(Un)thinking tango

Nov 25th-Dec 2nd, 2011
Paper: (Un)thinking tango – on the corporeality of dance and musical improvisation. Joint lecture-demonstration with Anne MaritLigaard.
Conference: (Re)thinking improvisation.
Venue: Inter Arts Center, University of Lund
Scroll down to read or download: Abstract
Scroll down to read or download: Notes for our presentation

NB! The abstracts and papers are works-in-progress. Papers are meant to be read and may not always make sense without supporting sound/demonstration. Some papers/abstracts may contain my own personal notes for delivery. Also, the abstracts published here are the proposals sent to the conferences where the papers/presentations were later delivered. Abstracts and papers may therefore differ to the extent that they deal with different topics.

(Un)thinking tango – on the corporeality of dance and musical improvisation – abstract

In tango there is no instrument to discipline. Our bodies are the origin, content and vessels of expression. Therefore, our postures and physical condition can never be severed from the expression. We dance our selves as we embody the world. Furthermore, any passionate tango dancer could testify that they dance for the enjoyment of movement. These qualitative aspects of the dance are by all means based on repertoire, but structures are subsidiary as the motivation and meaning of tango. Still, when the dance is scrutinized qua movement it is too often understood in terms of choreographic geometry, and that is most often also how tango is taught.

The presentation will layout how it is possible to get out of one’s mind and let the body not only speak but also think. How is it possible to work with the unique possibilities and limitations of one’s body rather than striving towards an idealistic structure?

We will argue our case with a simple example. Through changing the position of the man’s left and the woman’s right hand, the entire embrace will change and render an altogether different expression. We will first discuss how this minor change can be seen as a corporeal concept with which our dancing bodies can think/discuss/improvise with qualities. We will then show how this emulation of a foreign physicality will not only affect the expression, but it will render new repertoire – repertoire that our bodies have not been conditioned to perform. We will finally argue that our corporeal intelligence is structured non-linearly. Through corporeal trial-and-error the body can far surpass the (discursive) imagination both concerning expression and structural invention.

The presentation will also briefly suggest how musical improvisation could be seen in this light, which we believe can give the musician a powerful tool to expand the possibilities in her improvisations.

Magnus Andersson is an Assistant Professor at the Norwegian Academy of Music, and is heading the Academy’s major area of research in performance: “The co-creative musician”. In 2009 he defended his doctoral dissertation, Elaborating Nothing. John Cage’s Aesthetics of Silence. Originally he studied piano and holds a Master’s degree as a performer. His current research interests are artistic research, creativity, performance studies and tango. He is also a professional tango dancer and teacher, and has worked with Ligaard since 2007.

Anne Marit Ligaard has studied anthropology and library and information science. She currently works as a librarian and as a tango dancer and teacher. She also participates in The Dance Laboratory, a company for differently bodied dancers. Together with Andersson she has published several articles on tango for popular media, and lectured on tango and philosophy and related topics. Since the summer of 2010 she runs the school, TangoTango, together with Andersson.


(Un)thinking tango – notes for our presentation

– on the corporeality of dance and musical improvisation


Through our presentation we want to discuss how we can think through, with, in – or which ever term we prefer to use – our utterly intelligent bodies. We will do this through demonstrations and a discussion of our tango dancing. Towards the end we will give some examples of how the knowledge we gain through scrutinizing our dance experience can shed light on musical performance and improvisation.



• Why do we perform flying colgadas?

• Love – not structure

• This aspect is actually crucial. Unless we understand our improvisatory activity with this in mind, the dancing will be misunderstood.


• As said: we perform the element because we love doing it. We love how it makes us feel. Still, enjoyment cannot arise out of nothing, and it is indeed a particular structure that we enjoy. Our initial question will then be: Which part does the intellect take in our hedonistic activity? What would an intellectual dance be? Would that be a question of dealing with technical issues?


• We could mention what it requires to perform the steps with ease

o Excessive energy

o Dynamic abrazo

o Know our partners point of balance, etc.

• We could also mention how these techniques lead up to the flying colgada.

• Tempting to speak of tango in these terms. Why?

o Clarity!

o Important to know for us as teachers



• They are remote from how we as dancers experience our activity. Remote from our love to the steps.

o Still: steps will always be there. There is no experience without the steps. But merely looking at steps is like trying to understand how a lover feels by only researching his mistress. There is no love or lover without the mistress. We must focus the lover if we want to understand his experience.

o We want to focus the experience of the dance.

o We want to make a shift from

 thinking about structures to

 Thinking with, in or through the body

o We want to shift from intellectual to corporeal thinking.

o What could this shift look like?



• Were we to dance from our brains, it could look like this.


• We hope it looks ok.

o Correct in terms of length.

o A variety of repertoire

o But DULL and lifeless!

• You could ask us to spice it up by, perhaps:

o Longer steps

o Pushing the floor

o Be more elegant

o Dance with more life

• Indeed, we do believe that we do those things when we dance like this




• BUT, what we just did is NEVER reducible to longer steps or pushing the floor.

o Those aspects of the expression are indeed important when we practice, and the aspects are also important when we teach our students BUT

• What the qualitative parameters aim at is a particular kind of shift of how we think and act through tango.

• To us Tango is something very simple. It is about energies. Performing the shift is to think through these energies rather than to think about what one should do as a dancer.


• One of the easiest ways to elaborate the shift and our work with energies is through scrutinizing our walk.

o My partner could do exactly what I want, but that renders the tango lifeless DEMO

o Instead: I want to walk in one direction and she opposes. DEMO

o We could speak of this in simple terms of opposition. Yeah! We have an intellectual category. But that is not how the dance works. The category is derived after practice, and it is through practice – not conscious thinking – that the opposition takes place.


o We believe ourselves to be utterly intelligent people, but we do not have the capacity to think the opposition. It is rather in incorporated energetic knowledge that we perform and discuss with our bodies.

o This energy is constantly at stake when we dance, and it could be used as a model to explain why different qualities arise in the dance perhaps even without we thinking about it.

 Are we thinking? Usually NO, if we speak of deliberate pensive thinking, but YES if we speak of letting our bodies be  listening and alert.


• So, let us go back to the flying colgada.

o This step will not inspire us to do a flying colgada. DEMO (utan kompression efter sidosteget) PEKA PÅ ATT DET INTE ÄR ENERGI NÄR SIDOSTEGET ÄR AVSLUTAT

o This step will. DEMO (med kompression I sidosteget)

• So, perhaps the first flying colgada happened because of an imprecise weight shift from the man? DEMO

• Now, this simple weight shift is an interesting point in terms of thinking with mind and/or body

o We can use it deliberately to find the effect. Still, if we use it without having done the shift, it would look like this. DEMO (stanna I spänningen – kom inte helt vidare).

o We do rather than let happen. Tango is about letting things happen. We can deliberately make up our minds to do something in particular, but that will only be a suggestion to our corporeal thinking. We must still perform and pursue the steps energetically.


o We believe this point could be proven more clearly if we go further and show you some other “mistakes” that could render new repertoire.

• DEMO med överskottsengergi tillbaka så att det blir en liten linjeboleo.



• Yet again, we are intelligent, but we are not intelligent and quick enough to anticipate that my leg would go up and then “perform” it through thinking what we should do.

o Instead, how we experience what happened is like this: the energy was more extensive than what it takes to come into the cross (DEMO with hands). Therefore, the energy must be expressed, and this little boleo happens.

• There are other mistakes that could happen too.



o (If I’m not clear in my intention to oppose her when she finds the cross) In i flera kryssteg på serie

o (I oppose her but our distance is too large) Volcada

o (I do not keep my torso towards hers) Rund boleo



So, what is it that we have tried to say so far in this presentation?


o We have shifted our consciousness from brain to body


o We have tried to show how our thinking has been less concerned with objects and structures than we have been preoccupied with processes and energies.


o The thinking mind is still part of the dance, but it can merely suggest and challenge. Everything that is performed must be done so from a place where the shift has taken place.


o In very simple terms: we hope that we have shown how we think with our bodies as our starting point.


• This presentation originally had the title: Playing with rhizomes. The idea was BLABLABLA. We never got that far. The basic idea was to point at the intelligence we possess if we think through our bodies. Our intellects are not strong enough to follow all the intricacies of the embrace. Still, we can play with all those parameters as long as we do not treat them as parameters but we deal with them physically.

• So why have we had this presentation at a conference mainly intended for music research? Well, the conference welcomed presentations from other art forms, but most of all we have done it because we believe that these thoughts have relevance for musicians.


There is, we believe, a sad tendency among musicians to think about music rather than playing it. Many students are told to strive towards an ideal way of playing rather than to acknowledge the unique sound that surface when the student approaches her instrument. Merely the fewest take their own idiosyncratic physique as a starting point to create the music they wish. We hope our presentation has shown the importance of our physique. It would look and feel totally different given we danced it with another body (det skulle vara skitkul om Daniel var där och vi kunde visa med honom – eller bara att vi bytte).


Striving towards an ideal is more or less the rule for too many musicians. We believe that many musicians would find their unique voices if they acknowledged their own physique and the sound it produces. Furthermore we believe that if the musicians would better know the questions that arise from their idiosyncratic physique when they touch their instrument, they would have tools to create new structures. Even more importantly: they would open up for stronger and perhaps new expressive qualities to their improvisations. We also believe that a sound relationship to the musician’s physique could help them solve technical difficulties. They would to a larger extent acknowledge what they do as artistically valuable, perhaps even more valuable than the ideal that they neither can find nor reproduce. Finally, the acknowledgement of the sound they produce with their physical possibilities and limitations would be more unique to themselves as artists.


We hope that our few tango steps have indicated something about how we can act as the entire beings that we are. When we can act with all of our bodies, a different logic than the logic-discursive knowledge will apply.


Thank you for your attention.