Teacher Training

In-depth musicality

September 1-5, 2016



workshop with tomás Howlin

musical expression with the whole tango-body

friday 6:00 pm

Homework for class participants

Orquesta tipica Julio de Caro

Tango dance and tango music

In Argentine Tango, dance and music are intimately related. We know that both were born and developed together. There was not one without the other. This phenomenon is very characteristic of tango culture. As an example, there is a traditional story that tells us that the tango first originated as a dance. It was the dancers who, by the way they embraced and moved, inspired the musicians to adapt their tunes and manner of playing to echo their movements. According to that story, that was the birth of tango music, and that co-creative process was maintained and fostered throughout the Golden Era.

Today, we cannot know if that tale is true for certain, but it is indeed a very intriguing story. Tango dancers like to feel relevant and part of the creative process in the art. They like to think that each song is an opportunity for recreating the tango.

This story also points us in the direction of musical interpretation through dance. The music asks for a way of moving and the dancer reflects the music. In Spanish we call this “bailar en la musica," dancing in the music.

A tango dancer can get to this place of intimate communion with the music by listening and following the music attentively. More precisely, by listening, sensing, and getting to know the music better every day.

The layers in the music

For the purpose of this workshop, and to study the relationship between music and dance, we will separate a tango song into three, interconnected layers.

First, there is the orchestral layer. An orquesta tipica will probably consist of eight to twelve musicians. We think of all orchestra members playing as one, and we identify the general character of the tango sound they create as their orchestral style.

Second, the orchestra is divided and organized into sections. It has a strings section, a bandoneon section, piano, and double bass. This is a second layer.

Third, at the same time all these musicians are playing together and shaping that style, each musician also plays distinct and separate sounds that can clearly be distinguished and appreciated. This personal touch adds to the overall style. Being able to hear each instrument separately is a skill that takes training, but it is possible to do. Once you can do this, you will find that the music becomes a lot more personal. You can gradually get a sense of the person behind the instrument. This is yet one more layer of a song.

Dancing the music

As a tango dancer you follow the music. You can follow the orchestra, a section, or one of the musicians. Basically, this means that you can choose to listen to and follow the orchestra as one massive stream of sound, or you can choose an orchestra section, like the string or the bandoneon section, and dance to that. Or, if you are able to distinguish one individual instrument, you can follow that one. You can also choose to change what you are listening to as the song continues.

As you follow the music, you are interpreting the song, and given the nature of this dance, you will probably improvise and dance each song differently every time you dance it. Each song and each part within the song is an opportunity for creativity.

The question is: what instrument or section do you choose to follow at a given time?

This workshop will follow up with the answer to that question. It will help you identify your musical choices. Once you have chosen the sound you want to dance to, how do you express it? This is a big question for tango dancers. For now, the short answer is that you will use your body. The body is the tango dancer’s musical instrument.

During this workshop, we will try to identify different ways of expressing the music with our whole body. We will see how we can better use different body sequencing and movement intention to express different musical choices.

In preparation for this workshop, I would like to ask you to do the following exercise. Between now and the time of the class, take some time and think about this topic. How would you interpret each song differently? I will also ask you to answer some questions that we will use later during class.


Imagine you are dancing tango on your own, without a partner. Think of a cluster of sounds that all together represent a certain musical texture or flavor. At times this is a stress in the music, other times it is a quiet rest, or a driving melody.

You want move and express those textures with your body, using your tango moves. You could also use a complete tango figure (sequence of steps).

Keep thinking about this idea and answer the following questions below and tell me how would you express or highlight the music with your movement.


Now respond to the questions below:

Name *
How would you express the music?