"Twist Forms" Dance Theory of Argentine Tango - Introduction

by Igor Polk, November 27, 2016, eidition 4.0   (Edition 3.0: May 19, 2014)

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$78.00, 132 pages, 152 drawings, 8.5x11, $12 mailing


I have set for myself a task to find the natural origin of Tango dance. Dance figures reflect our body mechanics. We use our body to express music. This is dancing. Therefore the roots of a dance lie in the mechanics of our human body. We know that our body has many parts, many bones, many muscles. How do they interact and act together to make a harmonious dance? The answer is in the basic activities our bodies are made for: climbing and running. In order to discover the secrets of the perfect Tango dance, we have to analyze how our body works. In the first chapters of the book I have described the mechanisms which are important. I came to several logical conclusions which might surprise you. Obviously, these finding are also useful in studying other dances and moving activities.

If we express Tango music, we dance tango. Therefore the roots of Tango dance lie in the specific property of Argentine Tango music which unmistakably differentiates it from other dances. But is there a specific property or properties of our body, which matches the music? There are several chapters which answer this question. One surprising discovery is that Tango is related to the Golden Ratio.

There are several ways to dance Argentine Tango: Salon, Orillero, Canyengue, Apilado, Nuevo, Milonguero, and there are many personal styles. What is common among all of those styles? What makes them all immediately recognizable as tango? I have set for myself to find an explanation for ALL tango figures without exception as well as to find the difference among major styles, namely Salon and Orillero, which usually are in compatibility with the music of Carlos di Sarli and Juan D'Arienzo. A worthy explanation must show how the tango figures and elements come from the natural movements of the well developed body. There are many chapters describing this. A discovery explaining the existence of different styles is that anything in this dance can be done in at least two different ways. A lot of attention has been put to convey to you this idea.

Tango, as a couples dance which has not been intended for a show, contains many elements which are not visible, but they are felt by the partner. Some of these elements are described.

Tango is considered an improvisational dance. In my view, improvisation is not chaos. Improvisation creates a wonderful dance. It is quality choreography done on the spot. Great skills are required for that, or a great natural drive. Improvisation is a skillful application of dance elements to the current moment of music and, as in Tango dance, to the present partner and surrounding couples. Therefore the dance theory must perfectly describe the smallest elements from which the dance is combined. The match must be as precise as legos and jigsaw puzzles: the elements must fit to each other and enable a dancer smooth transformations from one to another, as continuous, flawless, harmonious, and captivating as in a perfect dance of masters.

Describing elements and their origin of the dance is not enough for improvisational choreography. A tango dancer learns with experience how to put them together. It has some rules and methods. In mathematics, the way things are put together in action is called the "group theory" or algebra. These methods are described in this book in a formal, but accessible form, through a notion of "pattern generators". More than that, it is exactly how the set of elements must be chosen: to enable the creation of such "dance algebra". One of the rules is that every figure could be done in the opposite way, in reverse. This is a good guide to find elements which are missing from the theory.

Tango is a lead-and-follow dance. Very much like martial arts. What enables a man to unmistakenly lead a woman to what he intends? What enables a woman to follow precisely in accordance to the lead? What enables perfect matching of the bodies and synchronization of rhythms so that a couple which never danced together before is easily capable of creating a captivating show dance to the music they never have heard before? Yes, this is a common tango skill! The answer lies in the body mechanics. The correct dance theory must describe body mechanics in such detail that it would then be possible to make the perfect improvisational couple dance. But not only the mechanics. There are other important things to consider.

I have found the explanation of the body mechanics suitable to describe all aspects of Argentine Tango dance. I was tempted to define a system of abbreviations which describe the dance INTERNALLY, not which arm is up and which leg is forward, but HOW. Perhaps I have placed too much attention on it and unintentionally made some chapters more difficult to read. But I felt that I have to put it together with the basic theory to establish a formal language and, finally, move the dance from a descriptive science to an exact one. Another temptation is the creation of artificial dances. I believe it is possible to make a computer-generated improvisational dance based on the theory presented in this book. What can be a better proof of the concepts! It is not done yet, but that would be an interesting project for an inventor.

A "dance space", mathematically, contains six "axis", six dimensions in which the dance exists. They are movements, energy, rhythm, structure, space, and interaction-communication.

Each of these "axis" has been addressed in the book. A topic of Movements is developed being more or less complete. Rhythm and Interaction are adequately described for practical applications. Gigantic topics of Space and Structure have only been touched upon, however the idea of a pattern generator is conveyed. I have more material on structure and interaction with space and how it is derived from movements, so perhaps my next book will be about it.

Poetically speaking, tango from each of these perspectives is

Rhythm: Tango music is mystical and inspiring;
Tango is a dance of the Golden Ratio;
Structure: Tango is alive spiritual mathematics;
Energy: Tango is riding on the waves of energy;
Movement: Tango is western yoga;
Communication: Tango is an art of being together;
Tango is a lead-and-follow game;
Tango is boundless improvisation with a partner;
Space: Tango gives volume to this flat world;
Tango is a spiral way to heaven;

But how can these inspiring statements help to analyze the dance and convey its art to future generations? I, therefore, confine myself to a scientific analysis and description without exhilaration with the romantic sides of the dance.

This book is an attempt to present a system of Argentine Tango in all its complexity. I sincerely tried to write as simple as possible and to arrange material in a logical order, but this book is not a manual for beginners. It is like a mathematical book. The concepts introduced are abstract and difficult from the very beginning. The logic of building a workable theory requires that. The material is compressed and requires reflection, you can not "just read it". You have to STUDY it and practice what is conveyed until you feel it in your body. The understanding comes with practice. While the author is trying to show the dance from all viewpoints, some topics are developed well and many are only mentioned. Still, I believe, when you instill the material in your body, you may become a great dancer. The material has been practiced by me, and taught at group and private classes with success. It has been polished sufficient to say that it is indeed very useful.

My use of Argentine Tango terms is arbitrary. They do not necessarily convey the same meaning as it is customary in the tango communities. The reason for that is that there are no unambiguous definitions of these terms. Prominent tango teachers put various meaning in them. While in the theory I have to find exact meaning and make it complete, covering every issue and style. I used the words from tango language to help associate the theory terms with familiar figures and concepts. I have introduced many new terms. Officially, the terms I use are reflecting only the meaning I give them in this book, and this is not a history book. For example, movements mostly originating from Torso form a dance style I will arbitrarily call "Salon". Movements originating mostly from Pelvis form a dance style I will arbitrarily call "Orillero". I'd like to stress the word "mostly". In the most advanced dance the distinction between styles disappears allowing free movement of the body and free transition of energy between its parts.

In my research I was guided and will continue guiding myself with the following:

  • "In Tango everything is led";
  • "Tango is a dance of African origin";
  • "Tango can be danced in a very confined spot";
  • Tango can be danced on stage with large, attractive movements, poses and gestures;
  • Tango is an improvisational dance. Ability to improvise to unknown music, to invent on the spot, to be with a partner, is the most valuable.
  • It means one has to be perfectly understood and one has to be able to follow anything instantly. A successful dance theory must answer the question, how.
  • A successful dance theory must explain origins of movements, source of energy for movements;
  • A Tango theory must explain equally well all styles of the dance, every element without exception, specifically including the "vintage" ones, the invisible ones, and those which are not performed on stage for the lack of visibility;
  • A successful tango dance theory must help in explanation of not just tango but equally well any dance and human movements in general.
  • A successful dance theory must explain how to express in dancing the most complex rhythms and music;
  • A successful dance theory must help in learning, explaining, and documenting the dance;
  • A successful dance theory must help in choreography, provide ways to expand dancing vocabulary, to improvise on the spot;
  • A successful dance formalization allows automatic generation of dances.

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