Fifth Article in It Takes One to Tango Series

A dancer friend of mine once taught me about phrase endings in Tango.

He and I aren’t friends anymore.


I used to be terrified of endings. I'd worry that whatever the ending, I'd terrorize myself with guilt that it was my fault. That I didn’t find the potential in the situation.

How can we go fearlessly into that end? I think learning this is part of my life’s work. There is something about the end that is beautiful. A shape...a little stretch, almost is it a pose? A salute, sincerely-felt gratitude. An extra squeezing-out of life. A sudden gap, a shock, a shakeup followed by an arena of mental space.

I think that Tango music can teach us about endings. Each Tango you hear is a book made of diffferent chapters. You can kindle a deepening into the music by dancing each of those chapters differently. You can climb into the logic of a song by exploring its micro-endings, the endingnesses within the song. Here:

I like the exuberant, declarative ending after a thirty-second Chapter One. That sudden spiral carousel ride is over. They totally walk away from that chapter like they never heard of it before, now they are so smooth and cool here at the beginning of thirty-second Chapter Two. Chapter Two starts off like a long drink of lemonade.

Each song actually has a formal musical structure and I have spent several productive morning solo practices working on figuring out the structure a song randomly selected from my library. In Chapter 9 of Joaquin Amenabar’s book “Tango: Let’s Dance to the Music” there is an excellent recipe for how to analyze a song. This material can help you figure out which part is the “A” section, which part is the “B” section, whether there is a “C” section, and what’s going on in each of them.

In your on solo practice, here’s a way you can approach a song, to connect your dancing to its structure: 

  • SELECT. Find a great Tango, like Bahia Blanca.
  • NOTICE. As you listen, notice that very first micro-ending - followed soon after by a micro-beginning. Like many Tangos, that first chapter is about thirty seconds long. 
  • COMPARE. Listen to the first chapter and compare it to second chapter. You hear how they’re different, right? 
  • IMAGINE. Imagine - what is some thing you could do as you dance, that would feel right, that would draw your partner’s attention to the difference between these chapters? 
  • PERSIST. Keep at it til you have feeling for how you’d like to dance of the distinct chapters of the song. 

As we dance, a lot of times we are holding over stuff from that old chapter even though our musical context has already shifted and the song - and maybe our partner too - may be trying to wake us up into a whole new plot twist. How would it be if we let those micro-endings be fully felt and shared? Structure can feel so good, so freeing, so nourishing.

photo by Garry Wilmore at https://www.flickr.com/photos/gwilmore/

photo by Garry Wilmore at https://www.flickr.com/photos/gwilmore/

New beginnings. Who will you be this time? How will you be? How many different yous can you dance? How will you gift your partner with your younesses? Some chapters make me want to dance all fearless and angry, some make me feel like prettifying my feet, some make me feel smooshy and sweet and soft and slow. The more technique you have, the more convincingly you can dance these moods.

Maybe, music heals because it helps us to feel through endings. Maybe, learning to accept the always-around-the-corner ending helps us feel the dancing itself, and the various parts of ourselves that this rich music calls into being, more fully. What is beginning, now at this end? It never stops for long. When is this beginning going to end? It will. It will end.

"Angel heart.
Is this another ending or is it a start?
Is there any way they could be apart?
In the end -
We come full circle again."

Dedicated to all the dancers who danced a season or two in Mar Vista.


Mitra Martin

Mitra Martin is Program Director at the Oxygen Tango where her focus is developing an interconnected community learning experience, and facilitating conversation around excellence in Tango as a portal to personal and social transformation.