Choreography vs. Improvisation in Tango

Igor Polk, July 26, 2006

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Other articles you might be interested in:

Going Beyond Lead and Follow in dancing;

2 Methods of Improvisation in Tango;

Tango Musicality;

Tango as Art;


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I am not a specialist in dance art, but I'd like to share a short thought about Choreography vs. Improvisation.

What is the main difference.

During improvisation one only has a millisecond to make a decision. While during a choreographic process a choreographer may have days to work on a sequence looking for the best and most interesting.

Millisecond - and days.

Actually during improvisation one does not have any time at all! Speaking for myself I dance on the level of instincts. It is a dance which is born out of subconsciousness, out of immersion into music, and a partner with whom I am connected. I myself observe sometimes what comes out with amazement.

So improvisation is a baby of intuition, choreography - artistic logic.

* * *
> Igor, I really like your thoughts on this subject. I want to improvise
> totally, and never do any preconceived pattern. I am just getting to
> the point where 'occasionally', everything 'clicks' for me
> (connection, partner, music, floor, other dancers, ....) and even 'I'
> am amazed at what I lead and how wonderful it feels. It is those
> moments when I just 'let go' and lead what ever I lead and my partner
> responds as though she had read my mind. Most of the time, however, I
> am still 'thinking' and yet I 'know' there is no time to 'think'. When
> I 'think' I always forget something, either I break the connection
> because I am concentrating on my footwork, or I loose the music or
> timing, or get myself on the wrong foot, or loose which foot my
> partner is on. Sometimes my full concentration is on avoiding letting
> my partner get hit or bumped, and I end up making a very poor dance
> albeit a safe one. But hopefully, with time, all this will improve.
> Ed Doyle

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"rehearsed" does not mean "choreographed". Choreographing - it is not rehearsing !

It is creating a dance!

It is not just defining the sequence of steps. It is making the dance interesting, making connections between elements, crating beginning, the body of the dance and the end. It is introducing an idea, a message into the dance. It is staging it: making it look best to fit the place it is danced. There are dozens of thing to consider, including where light is falling at ! This is an art by itself.

It looks like the word "Choreographed" is used as an antonym to the "improvised", but this is not correct. I can not find an antonym to"improvised", may be other who know the language better then me can tell. It is difficult because there are many levels of improvisation.

Improvisation is not "any move can happen next". Then, what move is the best? There are building blocks of many levels which an improviser uses.

Improvisation in dancing is rather a skill and art of modifying the pattern, or familiar technique, changing rhythmical pattern, mixing elements, changing style, body ways to do things, to react, and to affect. It is looking for something new, and this new does not necessarily has to be big! Very little. And in the ocean of sensitivity what is tango it is quite enough to make a new sea.

The peak of improvisation is "where things just develop". Dancers do not make the dance anymore, it grows, develops itself. But dancers should be ready, be able to follow the demands of it.

Knowing principles of creating a performance dance, an artist can make an improvisational dance right on spot, which is choreographed right in that moment.

Choreography is an art of making the great-impact dance out of all sorts of dance elements taking in account the situation in the place of performance. Improvised or rehearsed it does not matter very much. It can be totally improvised dance, but at the same time highly choreographed.

Choreography and improvisation are not antonyms, they are on different levels. Choreography lies on the level higher. You can not counterpose them.

In a sense, a tango leader is the one who is a choreographer in tango dance. A choreographer who's audience and at the same time a principal dancer is his partner.

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In a stage dancing the better the connection is, emotions, and everything else we value on a social dance floor, the better the performance is. People feel the real thing.. But the real thing does not necessarily has to be small. It does not matter if one can do it. Real thing is a real thing, no matter what. Even without large elements like lifts and ganchos ( if you wish ), it still can be made a stage dance. It is not the elements make a dance stage. It is quality of movement. Depth of choreography. Quality of the overall dance, costumes and lighting. Yes, and the larger the stage, the larger the steps should be so that people from the very top could see something. But that is not the absolute requirement.

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In our times with shameless advertisement which emphasizes things popping into the eyes of people who do not really want to see them, there is a misunderstanding of "show" as something splashy and loud which reminds me about advertisement.

This is not culture. This is Pop-culture. It is TV-culture. This is anti-culture.

A real peace of art, including dancing on stage is far from it. It is the real thing. Audience, especially experienced audience is able to recognize where is the real art - with emotions, feeling, tactile feeling if you wish, movement from the heart and bones is, and where the false is.

I am talking about real art. Not something which just looking like art. Real art does not have to be loud. It can whisper.

In tango especially it is true. It is impossible to imitate real Argentine Tango dancing. The example of imitators we can see around - they do not move high. I am sure that most of the tango couples on stage can experience all the pleasures you experience on the part-dance floor. We feel it when we see the good show. Otherwise it is a bad show, and I am not talking about bad art. I am talking about good art. For a master there is no problem to show their internal emotions making them larger or louder - they are internally, technically correct, the same like you struggle to obtain at a tango lesson, look for to experience at a milonga.

Dancers on stage do experience pleasure of dancing. That is why most of them do it. Dancing is dancing. Well, as in a real life, job can be boring, but I believe you know, can easy recognize when performers: dancers, actors experience feelings in what they do and when they do not. It is called a good performance and just performance. I am talking about good performance which we all are looking for.


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Difference between Pop-art and Real-art?
Pop art is looking for your attention. It jumps into your eyes crying "Here I am, here I am, look at me !" While you are looking for the real art yourself. It does not give a damn for those who do not understand it. It is for experienced - the elite.

Pop-art carries lie. Real art revelas truth.

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