. Sadly this process is not something that you can study for 5 minutes and then automagically be able to ‘get’. No! This is a process of a.) understanding. b.) application. and c.) practice, practice, practice with LOTS of corrective feedback. Fortunately this website has the necessary tools to help you to learn to discern this information for yourself! It will take you about 60 days of time to get the idea and once you do, your dance will never be the same. Ever.
3.) There is this erroneous belief that a lot of dancers engage in that the Lead is really the only person that needs to hear the music in order to access it. So the Follower shouldn’t really engage in hearing the music at all. They should just Follow what is being led. Ahem. This is so much of a ‘Not’! This article and nearly every article on this site advocates the role of the Passive Follower and the role of the Active Follower, and the role of the Follower in general. You’ll notice that nearly every article starts with the Follower’s Perspective because it’s that important! Here, in this instance, the reality is that the Follower must hear the beat. While they don’t necessarily need to hear the structure of the music, they do need to be acutely aware of the beat, and more important than that the time signature of the music. Constantly.
What is a Musical Turn ? First and foremost it is a ‘Turn’ or rotation that that the couple initiates within the line and lane of dance that can exist in one of three places in the music. 1.) The space between the musical pauses (which is what typically occurs). 2.) The actual musical pause itself, this is known as turning ‘On the Pause’. Or 3.) The notes just before or after the musical pause. 🙂
Secondly, a Musical Turn is a construct that starts, and ideally ends, on an accented note. That accent can be but is not limited to a Strong 1 of a 4 count, or it could be the odd lone accent note. However it can almost never exist inside a Sincopa structure, not without breaking the turn into paired movements. It can never exist inside a La Variacion (not socially) not without massive modifications to the structure of the ‘Turn’ in order to match the speed of La Variacion, and not without exacting precision in the execution of one’s technique. Otherwise it looks sloppy and appears ‘off’. A ‘Turn’ could be done off-beat, meaning on the upbeat and not the downbeat. However doing so can look, and more importantly ‘feel’ out of place. The only reason to do this is to extend your musical abilities, to flex your musical muscles. In other words, because you can. Which is to say, that just because you can do a thing, doesn’t mean that you should do a thing.
In Tango music we typically walk on the strongest 1st note and the weaker 3, always. Hardly ever do we walk on the strong 2, and much weaker 4 (especially if it’s Biagi). In Vals we have several options where we can walk on the 1 (which is what typically happens), or the 1-2, or the 1-3, or the 2-3. However this article will not cover those aspects, as dancing to Vals is a whole different idea all together. Nor will this article cover Milonga, again…very different ideas and dynamics.
Thirdly a Musical Turn can be but is not limited to, as the accent of the dance itself. Because Tango is no longer a walking dance, but in fact a turning dance, the turn itself is the accent itself and becomes the entire construct of the dance.
What is meant by the word ‘Turn’ ? Most people when they hear the word ‘Turn’ they think of The Follower’s Molinete/Lead’s Giro construct. There’s a good reason for this line of thinking, it’s because this particular type of turn is the first turn that most people are taught. It’s also the one that they see repeated over and over again all night long while social dancing. It is the ubiquitous and common vocabulary. What they may not realize, what you may not realize, is that there are 7 other common turns that we have to choose from. Which are, in case you’re wondering: 1.) Walking Turns. 2.) Calesitas. 3.) The Linear Ocho Cortado or Circular Ocho Cortado. 4.) Rock Step Turns. 5.) Colgada & Volcada Turns (including Single Axis Turns which are in the Colgada family). 6.) Media Lunas (or “half-turns”). and finally 7.) The Milonguero Turn. If you’re having trouble visualizing these ideas, please visit the links so that you can see them in all their glory. 🙂
It’s important to recognize that we don’t just want to employ one single type of turn constantly. Further that sometimes it’s judicious for floorcraft purposes that the ubiquitous Follower’s Molinete/Lead Giro may not work due to space, time, and the ability of the dancer isn’t quite up to snuff (yet). So for these two reasons it’s important for us to begin to employ other types of turns and make it so that we’re just as facile with these other types of turns to create facility in our dance from a leading perspective as well as from a following perspective.
The Completeness of the ‘Turn’. When most people hear the word ‘turn’ they immediately think THREE-HUNDRED-SIXTY (360) degree rotation. While it is desirable and advantageous to do a full 360 degree rotation with the couple, the reality is that for a variety of reasons, we may not actually get to complete the turn. Therefore it’s important to recognize that a turn does not have to be a full 360. Either a 90 turn (such as is the case with an Linear or Circular Ocho Cortado), or what is more likely to happen, a 180.
The Common 180 Turn has benefits and detractions. The benefits of a 180 degree turn are there are options and opportunities to create other vocabulary choices that may make accentuating the music that much more desirable than a full 360. Things that you would otherwise miss because you’re too busy rotating 360 degrees. So put simply, doing a 180 not only creates options for other vocabulary choices after the turn, but also creates greater opportunities to further match the music to the dance in greater detail. 🙂 However, there are detracting factors a 180. Sadly. And one of them, is that it slows down the line, lane, and progression (the ronda) of dance. 🙁 Still another one is that rotating the couple just 180 degrees tends to end up facing against the line of dance. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Major no-no. Obviously we don’t want to do this but it’s precisely what does happen.
The Follower’s Bane! The fact of the matter is that a good portion of Follower’s are pushed AND pulled through all manner of turns, they’re rushed through most if not all manner of turns. They’ve been pushed and pulled so often and told to hurry up more times than not, that at a certain point, they end up rushing themselves through a turn no matter what that type of turn is. As a result they stop listening to the music, and instead their only goal is listening to their lead who is themselves rushing through a turn and engaging what Tango Topics calls ‘The Lazy Man’s Turn’. In this scenario, while it is depicted with a Follower’s Molinete, it still applies to all turns – A Lead will turn slightly ahead of the Follower not really leading the turn but implying that the Follower will turn all by themselves. The Follower is left to their own devices as to what they should do, and because they’ve been led to the same type of turn over and over and over again, they default to a Follower’s Molinete to the Lead’s almost non-existent Giro. This is known as part of the Follower’s Default Behavior. As a result the Follower isn’t really paying attention to the music (and they need to), however they’re keenly aware that they’re not keeping up with the L/lead (the person/the action). As a result, their turn structure suffers, their execution of their practiced and honed technique falls apart, and everything looks sloppy. 🙁 Hence the reason why this is called “The Follower’s Bane”.
The reality is that this is not the Follower’s fault. It’s the Lead’s.
All That Said. This is a lot, and there’s rightfully a lot of stuff going on here. Before we go any further it’s important to recognize that we haven’t necessarily addressed the primary aspect of Musical Interpretation with regards to a Turn. We’ve spent most of the time of this article talking about the technical aspects and definitions of the turn concept. There’s a good reason for that, and that’s because this is a wide and vast concept with loads and loads variations on a theme. There’s also a bunch of stuff that hasn’t been mentioned but is implied, such a turn technique, the execution of the turns in different scenarios, floorcraft issues, and so on. And that’s not to mention the one thing that we absolutely have to talk about (which we’re going to do right now): When do we actually ‘turn’ and what we should start to practice so that we can hone our skills to become better dancers under all conditions. This isn’t just a matter of learning the steps, and you’ll magically become a better dancer. If it were that easy then tango would not be the intricate dance that it is today. The reality is that Tango is complex. The music is complex and so is the dance itself. That complexity creates near infinite possibilities.
A Last Definition of Terms. The Musical Statement. Anything between two pauses is a lot like an English (Spanish, Russian, German….) sentence that ends with a period, comma, or semicolon. The pause type tells you whether or not this is period, comma, or semicolon in terms of punctuation. If you were a paid subscriber, you would see what the 5 pause types are and how they relate to an English (German, Russian, Spanish….) sentence and grammatical structure here instead of the sales-like plug to get you to subscribe!
Honing Your Skills. As an important reminder: 1.) You need to understand the Musical Pause structure, and hear them religiously first and foremost. Without that in the equation, then you’re turning arbitrarily, and more importantly without purpose. 2.) The Follower must absolutely keep time with regards to the beat. While you don’t necessarily need to understand the pauses, you do need to keep time with the beat. 3.) You do need understand the 8 types of turns and be very familiar with them from a leading perspective (obviously) and a following perspective (respectively).
Let’s start with the simplest idea of the 3 already mentioned: The when to turn part.
You could quite conceivably initiate (leading) /respond to a turn (following) anywhere between two pauses. Which is typically what happens. However there’s just one little tiny issue with this idea. It looks haphazardly done. No matter where and how you do this, it looks out of place like it doesn’t fit. 🙁
You could try turning on the pause, and Tango Topics does talk about this in an addendum video that we’ll show later. However, there is another idea that we want to look at first for a reason, and that’s the placement of the turn near the start of the musical statement after a pause occurs. Thereby starting the the musical statement with turn, instantly.
Placing the turn here in this position, has a certain symmetry to it. That the dancer knows that the first thing that they’re going to do musically is a turn. And given today’s idea of tango then this isn’t such a stretch of the imagination. There’s just one little tiny problem with this idea, it doesn’t work. Why ? First and foremost, placing the turn structure here is out of place. It’s like starting a sentence with an Exclamation Point! Furthermore there’s no build up at all, there’s no resolution to an idea. We actually want to build and then resolve, build and then resolve. The turn is the resolution to an idea, musically, not building element. For that we use Traveling Ochos, and or Milonguero Ochos, and the 6 Ways of Walking to achieve our goals. So in a nutshell, not so much with the starting the musical statement with a turn. 🙁 This is the place where we would invoke an Ocho Transition (one of the 4 that are on this site), go look at your library for Ochos and Ocho Transitions. Oh wait, you’re not a subscriber, so you can’t see those Ocho Transitions in their entirety. Hmmm, maybe you should think about subscribing so you can see those transitions and why they’re important ?
So now we’ve removed the logic behind turning anywhere between two pauses…it’s haphazard. And we’ve removed the idea behind turning at the beginning of the musical statement – no build up. That leaves, turning at the end of the Musical Statement or just before the pause!
It’s at this point that you’re going to ask, because everyone does, how do you know that a musical statement is going to end ? Don’t you need to know the music, note for note ? Don’t you need to have memorized the music in order to do that ? That helps to a certain degree, yes. Familiarity is a key component to this stuff, however there is another by product that happens due to your study of the 5 Pause Types, you can actually anticipate the end of a statement in every style of tango music. You can hear them coming, and thereby the Musical Pause. So, ummmm, ‘No’, you don’t.
So now that we’ve determined when a pause can happen. How do you do that ? There is a very specific place we want to plan to engage in a turn. A very specific place indeed. While it may sound haphazard that it’s at the end of the musical sentence, it is anything but. And it depends largely on the type of turn you’re engaging in! And this is yet another reason why you want to be absolutely clear, without any doubt about a.) Your pause types. and b.) Your vocabulary choices. You must know them inside and out. Why ? Hmmm….because you’re not a paying subscriber you’re not going to get to see the why, and sadly you’re not going to get to actually see how and where this works in specificity in relation to a piece of music. You see, the video above is just a teaser, it’s not the whole video. It’s just a taste of the exercises that you want to do on a regular basis that show you, and give you a practice tool to help you a.) identify the pause. b.) be clear about the vocabulary, and c.) put the two together in time to the music on a regular basis. But alas my friend, this is the end of the ride right here unless you subscribe, you’re not going to get to see this stuff. Sadly.
The Wrap Up. So this is the how you turn part, and why this article isn’t showing you the technique of this stuff, because rightfully you already know this stuff, or at least you should already know this stuff. That’s why you have to know your turns! And also why the Follower has to be aware their vocabulary and how it’s constructed as well as being aware of the beat because they’re going to be led to matching the beat to their steps! So why not just ‘lead’ them to do it and they just enjoy the ride. Because in today’s Tango world that’s a Follower who is a drain to dance with that’s why. That and it’s no fun to dance with this kind of Follower. There’s no inspiration to dance with that kind of dancer. Ideally we want to dance with inspiration and not necessary an automaton or marionette. Which is precisely what that is, Marionette dancing! In days past, many decades ago, this was the norm. It’s not so anymore.
Most Followers, myself included – Yes I consider myself a Follower, do not necessarily know their own side of the vocabulary equation. They only know it from the kinesthetics involved that when you do “a”, “b” proceeds “c” and then “d” comes next and so on and so on. However, what we’d like to do as Followers is become a bit more aware of specifically what we’re doing in relation to the music.
Where can you study the Music ‘Stuff’ ? Tango Topics has recently changed its Musical offerings. A brand new system that offers to challenge and educate you at the same time. We have 8 courses you can self study with videos, history, and quizzes to help you to understand more about the dynamic and fascinating music that is the basis of what we dance:
1.) The Beat Course.
2.) The 5 Pauses of Tango Music.
3.) 14 Days of Tango Music – A Guided Tour.
4.) Tango Del Dia – Part 1 – 30 Days of Tango Music.
5.) Tango Del Dia – Part 2 – The Singers of Tango.
6.) Tango Del Dia – Part 3 – Sincopa, Accent Notes, & La Variacion.
7.) Tango Del Dia – Part 4 – The Structure of Tango Music.
8.) Tango Del Dia – Part 5 – Putting It All Together.
This video is NOT for sale. You can only view it with a Tango Topics Subscription.
About The Video. This video package comes in at 34m:57s in length in 3 Sections.
Section 5c1 – Turns – Not Technique – 00:06:51
Section 5c2 – Turns – With a Metronome – 00:20:57
Section 5c3 – Turns – With Music – 00:07:09
Pre Requisites for Musical Interpretation Section 5c
1.) Musical Interpretation 1 & 2 with the 6 Walking Systems
2.) Musical Interpretation 3 & 4 with Alternation & Symmetry
3.) Musical Interpretation 5a with Traveling Ochos
4.) Musical Interpretation 5b with The Argentine Cross
This video is NOT for sale. You can only view it with a Tango Topics Subscription.
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You could watch those videos and thereby spend your time, trying to infer, and figure out how things may work in that particular situation. Bend your body this way or that, twist and force this position or that. Place your foot here or there and figure it out. This is known as Tango Twister. Which can be a lot of fun, but more than likely it won’t help you, because you’re missing something: The explanation from an experienced teacher showing you how to properly excute this stuff from a Leading Perpective as well as from a Following perspective!
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