What does it mean to dance with ‘good musicality’?

2010 January 22
by Simba
IMG_4301 by mhowry, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License by  mhowry

Tango dancers often discuss the importance of dancing to the music, having ‘good musicality’ etc.  But what exactly does it mean to dance musically? I tried noting some possibilities, and since some are very basic, while other are more advanced (and should be used sparingly).

I tried to classify them within the usual trichotomy of beginner/intermediate/advanced, thinking that you have to know the very basics, and you should master basically everything in the intermediate before venturing out into the advanced concepts. Some of the advanced concepts should be used with care, such as stepping on the weak beat.

Very basics

  • Dancing when there is music and not when there is not (yes, really)
  • Stepping on the (strong)beat
  • Make your partner step on the (strong) beat.
  • (be able to)Dance double time
  • Make pauses
  • Dance tango to tango music, milonga to milonga and vals to vals (etc)


  • Interpretation of the emotional content of the music (e.g. humorous, sad, tragic, romantic etc)
  • Walk to music with strong walking beat
  • Dance to the phrasing of the music
  • Dancing the pauses
  • Dance smoother to smooth music, more rhythmically to rhythmic music etc.
  • Leading one rhythm while doing another
  • Match something in the music with particular step or ornament
  • Dance the final variation
  • Predict the end of a song and close in time.
  • Cadencia


  • Step on the weak beat (and not on the strong)
  • Moving counter to the music (e.g. slow down when the music is fast)
  • Play with rhythms
  • Fit sequences of steps with the phrases of the music
  • Repeat and make variations when the music repeats with variations
  • Syncopated steps (e.g. suspension or anticipation) that fits the music
  • Something extra 🙂
13 Responses leave one →
  1. 2010 January 22

    Nice list, Simba. Amazing how elusive of a quality musicality can be to define…

    I would add to this list the ability to keep energy in your body when you pause. Beginners often think of it as a stop, but they (hopefully) gradually learn that the pauses and slower movements are when the energy builds even more before the movement continues. Love those moments, especially when you’re dancing with someone who does it too!

  2. 2010 January 23
    El Chupacabra permalink

    Whatis Cadencia for dancers?

  3. 2010 January 25

    @Karin: Thanks, I first thought maintaining connection throughout the pauses was more of a technique/connection thing, but when I think about it I think you are quite right. Dancing the pauses (not merely make pauses) is very important and quite typical of tango, so I will add it to my list. I think it would qualify as intermediate. Yes, dancing the pauses…

    @El Chupacabra: Cadencia is the soft up and down movements (and maybe others as well) that the couple makes over a number of steps. Usually more connected to the melody/phrasing than with the rhythm. I wrote a post about cadencia a while ago. Without cadencia, the dancing will feel and look ‘flat’, while cadencia adds life and character.

  4. 2010 January 31

    I was intrigued by your title – its a pretty big topic! 😉

    Thanks for the info on cadencia -I’ve been trying to discover its meaning for a while.

  5. 2010 January 31

    Very big indeed… Here I was trying to span some of the richness in musical interpretation. Each bullet point is really a topic in itself, and cadencia is certainly quite a topic in its own right. Glad it could be of help. Thanks for your comment.

  6. 2011 September 27

    I think this classification is really fair. Happily, there is nothing more fun than playing together with rhythm. I wrote some maybe odd thoughts on rhythm and síncopa (syncope) on my website . Hope you like it.
    Please feel free to comment and to criticize.

  7. 2011 November 12

    I tried to classify them within the usual trichotomy of beginner/intermediate/advanced

    I don’t think such a classification usual for anyone except classeros. In the real world, it is meaningless.

  8. 2012 January 3

    I think that you’re confusing musicality with rhythm. A dancer with rhythm is on the music, a dancer with musicality is in the music.

  9. 2012 January 4

    What makes you think that, JC? I think you are setting up a false dichotomy with your play with prepositions. As I see it, rhythm is an important part of music(ality).

  10. 2012 January 5

    I’m curious to know what is someone that dances above the music!

  11. 2012 September 13

    That is a really good list. Not just for tango dancers, but dancers in general. Although the use of the word ‘cadencia’ does seem to be different within tango from all other contexts. Excellent list to have and a good guide for how much further we can all take our musicality.

  12. 2012 September 17

    Thanks, Clint. The word ‘cadencia’ is very confusing in tango, I agree.

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