The terms ‘leader’ and ‘follower’ are so much a part of the international tango vocabulary, that I often see even some Argentinian teachers use it. In fact, most of the time when people use leader/follower, they learned it from their teachers.
In my work as a teacher I avoid to use them. Although they might look like an acceptable terminology, in my opinion they are misleading. In this post I will give you my top four reasons why.
This might be a bit controversial topic, since not all teachers agree with me. Anyway, I see as part of my duties to write about it. You, as my reader will decide am I right. So, lets begin.
As I said, I name here my top four reasons why I avoid to use the terms ‘leader’ and ‘follower’. I tried to explain them in short and to support them with a things which were said or written by other relevant people.
I already wrote about why a man should follow the woman and why the woman should follow the man – but here I put my point in a different perspective. As an addition to this, the third and fourth reasons are about the nature of their joint effort to achieve a perfect connection and enjoyment. So, why leader/follower terminology should be avoided?
1. Because the woman leads the emotion – Tango is an emotional experience. Both, men and women, can enjoy the emotions in the dance equally, but they do not contribute to creating this emotions in the same way. Man can lead the emotion, of course, but in the same time, he has many other things to do as well – the choreography, the navigation in the space, the musicality of the movements etc.
The woman in tango has a little different priorities list. First or very high on her list will be the emotion. She will focus on how she feels, how the partners makes her feel, how the music makes her feel, how the embrace makes her heart ticking. In a sense, you can say that the melody is the feminine and the rhythm is the masculine aspect of the tango music.
She will also focus on the communication, because without that she will not be able to receive the emotion, from the partner or from the dance itself. She opens the channels to receive informations in order for the dance to happen, but more important – she will do it because it feels good. If the good emotion stops, the channels will be closed. This makes the dance hard and uncomfortable.
The conclusion is that most of the things the woman does in the dance depends on how she feels about them. Woman in tango is not a receiver of the emotion, she is, rather, the creator, the active element – she gives the color to all that the couple does. She leads the emotion.
2. Because the man follows her heart and body – On the other hand, the mans part of the equation is receiving and nurturing that emotion. All the man does in the dance is to win her heart. The tango in its core is a game of seduction and it follows a similar rules as any other game of seduction.
Check out my post about how the tango is a game of seduction.
Historically, tango was created by men who wanted to win a heart of the woman. Buenos Aires in the beginning of 20 century was overpopulated by young men, poor and lonely. Some say that there was just one woman for every 10 men. They had only two ways to get a woman in their life: to pay for her or to win her with tango. Those historical circumstances shaped the way the tango is danced – they defined what will be the masculine and the feminine role. Check more about this in the reason number 4.
Having all this in mind, the man in tango has limited options what and why he should do – and non of them is connected with leading. Of course, I am talking here about a good dancing – man can of course ignore what and how she feels, but then he should expect her to close emotionally.
Guys, to dance tango, you must listen to the heart of the woman. – Cacho Dante (The Tango and Trapeze Acts)
His job is to make her body move together with the music, in an enjoyable and smooth way. He achieves this by giving subtle suggestions to her body, paying attention not to push her out of her comfort zone too much so she won’t become tensed. If woman in tango makes mistake, the role of the good male dancer is to follow and cover her mistakes, so she even do not notice that she makes them.
The mens job in tango is to constantly watch how her heart and body reacts to his suggestions, to adjust, to avoid what makes her tense and to create patterns she finds enjoyable. His job is to follow her.
3. Because tango is a cooperation – One of the most important aspects of the couple in tango embrace is that there is a constant flow of informations and energy between the partners. This means that the partners both contribute to what is going on. Every one of them has a role.
Sometimes happens that a beginners tend to compete with their partner, even sometimes blame them for the mistakes. This comes from having a wrong mindset – a dancer should understand the tango embrace as a cooperation, a joint journey to accomplish what some call a perfect tanda.
If you are not a beginner who is still focused on himself/herself, not giving all you have is a selfish dancing. This is usually not something that is learned in tango – it is part of the character of the people.
When you dance tango you must give everything. If you can’t do that do not dance. – Ricardo Vidort
Tango is a process in which both partner must give, but in the same time they will receive what the other is giving. And for sure is not just leading or just following.
If a man improvises the choreography, “leads” the movements – the woman “leads” the emotion. Both of them are contributing, because tango is a cooperation.
4. Because the magic is in the polarity – What I want to point out here is something which deserves more space, and I will probably write a new post about this topic. Here I want to just give you a short note of the idea, as one of the reason why I do not like using leader/follower terminology.
What is so magical about tango is that it makes a man feel more masculine and a woman more feminine. The roles for the male and the female in tango open a possibilities for discovery of their core.
Read my post about the masculine energy in tango
I am talking metaphorically here, but there is a great deal of truth in this analogy. There is no tango without testosterone and estrogen. And tango do not accepts them mixed – it needs them polarized. The more polarized – the better.
In our society the difference between the masculine and the feminine energy is often blurred. Some people are often afraid to express the true nature of their core. Men are less men and women are less women. Tango helps them to regain their natural role, at least for a short period of time. This short insights in time can trigger transformations of peoples lives, as they discover how the feeling of being a more masculine man makes them more centered or being a more feminine woman makes them feel happier.
Using the leader/follower terminology takes away the opportunity to underline what the partners in reality do: men expressing their masculinity and women expressing their femininity.
To support my all four points I will finish this post with a quote from a very dear book. It is long one, but its worth taking time to read it all.
The English-speaking Tango community generally uses the terms ‘leader’ and ‘follower’ to describe those roles, because they are not gender specific. These terms do not come to us from Tango, but from the Ballroom community, and they can be taken to imply a hierarchical relationship, with the ‘leader’ having higher status than the ‘follower’. The vocabulary used by the dancers of the Golden Age implied no such value judgment.
Often when a man who had learned to dance in the practicas asked me to lead him, he would say that he would dance the woman’s role, and I would dance the man’s. (…)
In describing what the leader does, dancers of the Golden Age often used the verb llevar, a verb which has a number of possible translations, including to carry, to take, or to wear – a very different idea from the one implied by the verb ‘to lead’ (…)
In describing what the follower does, a number of different verbs were used. One was to allow (dejar) oneself to be carried (llevada). Another was acompañar – to accompany.
But acompañar was also used to describe what the leader was doing, especially when discussing turning steps. This represents a fundamental truth about the relationship between the leader and follower as understood by the dancers in the Golden Age. To lead was in fact to follow the follower. This paradox lies at the heart of the choreographic freedom enjoyed by Tango dancers in the Golden Age. It is by following that the leader gets the power to carry the follower wherever the leader wishes.
– Christine Denniston, “The Meaning of Tango: The History and Steps of the Argentinian Dance”
As I already said, I do expect many people not to agree with me about this. If you are one of them I would like to hear about your reasons in a private message or in the comments section bellow.
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