I want those red shoes.  And the man, too.

I want those red shoes. And the dress. And the man.

Honoring my new-found love of Argentine Tango, I thought I’d talk a little about dance vocabularies.  There are two types:  a) the non-verbal vocabulary, or the different movements in the dance that you build into dances as you would use words to build sentences; and b) the words themselves that describe those movements.

I could launch into seemingly endless discussion of either one, but given that this is a “language blog”, which mainly implies the spoken or written word, I’ll stick with the words.  (I’d have to do videos for the other kind, and you don’t want to see me attempting to dance the tango by myself, do you?  Rhetorical question.)

Aaaaanyway, whoever has studied any form of dance will invariably discover that there’s quite a list of words used just for that dance, and you get blank looks if you’re talking about it in front of people who don’t dance it.  Ballet has its pliés, chassés, and pas-de-bourré; flamenco, its golpes and braceos.  After about seven AT classes, I’m starting to pick up a good amount of terminology.  At the same time, I have noticed how narrow and specific these vocabularies are in the context of the translator’s universe — and, more generally, how the parlance in each dance really is a language unto itself, almost separate from the standard language of origin.

If a translator doesn’t know the working vocabulary of a given dance, she could earn herself some embarrassment.  Take, for example, the Spanish word llamada, used in flamenco to describe a brief pattern of footwork that signals to the guitarist that the dancer intends to change speed and/or rhythm.  It’s translated as a “call”, but there’s nothing vocal about it — it’s done with the dancer’s awesome, scary-loud and very expensive Menkes shoes.

What a disaster, then, to see a skilled Spanish-English translator, but non-dance aficionado, describe that dancer in an article translation as “stopping to call out to the guitarist,” or something of that sort.  Awkward, no? The poor translator may be talented, but subtleties of usage in cases like dance vocabulary could still play the role of frustrating foil.

Fortunately, here is where glossaries come to the rescue — many sites devoted to particular types of dance provide glossaries so you can become familiar with the specifics just like the natives.   If you’re like me, (and I know I am), and have fallen in love with Argentine Tango, here is a glossary with all the terminology you’ll need to look like a real milonguero or -a (a what?  look it up…).

I have to warn you, though, that it can be rather tedious to run down a dry list of words, no matter how much you admire any given dance.  My time tested solution:  get out there and dance, translators.  Not only will it sharpen your linguistic savoir faire, and possibly save your career, but also…think of the geometric increase in your social networking possibilities, as well as the great legs you’ll have.

Now, if only I could afford those red shoes…