Mickey Mousing

It seems to be spreading, a new way of interpreting music in tango. Every so often I hear people rave about some couple’s outstanding musicality and more often than not it translates to their mimicking every little plink and plonk in the music with a corresponding movement.  Naturally, it requires good knowledge of the song to do this, but does it really demonstrate such great musicality?

I once heard this way of dancing called Mickey Mousing, as it was like this music was often used in animations, many from the 1930s and the 1940s. Except, of course the musicians put on the music to follow the cartoons, not the other way around.

It is interesting to note that the wikipedia page says: “Frequently used in the 1930s and 1940s, especially by Max Steiner, it is somewhat discredited today, at least in serious films, because of overuse.” As this thechnique was much used at the prime time of tango, it is also interesting to see that this overuse was pointed out already in the 1940s:

For some reason, many cartoon musicians are more concerned with exact synchronization or "mickey-mousing" than with the originality of their contribution or the variety of their arrangement. To be sure, many of the cartoons as they reach the musician are something less than inspirational, but most of them even the best, gain less than they should from this contribution. > > _[Hollywood Quarterly, Vol 1, No 4 (Jul. 1946), p 365](http://www.jstor.org/pss/1209496)_ > >

Less inspirational, indeed. While I do find for instance Chicho’s dance extremely musical at its best, there are so many aspects of music and musicality, that going mainly for the Mickey Mousing is somehow one-dimentional, and when other people try to repeat Chicho’s feat, it easily gets totally uninteresting, at least to me. At times I also get the feeling that the dancers are ‘too clever’, and not conveying any emotional content corresponding with the music I hear. It was thrilling the first time, maybe, but it is an effect that should be used with care, like all effects.

It is difficult to argue that someone else’s musical interpretation is wrong, but if it differs too much from your own, it is hard to connect to what they are doing. It gets distracting, and it feels like they are not even listening to the music, which is ironic when in this particular case they are working so hard to match it perfectly. That goes for performances as well as social dancing. Instead of chasing the music, trying to match every instant of it, let go and wait. Let the music move you, then take control and make it yours. Don’t rush it. Don’t worry if you miss a plink. It’s your dance.

To make an impact, be it with the audience or with our partner, we need to share a common understanding of the music, finding its substance together. All the effects in the world cannot compensate for a lack of substance.

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