Bandoneon imagery

[Published simultaneously in Austin Tango Lab on Facebook on 14-April-2016, 9pm.]

The bandoneon as imagery for equal and opposite presence.

michael zisman, bandoneonista
michael zisman, bandoneonista

Some call it ‘tone’, others ‘structure’. Most teachers dislike hearing it called ‘pressure’, and definitely not pushing and pulling. We’re talking about the sensation of your partner’s hand or torso or arm against yours.

At the hand side of the embrace this presence can, depending on our movements, be felt on the palm side of the hand, when we are opening up from each other, and on the back of the hand, when we are closing up with each other. (Think of pivots away and pivots toward one another.)

Even when we are perfectly capable and do power our pivots with our own body instead of needing help from our partner, we still rely on that sensation of equal and opposite ‘presence’ to communicate or sense how fast/slow big/small to make our movements.

Now here’s where a problem arises. When we talk to students who haven’t yet grasped and embodied this concept, they tend to one extreme or the other, too little or too much, or, they don’t modulate that presence as the situation and their partner requires.

Too light and you lose a sense of where your partner is. It also gives one a feeling of psychic as well as physical disengagement. Too much and the arm or hand or body feel stiff and unresponsive. Unmodulated to match your partner and the lead/follow signals become confused.

How to give a sense of this presence without triggering an over response?

Consider the bandoneon (or accordion, or squeezebox). If the player’s hands don’t move toward (or away) from each other with the same speed and the same level of energy, what happens? Well clearly the instrument won’t stay centered. It will go swinging off in the direction of low push energy or high pull energy.

Consider, too, how the instrument can go from silence to soft notes to hard notes. Even in silence the player’s hands are relaxed yet still engaged by holding the instrument between them. With fast notes or loud sounds the player must move the hands together or apart powerfully. Slow and soft notes require only gentle effort.

So, maybe the bandoneon isn’t just to play our beautiful music, but also to help our dancers know how to sense each other.

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