21 mar 2008

Tonight my friend Mariana is leading a workshop for women's technique. In disclosing the focus of the workshop she has made an emphatic statement that she will not teach adornments, and in the promotional materials she says, "You don't need adornments to be pretty, you are pretty." So why does she seem to have such a strong aversion to adornments?

We had a talk a while back about this. I once asked her which women dancers she admired. One of the names she mentioned was Lucia Mazer, and her reasoning for this was because Lucia never wastes energy with extraneous movements. That was an attitude that Mariana strongly agrees with. We got on the subject of adornments and embellishments and she seemed to feel that they take away from the unity of the couple. This was a view that was heightened the more she practiced the leaders' role and would find that the followers' embellishments tended to interfere with her intentions. Beyond that, she apparently thought they spoiled the aesthetic of the dance.

Now, Mariana, if you don't know her, is an exceptional dancer. She's one of the few followers I've met who truly seems to enjoy and excel at *every* approach that a leader provides her, from the absolute beginner to the elite and from the most strictly traditional to the wildly experimental. She seems to have an uncanny knack to adapt instantaneously to whoever she dances with. I have always loved watching her dance but until we had this discussion I never even noticed that she doesn't use adornments. And yet she is absolutely compelling. Why?

Regarding adornments, the current trend for followers seems to be the more, the better. It's as if followers are looking forward to and/or paying a large amount of attention to every space between the leaders' marks for the opportunity to make a display. Aside from aesthetic, it seems to be an exhibition of skill for women to decorate their transitions. In my opinion, perhaps the single biggest influence to this current aesthetic is the dancing of Geraldin Rojas de Paludi, particularly during her time with Javier Rodriguez. Now, I'm sure they are no strangers to anybody who may be reading this and that my singling them out is fairly obvious. But I wonder if many followers are missing something about her dancing, something more vital and bewitching about her dance than her obvious skill with ornamentation. And it is something that she and Mariana, despite their different approaches to the dance, both have in common. That is their complete investment--emotional and physical--in the leader. It's not about technique, it's all about attitude.

"A woman, totally connected with her man," Mariana said, "what could be more beautiful?"

As a leader, I am fairly neutral when it comes to adornments. I utilize them in my dance but don't make them an emphasis, and as far as leading a woman who uses them it generally doesn't bother me. I will say that despite the claims of some, who say that you can make them essentially invisible as far as the partner is concerned, they always affect the mechanism of the dance. Even when the movement is masked by a very skilled dancer, there is always something transmitted even if it's only subconsciously. And when I dance with someone who I know uses a lot of them I tend to limit my dance in order to indulge their interpretation, but also to keep from tripping them over their own feet. I still enjoy these dances, but in a sense I feel that they aren't really all my dances. Like in a way I was just providing a vehicle for the follower to make her statements. And as a leader, that's not the most satisfying feeling. Not to say there shouldn't be give and take, a sharing of expression. But dancing with a follower who places excessive emphasis on adornments is kind of like having a conversation with someone who won't shut up and give you a chance to interject, or like someone who you feel isn't really listening to what you say but is just waiting for the next opportunity to get her two cents in.


RealityPivots said...


Anonymous said...

At Geraldin's women technique class, she focused on the fundamentals - walk, axis, embrace, connection, and NOT any adornments. I love that, if we can master the basic fundamentals, all others come in nature. :)

Malevito said...

Hi guys, how are you?

I didn't know a lot about Geraldin(e)'s teaching style, I had only heard those stories about how, when she was teaching adornments, she would exclaim, "Mas fea!" all the time. And despite the possible connotations of my post, I actually really liked that because it seemed to encourage freedom of expression over timidity, mindfulness, and conformity.

But I'm also really appreciative to hear that she focuses on non-ornamental topics in her technique classes. I am HUGE on fundamentals, so much so that it may actually be a bit of a hindrance to my progress, but I have also found that *everybody* has different ideas about these things and they have valid reasons for them. There are some concepts that are fairly universal but it seems that it's the means to those ends that vary. So ultimately it's really about shaping *your* means to those ends.

Anyway, thanks for your comments.

ModernTanguera said...

"... like someone who you feel isn't really listening to what you say but is just waiting for the next opportunity to get her two cents in."

That's a really good point! I know that I waited a while to get a grasp on the basics before trying to add any kind of adornments to my dancing. A leader I know once said that the way some women use adornments is like getting a beautiful paint job on a car that barely runs - they aren't nice if there isn't the technique and engagement in the dance already.

Malevito said...

Hi moderntanguera, how are you?

Certainly, it seems that there are many ways to try to cover up a less than ideal technique and I suppose to saturate the dance with adornments is one of them--like drowning half baked potatoes in gravy. But I really think it is the current trend for followers and a lot of folks are just going to use them no matter what their level. It's just like anything else where dancers utilize the current fashionable move before they are ready. In my community I've seen the trend move from ganchos to sacadas to volcadas and colgadas and now I don't know what's the next big move (perhaps soltadas and variants, which I seem to be seeing more lately). And you can always tell when they are forcing the move; the sheer effort projects itself like a beacon. But I guess for some people that's a part of the learning process and if it doesn't bother them or anyone else then that's cool.

Anyway, thanks for writing.

Alex said...

I agree most wholeheartedly...less is always more it seems...

NYC Tango Pilgrim said...

My two cents: anything excessive archives only the opposite, however, the right amount of adornment in certain music that comes naturally from the heart is not only beautiful to watch but wonderful to feel.

I have taken privates with Andrea Misse and Javier Rodriguez for thirteen times in the last six month. The first time I danced with Andrea, I didn't know how to react to her embellishment. The more I learn and dance with her, the better I feel about her embellishment in the music. It expresses the way she feels about the music and in some ways provokes my feeling in the music as well.

Nothing feels better for me when a woman actively participates in the music, marks the notes with her adornment and I respond with mine. Natural adornment is a beautiful thing. A woman shows her personality and musicality through adornment.

Provided one gets the walk and embrace down perfect, that is.

La Nuit Blanche said...

hi malevito!

reading such excellent posts and discussions in the blogosphere is what encouraged me to focus on the fundamentals before getting into all the adornments (which i LOVE doing, by the way, hehe), and letting them come naturally (which they finally are!).

but don't be so harsh on the followers who like to express themselves with these embellishments.... sometimes, these little flickers of the feet can't be helped, they just come out of no where, because we all get so excited about the music, especially in the arms of good leaders...

my first teacher i took privates from was a man, and he told me that when he dances with some dancers, he can feel the vibration of the music through their adornos, all along their bodies, and that it felt wonderful. he was quick to point out, however, that these followers were excellent dancers who had the basics down first.

thanks for this insightful post! we need more of these.

La Nuit Blanche said...

p.s. by way of nyc tango pilgrim's blog, here is a video which i know you will enjoy, hehe:


Malevito said...

Hi guys, how are you? Wow, it seems like I touched on a hot topic with this one.

Tango Pilgrim: it's interesting you should mention Andrea Missé because while I do indeed admire her very much I was struck by the recent youtube video regarding what seemed to be over-embellishment causing a problem. The video is here:


The moment I refer to comes about 3:20 in, where it seems that due to her embellishments she almost misses a lead and kind of falls into the step at the last moment. Of course, this is only one incident and I enjoy watching her dance.

Nuit: I hope I didn't come across as being harsh or completely anti-embellishment, which is not what I intended. In fact, when I dance with a woman who utilizes them I take it as an indication that she is feeling comfortable with my lead. And I would definitely prefer embellishments to the whole "back-leading" thing, which is pretty awful. BTW, thanks for the link, I'll check it out when I have more time and will let you know what I think.

NYC Tango Pilgrim said...


I was there at the performance that night. And this is my clip on youtube:


As you know, the Sunderland cement floor isn't a good floor even by Buenos Aires standard. It is very hard to dance on. When it is dry and hot in a summer night, it becomes very slippery. Andrea told me after the performance that she was very tired because it took extra work to dance on that floor. So I couldn't say if that adornment is to be blamed for the slip up.

Javier slipped in this video:


It didn't matter, because their performance, as always, touched most of the people on the floor, standing ovation from the old milongueros: El Falco Danny (sitting next table), Nito...The energy was amazing that any video didn't do them justice. One has to be there to feel that overall energy of their performance.

It seems to be me that adornment becomes a way for the excellent dancers to express the music. Even for non professional mature dancers, for example, the lovely tina, at tinastango.wordpress.com, did her cute and elegant adornments that mark the music so well that I couldn't help but smile when I saw them and felt them.

Apparently there are a lot of wanna bes out there forcing it. A student of Andrea, whom I never cabaceo, does crazy embellishments in the milongas. Even though she is very good dancer, I never dance with her.

Well, I think I will write my own post about this subject. :-)

Thanks for the inspiration.

Malevito said...

Tango Pilgrim:

You know, I've never actually been to Sunderland. I never really had the opportunity, partly because it's so out of the way and only once a week. I would very much like to see it sometime and I'm sure I'll get around to it, although I've been told it would be best to go with friends rather than alone.

I completely agree that a minor slip up here and there really doesn't matter. I much prefer a rough performance with great feeling and honesty in the moment to a polished choreography that comes across as something that has been practiced a thousand times before. And also that there is no substitute for seeing something live.

Coming back to the adornments, aside from what I've already mentioned I think another thing that's not particularly to my taste is when they become a throwaway movement. That is to say, if you wanted to you could adorn *everything*, and I think some people try to do just that. But when you do it *all* the time it takes away from the specialness of it and doesn't highlight something specific in the music or in the whole of the conception of the dance. It's kind of like something Chopin said about Liszt, "He plays well, but does he have to make *everything* such a declaration?" Just a personal preference and only generally speaking (there are always exceptions). Anyway, thanks for your insights and also for the links.


I loved that performance! He's actually not a bad follower (well, aside from the obvious ;P), and in heels, too! Not to mention the size difference. Color me impressed. Of course, her lead must be pretty good as well, but it seems she's pretty nonplussed by his extravagances. Now you ladies know how we feel sometimes ;P Thanks again for sharing.