Thursday, 18 Oct 2018

Leading and Following in Tango

Leading and following in Tango

Leading and Following in Tango. Main Rules

Though it is usual for a tango couple to be a man and a woman, this is not Holy Writ and frequently men dance with men and women with women. However… I am prepared to dispense with political correctness – and point out that men and women are different!

When a man dances with a man it is simply not the same as dancing with a woman, although I am prepared to consider that if both men are gay then maybe it is very similar. Given that when tango began it was about male-female contact, not to mention the sublimation of sexual desires, then we should not be too surprised that many of the modern – day needs for tango demand the same sort of body shapes and ‘chemistry’ to work fully. I realise that there are people who think of tango as ‘just another dance’ and even some who consider it to be a form of exercise but, for me, it is a means of relationship between two people, preferably of different sex.

Leading and Following in Tango - photo 1

Leading and following in Tango

Leading and Following in Tango. Useful Information

To this end, then, in tango, generally speaking, there is a man’s role and a woman’s role. Those who dispute this might try following without wearing high heels or lifting their heels up. It feels very odd. Similarly, try to lead with high heels. It is very difficult. I have seen female tango professionals dance the woman’s role with low heels, and it either looks strange or they raise their heels off the floor. Interestingly, put a man in high heels and he is able to follow quite elegantly because the high heel changes the body posture, most significantly by encouraging a ‘weight forward’ posture even when you walk backwards.

Leading and following in Tango. Commonly in tango, in Europe and the United States at least, the two roles are referred to as ‘leader’ and ‘follower’. These two terms more accurately describe the roles of the individual members of the couple than the gender, but I think this convention has yet to find much favour in Argentina. More recently, a concept has arisen that is referred to as ‘shaping’, to attempt to refine even more accurately what the man does in the dance. It is an attractive notion and attempts to get away from the image of a man ‘leading’ an animal on a halter or a small child by the hand. As far as I know, this has not caught on as a term yet, and I cannot guess what a ‘shaper’s’ partner might be called that would be suitable. I dread to think of the reaction from some quarters if it became ‘shaper’ and ‘plasticine’!

Leading and Following in Tango - photo 2

Leading and following in Tango

Leading and Following in Tango. Fall in Love with Tango!

To be serious, the notion of shaping is that it is the shape of the dance each couple does that the leader is responsible for; he is not responsible for the shape his partner is in! And I promised to be serious, too. For the moment, then, I propose to use the terms ‘leader’ and ‘follower’ because they have become well established. The ship of tango has one captain, the leader. This is a huge responsibility, particularly with an unfamiliar partner on a crowded dance floor. The leader therefore needs to learn how to make decisions, make them with confidence and convey a clear and unambiguous message of intent to the follower. The timing of this message is vital. It is interesting to note from teachers in the United Kingdom that one problem we all have with male newcomers to tango is their reluctance to become macho enough to drive the dance. Does this tell us something about the culture of the time, or Anglo-Saxon attitudes to women? We are, after all, not talking about aggression here; just decision making with style and thoughtfulness. Perhaps the word ‘shaping’ does fit in with this concept rather well? The leader ‘shapes’ the dance. That has a nice feel about it for me.

Leading and following in Tango. For her part, the follower must accept the role and try not to second- guess the wish of the leader. The follower should learn to be able to read, by feeling the signals of intention coming from the body of the leader. When I was first taught to follow, I was encouraged to focus intensely on the upper chest of my leader. I now realise that this was one of those helpful simplifications that made it possible for me to cope with following. The reality is that signals fowl between leader and follower from the whole body. To start with, though, I do think it is helpful to keep it as simple as we can. I rather like the image offered by the expression ‘tango eye’. This is the imaginary, non-swiveling eye in the middle of a tango dancer’s breastbone that looks at the partner all the time. If we look each other in the ‘tango eye’ all the time, we stand a chance of learning to tango well.

Leading and Following in Tango - photo 3

Leading and following in Tango

Leading and Following in Tango. Do not by shy! 🙂

Having grasped the meaning of the leader, the follower has to be skilled enough to execute the maneuver requested without interfering with the balance of the leader or the couple as a unit, or (for that matter) with the leader’s continuing decision-making process.I suppose we could use words to convey our intention. I am reminded of “Left hand down a bit, Number One”, and “Aye, aye, Skipper”. However…words would never convey enough information quickly enough to work in the context of a dance. Reading body language, moment to moment, is quite hard to begin with, but once you have grasped it the fun can really start between you. This is the essence of tango, and if you think about its history it should be no surprise to imagine how a non- verbal courtship might suit the rare mix of languages and cultures that was Argentina when tango was born.

Leading and following in Tango. To make life easier for me, the writer, I shall from here on maintain the assumption that the leader is male and the follower female. In this way I hope to avoid confusion. I must hasten to say at this point, however, that many women are great leaders and many men, including me, have learned to be followers and enjoy it immensely.

Leading and Following in Tango - photo 4

Leading and following in Tango

Leading and Following in Tango. Passion in Heart

Daniel Trenner and Rebecca Shulman have produced a really entertaining instructional video on ‘Exchange of Lead and Follow’, in which they show how to switch the lead back and forth. They achieve this either by stealing the lead or by giving it up. As a spectacle it is great to watch and I can tell you, having done it a good bit, it is great fun to do on a dance floor. My regular partner, my wife Judith, is a pretty good leader but finds the mental effort of it rather exhausting and usually gives the lead back after a short while. Similarly, it takes some agility of mind for me to stop leading and relax in the arms of another leader and trust them to take care of me. Interestingly, several of my friends have discovered that role reversal is quite easy when both people are averagely competent in both roles. It makes us suspect that it does not have to be taught.

Leading and following in Tango. One lovely tradition you can see in Cambridge is the ‘teacher’s birthday, anything goes, all comers, excuse me tango’! After singing ‘Happy Birthday to You’ and the presentation of a card signed by all the pupils, a tango track is played and the teacher dances with whomsoever butts in, be they leader or follower, cheerfully dropping into the required role quite seamlessly. Fun to watch and fun to join in.

Leading and Following in Tango - photo 5

Leading and following in Tango

Leading and Following in Tango. How to Achieve Success in Tango

One big problem about reversing roles is the very important difference between the way a leader initiates a movement and the way the follower responds. There is absolutely no problem for either dancer to learn the ‘vocabulary’ of the other. Indeed, the more experienced you become at tango the more you realise that both dancers can use all the possible movement options (giro, sacada, gancho and so on) perfectly compatibly within the dance. There are really no exclusively ‘leader steps’ or ‘follower steps’ at all.

Leading and following in Tango. For the convenience of learning it is wise to have some structure to begin with but pretty soon you realise that you are both free within the connection relationship to do anything you find pleases you. No, what I am referring to is something much more significant, and it relates to timing and the initiation of motion. The leader begins the couple’s movement by transmitting to his follower his intention to move with his upper body; he begins to shift his axis. The follower, sensing the intention, first moves her free leg and keeps the presence of her upper body still with the leader. This difference should become so subtle that it would be picked up only by the most eagle-eyed observer; a casual onlooker would see simultaneous action on the part of the leader and follower.

Leading and Following in Tango - photo 6

Leading and following in Tango

 

«A Passion For Tango»

David Turner

 

 

 

 

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