by Richard Lamberty
A beat of music is in no way an
instantaneous moment. It has duration. This fact is very much at the
heart of what I do with tango timing.
Sometimes we talk about tango as Slows
and Quicks. At other times, we count. Long ago I adopted a notation
for writing Slows and Quicks that gave me a greater granularity and
allowed me to express something closer to counts. Let's see how this
A measure of music in tango has 4 beats
(4/4 timing.): 1 2 3 4
If we take a figure like the Closed
Promenade, the given timing is Slow, Quick, Quick, Slow, which is
usually given as SQQS.
If each Slow is TWO beats (out of the
four) and each quick is ONE beat, then this figures sums as 2 + 1 + 1
+ 2 = 6 beats, which is one and one half measures of music. That by
itself is not so hard to grasp, but it does mean that, unlike waltz,
figures are not limited to measure boundaries. Getting a feeling for
that takes some practice. And that is also the main reason most tango
is given as Slows and Quicks rather than as Numbers.
Two examples to demonstrate why:
Hmmmm. Numbers are not so useful since
they are clearly context dependent, whereas the Slows and Quicks
remain clear regardless of measure boundaries.
Now for the next bit.
Since a Slow
consists of TWO beats, and since we are thinking about duration as a
factor in movement, I find that I have TWO ways that I can interpret
my Slows. I can step on the first beat, and stand on the second OR
stand on the first beat and STEP on the second. Technically, either
way, I have executed the step labeled SLOW within the boundary of
music allocated to it; within the duration of the given timing. But
the effect is quite different.
And so, having a method of notation
that distinguishes one version of the Slow from another might be
useful (or not . . . . )
Let's call a Slow where we step on the
first beat and stand on the second beat of music an EARLY SLOW. We
step EARLY in the allocated block of music and spend the rest of the
time standing. And let's call a Slow where we stand on the first beat
and step on the second a LATE SLOW. We step LATE in the allocated
block of music, having waited (standing) on the first beat. Further,
let's designate the symbol "s" (lowercase s) to mean EARLY
SLOW and let's designate the symbol "S" (uppercase S) to
mean LATE SLOW.
The closed promenade then has FOUR possible interpretations:
It turns out I usually dance the last
Let's go back and look at NUMBERS for
this, assuming we start with beat ONE of a measure: In this case a
numeral (e.g., 1) is held or a beat that I STAND on; and a
written number (e.g., ONE) is a beat that I STEP on.
So we have (think of a written out number as being . . . . LOUDER than a numerical one.) the same four options as above:
Again, I dance the last option: TWO
THREE FOUR ONE -- most of the time :-)
If you try all four of the
interpretations above, be sure you SAY your TIMING out loud. It will
really help. Just be louder on the beats that you are stepping on.
Again, a beat of music is not just a
moment. It has duration. Two beats (a Slow) gives us lots of time,
and within that time, we have room to play.
essay is based on a post to the Weavers discussion group, 1/21/2005; published in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, June
If you would like to read other articles on dance position, technique, styling, and specific dance rhythms, you may visit the article TOC.
If you are not a member of DRDC, do consider joining. The group sponsors quarterly weekends with great dancing and teaching, and the newsletter is one of the most informative available.
Sandi & Dan Finch
Gert-Jan & Susie Rotscheid
Go beyond this site. Good instructional books and videos, both new and used, are available at low prices from Amazon. Find other references on our Sources and Links pages.