01 November 2009

Lead & follow in tango is not "black and white"

I have been in many a conversation before regarding who and what is "Leading and following." This is my opinion on the subject. It is agnostic cultural nuances. Rather, it is based on what I've heard, experienced, and observed.

Traditional Lead-follow dogma—The black and the white
The following is what I know, based on what had been initially taught to me.

–The leader (Active role)
  • The leader is in control of the dance and is the authority
  • The leader initiates the moves, pace, steps, tempo, etc.
  • The expectation is that whatever is led, is what is to be followed
–The follower (Passive role)
  • The follower is the person who follows whatever the leader initiates
  • The follower completes the initiated movement
  • The follower determines the embrace (close, open, etc.)

Did this paradigm work for me? Yes and No.

Yes, it worked for me when I was a tango beginner. It gave me a starting frame of mind to build on. I thought that it was an absolute rule and treated it as such. Not knowing any better, it worked for me.

No, it did not work for me when I learned how to "Dial in" to my partner. I started feeling the whole exercise to be forced and un-naturally rigid. The only one who was having fun, was me. Dancing with followers who were experienced enough to compensate for my shortcomings were the only ones where I felt the tanda to be (acceptably) good. Otherwise, it felt awkward.

Dynamic interactions—Black, white, and shades of grey

As I grew in my tango, I found that more and more, the rigid lead and follow model wasn't quite working out for me. The dance with my partner was less and less enjoyable each time. The more I learned, the more I realized that forced leading did not work for me, much more so for my partners.

–Dogmatic dynamism of lead and follow
I am not advocating the abandonment of the traditional lead-follow dogma. On the contrary, it is a standard that must be kept as it is one of the pillars of tango that makes it great, endearing, and enduring. It provides the roles that makes tango work.

That being said, what I've learned to do is to maintain the traditional standard and tweak it into something much like a real time loving relationship

  • Active and passive leading
"Active leading" is leading like you mean it. Lead with confident conviction with the expectation that you have put in the work to improve your technique.

What I have learned to apply is what I'd like to call, "Passive leading." It operates under the truth that all followers follow differently. When a movement is initiated, give time for the follow to finish. Feel where her weight's at. Feel where and when she tenses and relaxes her muscles. Feel how she feels the music. When the time is right, the leader FOLLOWS and compliments her movement to flow and make it look and feel right—Regardless if she's right or wrong, it doesn't matter. Leading has to be give-and-take and mutually rewarding.

  • Passive and active following
"Passive following" happens when the follower, follows the led movement... as led.

There will come a time when the follower will grow out of her beginner mold and develop a tango persona of her own. When that time comes, there is a very strong chance that she will engage in "Active following." She will hear the music and dance to it. She will move within your movement. She will embellish within the following. Her following is now dynamic and highly personal. When this time comes, one will know it and feel it. One must be prepared to adapt and assimilate her uniqueness into the overall leading and following dynamic.

= = = = = = = = = = =

This leading and following thing was simple in the beginning. However, as time and technique progress, so does the lead-follow relationship needs to evolve. It is necessary to make it happen for the follower... by leading well.


Mari said...

Ampster - I love this! This gets to the heart of so many discussions on Tango-L, Dance-Forums and blogs. Beautifully written.

Hoa said...

Thanks Ampster - your article seems to have healing effect to one of my most painful experience of tango.

AmpsterTango said...

@HOA—Glad to be of service :-)

Felicia said...

If only I could get my partner to read and accept the fact that forced leading is not working for me. :(

You have written my thoughts. Good article. :)

AmpsterTango said...

@ Felicia: There was a time when I lead by force. I felt that I (and my follow) was not getting the most out of the experience.

One day, I decided to put myself in the shoes of my followers and take their feelings into consideration over myself. Realizing that, the dynamic interaction of lead and follow started happening. Things seemed to happen smoother and much better.

It was not an easy transition for myself. I had to swallow my pride and tamp down my hubris. It seemed to make all the difference and opened a lot more opportunities I didn't even realize could be possible.