Tango and the Geometry of the Dance


By Jean-Pierre Sighé





A movement created in the mind of the dancer can be a spontaneous generation or a purposefully crafted thing. In either case, the degree of precision demanded of the body to execute it will indicate the degree of refinement the dancer would have reached in the art of constructing forms also known as figures. These forms or figures can be accurately copied or duplicated, depending of course on the ability of the duplicator. The good duplicator will be the one who would have inquired about the very thought at the genesis of the form. On the other hand the poor duplicator would have missed the essential point or question that could be summarized by the “why was the form generated in this particular way?” An inevitable poor duplication would follow an incomplete understanding. A clear, simple and logical progression of the thought is essential to the gracious execution or projection of the movement, form or figure. In a sense, it is not by accident that a great dancer executes a figure, beautifully. It’s not by mere repetition or physical practice either. A certain disposition of the mind to comprehend or sense the effect of the lines and curves on the body while implementing movement is required.



I would point out that repetition or physical practice can very well constitute the beginning of the quest leading to the deeper “why” question. The fact that it reverses the process does not in any way diminish its efficiency, as long as it affirmatively leads to the important question that is our point of interest here.  I should equally point out that the amount of time spent in the repetition with the hope of performing a good duplication is in inverted proportion to the level of clear and logical thought at the genesis of the figure. The primary difficulty most dancers experience in learning a new figure is rooted in their lack of understanding the simple foundation from which the move was built or created. Once the foundation is understood, the rest follows easily.


When Providence places us in the presence of someone who has acquired a certain mastery in the art of Tango, we would greatly benefit from his / her knowledge by asking questions pointing to the “why” perspective. To simply stay on the “how” level, drastically limits the depth of the communication. A true teacher will undoubtedly enjoy a torrent of exciting questions leaning to the “why” and be just as eager to communicate the secret elixir to the opened and thirsty mind.

A fundamental subject such as the functional roles of the partners in the circular context for instance, when understood, will help a great deal in the understanding of the execution of a lot of figures. The dancer could replicate the same understanding in the linear context and begin to experiment with new concepts and very likely come up with new figures, just as easily. To want to learn a figure and paying very little attention to the reason why such figure was created in such manner in the first place, has always baffled me.

Quite often one hears a student report that someone teaching Tango somewhere has said something (that clearly seems to be incorrect and where the mistake is easy to demonstrate). I personally believe that sometimes it’s just a misunderstanding on the part of the student. I always give the benefit of the doubt to the accused teacher, for the simple reason that I was not an eye or ear witness to the fact reported. This still does not change the fact that a quick analysis, proceeding from one logical point to the next could have at least opened the student’s mind to another “possibility”. But such analysis can only proceed from the “why” angle, unfamiliar terrain to the figures learner … hélas!


 I know… I know… There’s the kinesthetic path of learning body movements. All too often however, it is erroneously invoked. Kinesthetic learning should not be an excuse to not seek the “why” of the figure. It should rather be a precious complement to the entire learning process. I would dare say that we all learn our dance movements kinesthetically. At some point, whatever might be our ability or thirst to the theoretical explanation of the form or figure, we must actually do it physically. The difference however is that some of us use the kinesthetic learning as the second and final phase to cement the comprehension of the concept behind the form or figure. It is the confirmation of the discovery. It is the moment when the information received becomes a palpable body of knowledge. That in turn will later on lead to the authority to explain the form or figure learned. In other words, either we KNOW and in which case the authority comes as a natural implication, or on the other hand we don’t know and must then engage in the deeper understanding… the “why” path. There is no “middle-of-the-ground-gray-area” here.


One of the beauties in Tango dancing derives from the fact that simple geometric forms such as the circle the square or the triangle, are constantly used. If it were possible to wear a special pair of glasses that could suppress everything except these geometric forms, as the dancers performed, they (the geometric forms) would spontaneously appear in a variety of combinations, generating even more of the geometric complexities. It is no surprise to read about a dancer who would design a figure on paper and make it work using dolls, prior to actually trying it physically. It’s easy to see how such dancer would be attentive to the geometry of the move. In such close attention, the principles of physics, i.e. the generation of the centrifugal or centripetal forces as the dancing partners are in motion, would be considered as well. A complex figure could be thus designed. Now, let’s imagine someone who has not paid attention to the “why” of the figure; someone who has no concept of the geometry that the creator of the figure paid a great deal of attention to. Could we reasonably expect such unaware dancer, to simply stay on the “how” side and actually correctly execute the figure? I don’t think so.



It makes good sense to endeavor in understanding the foundation of a form or figure, identifying the geometric elements involved, as we begin to learn it. The better our understanding the less the struggle to execute it right; better yet, the chance we could improve it or generate a nice variation to it, thus actively participating in the expansion of the art form of Tango we all cherish. It does not matter if we never personally enter the pantheon of the acclaimed Masters of Tango. The pleasure of our invention alone would be of such sweetness, bound to last … forever.



© November 2007