Soltadas Part II - Knowing the Music

The video below is part of the reason I can't get very excited about soltadas.

Moves/patterns/steps should be appropriate to the music - not just the rhythm of the music, but the intention of the music. Unfortunately, deciphering the intention of vocal tangos requires an idea of what the lyrics are saying. (And there's a whole other case made against including vocal tangos at all by Danny Israel here.) I don't know Castellano, but I'm learning. Any time I hear a tango that moves me, or in many cases, moves the leader I'm dancing with, I look up the lyrics. If I can't find a translation, I work out a rough translation for myself. After all, would John Lennon's "Imagine" move people as deeply if they didn't understand the sentiment of the lyrics? It's a beautiful song regardless, but the lyrics tell the story.

The lyrics tell a story in this song as well . . .

One of the most tragic (and that's saying something) tangos played in milongas is Verdemar. Here are the lyrics (thank you Alberto Paz at

"Verdemar... Verdemar...
Your eyes filled with silence...
I lost you, Verdemar.
Your yellow hands... your lips without color
And the cold of the night in your heart.
You are missing... you are no longer here...
Your eyes have extinguished, Verdemar.

I met you without thinking it, and I cheered my days
forgetting the anguish of my hours.
But soon life was merciless with you
and in your lips my kisses died of cold.
And now... what course will I take?
Roads without dawn get me lost again.

You will return, Verdemar...
It’s the soul that has a premonition about your return.
You will arrive, you will arrive...
Through a white road your spirit will come
Looking for my fatigue and here you will find me.
You are missing... you are no longer here...
Your eyes have extinguished, Verdemar."

When I heard this song the first couple of times, I didn't know the lyrics, but the emotional weight of it was still palpable. In my experience, it's beautiful to dance to because it allows for very graceful and expressive pauses. So despite the intense melancholy of the song, I look foward to dancing to it whenever it comes on. Two leaders I had the opportunity to dance with early on showed such sensitivity to the piece and really took their time with it. I learned more about the song because of them and because of the way they experienced it.

To me, performing soltadas feels about as natural in Verdemar as dancing salsa moves would. I don't hear it in the feeling of the music or in the feeling conveyed by the lyrics. Of course I'm not a leader and it's not my call, so maybe it's not up to me to "hear it". I will try to follow what I'm led, but I don't really understand it.

I do want to emphasize that both of these dancers are in the music - they know the rhythm and melody very well. So it's not like they're missing the beat, walking all over the melody, or anything like that. They're respecting the structure of the music. But it's not just about keeping moves within the structure of the music that makes a beautiful dance - it's about expressing the sentiment of the song. Or at least not disrespecting it.

Rick McGarrey writes about this on his site "Tango and Chaos",

"We sat with a couple of Argentines and watched as the couples flew and kicked their way around the floor like they were performing on steroids. I think the low point came when a very sad tango by Canaro was played. It was En Esta Tarde Gris (“On this Gray Afternoon”), and it's not just sad, it's pessimistic—bordering on dismal. (But also beautiful in its way…one of the ironies of tango, no?) Anyway, most of the dancers didn’t miss a beat. Well, actually they missed a lot of beats… but they kept leaping around with smug looks on their faces. Looks that were in sharp contrast to the faces of the watching Argentines. The Argentines were too polite to say anything (at least in English), but their faces showed what they felt—sort of a mixture of pain and pity. A suggestion: If you hear a song that begins, “Que ganas de llorar, en esta tarde gris”*, please don’t dance like you are auditioning for a Broadway production of Oklahoma. If you do, any Argentines that may be present will think you need counseling."

*Translation: How much I want to cry, in this gray afternoon."

In the little over a year I've been dancing, I've learned the lyrics to about 30 songs - and by learned, I don't mean memorized all the lyrics, my memory simply isn't that good. Rather I've learned what the song is about. Several of those I learned because of a leader's attachment or reaction to the piece. What I'm trying to say is that I don't know the lyrics to the majority of tango songs. I can make guesses from the titles or from pieces of the lyrics I can translate. (Let's face it, tango lyrics frequently contain a lot of the same vocabulary.) So I dance fairly conservatively, especially when I'm unfamiliar with a piece. I only express what I really connect to - which, if I don't know the lyrics, will only be what I feel in the mood of the music, and what I feel from my partner and his interpretation of the music.

This was all a tangent, I know. All I really wanted to say is that it's about more than finding the rhythm and the melody when creating and expressing a dance. The feeling of the music is important. The lyrics, if there are lyrics, are important. We are given so many tools, so many things to work with in tango music, but the intention of the music is for me, paramount.

I will never know all the words to all the songs, or be able to recognize all of the orquestras, but I try to connect to the music on as many levels, and in as many ways, as I can. Through my partner, through the lyrics, through the structure of the music, through the interpretation of particular orquestras - there's so much there that it will take, as they say, a lifetime and a half. (It's a beautiful feeling to know that I will never run out of things to learn and explore.)


Anonymous said...

This is just tragic dancing to a beautifully tragic song. Firstly, they are dancing large, or what people like to call fluid. Close and apart. I don't get it!

I am like you Mari, when I hear a song I like I try to find the lyrics. Alberto's web page is great for that. I find that my feeling for the music is almost justified by the lyrics. If that makes any sense. Usually when I read the lyrics, it makes sense to me why I like and have a certain feeling for the music. The lyrics for me are slightly incidental, coincidental, as it is the music that really matters. How else can we enjoy music so much even if we don't understand the words? I've had this debate on my blog and really don't want to get into that here.
As far as these soltadas go, you really have to think about where to place them and to think too much in Tango, well, that is just trying to show off in my opinion.

The Accidental Tangoiste said...

Nnf. Even leaving aside the meaning of the lyrics, I don't think their dancing reflected the music or the overall feeling of the song well at all. That was a little bit painful, and it only gets worse when you understand the lyrics.

I'm working on expanding my understanding of vocal tangos as well--also Spanish and Castellano in general. I don't think it's a coincidence that one of the first verbs I've learned since I began dancing tango is "llorar." ;)

The Accidental Tangoiste said...

(In fairness to the couple in the video, it does appear that their purpose in dancing was to demonstrate soltadas; no wonder they used them so often! :)

Anonymous said...

I couldn't get past the "Gumby-ness" of this couple. And regardless of what "style" they are dancing, they don't seem to be connecting to each other.

Marika said...

@londontango - thank you for your comment - I feel so much better now. And I get a ton of use out of Alberto's lyrics page. I've made a list of other lyrics sites somewhere or other on this blog. (This thing is getting unwieldly lately.) Like you, I have found that most of the time when the song really appeals to me before I know the lyrics, reading the lyrics later usually confirms what I was feeling. There are a few exceptions, but not very many.

@AccidentalTangoiste - oops - I should have acknowledged that the video was for demo purposes and not an example of (hopefully) how they would dance socially to that song. But the fact that they chose that song, or really a traditional song like that, to demo soltadas just suggests to me that they're showing the move for the move's sake, and not how to express the music *with* that move. So many times in classes when teachers teach/demo larger moves, they leave out how to use the move to *express* the feeling of the music. It's often more like, here's the move, you fit it in three beats here. Done.

and regarding llorar - I know what you mean! I had this discussion with another dancer who said it was too hard to understand even the basic meaning of the lyrics. And I said, really how many words do you need to know? Corazon (heart), llorar (to cry), alma (soul), mujer (woman),amor (love)arrabal (suburb/neighborhood), volver (return) - you can get through a whole lot of tango with those few words. :D

Anonymous said...

I had never seen a soltado until watching this video. I haven't missed anything.

Anonymous said...

@ Johanna, and don't forget Pokey!
@ Jan, you are so lucky!
@ Mari, those words are pretty much the only ones I can understand too! I get a little thrill when I hear a song and I can understand a few of the words! :)

Kasia said...

I too had to look up what a soltada was... Unfortunately, I have seen it in action, and I had someone lead me in those too... I just did not know the name. And I share your disappointment that this will be a subject of one of the upcoming workshops. Soltadas are certainly not my favorite, exactly because they break the embrace. If I see a leader doing too many of those, he will most likely end up my tango "black list"

The Accidental Tangoiste said...

>"showing the move for the move's sake, and not how to express the music *with* that move."

Ah, an excellent point!

Love your list of words! They do make a pretty decent foundation for understanding tango lyrics, don't they!