Leading and following in Tango – what I think now

My last post generated so many conversations – mainly in bars but also online – thank you. The point I was making is I would love it if followers dancing with me were more active, changed the way I dance, and cared less about mistakes. I wanted them to dance not just try to follow without errors – and not to judge their performance on that basis.

I thought I was on the right lines. And initially the comments I received – particularly from followers both in Spain and the UK – seemed to confirm this.

Just two days later and I am confused again with the reality of what is going on when followers dance with me.. and that is my main point – as I suddenly realised – they are dancing with me ... And I am just not good enough.

Before I return to this there have been several main threads and thoughts in conversations that seemed really important to me and worth summarising and sharing:

  • Mistakes should not matter, they are an inevitable part of dancing such a miraculous dance. If there are no ‘mistakes’ we are simply not pushing forwards and may ultimately become bored and dissatisfied. Mistakes can be creative, celebrated, or ignored by both as we get on and dance. I think this is something all are in agreement with – and perhaps a clear call here is for everyone to never, ever, say “sorry” again?
  • Followers need around 3 years to concentrate on their own technique.
  • Followers need again something like 3 years to learn to interpret a lead so it truly becomes instinctive.
  • Followers will react to each leader differently as people – they may show parts of themselves to one leader and not another.
  • Over leading is a disaster for all.
  • It is a conversation.

By coincidence I am currently reading a wonderful selection of essays on Tango – ‘Tango Lessons’ edited by Marilyn Miller. And this evening my attention was caught by so many related and interesting points raised in an essay on Nuevo that appears in this collection – by Carolyn Merritt entitled “ Drive me like a car, or what’s so New about Tango Nuevo?”

It opens with two quotes – one of which is this :

“Some girls get fed up with following, and they want to dance like a man because they say it’s more entertaining. But I say you don’t have enough time in your lifetime to learn how to follow well. So I would recommend to these girls to really learn how to follow.” – Carlos Gavito.

The article reminds us that people have fought against the terms leaders and followers outside of the traditional macho Argentinean world – preferring to call the roles “interpreters” and “trackers

So leaders are trackers because they respond to the followers clues as well – and I love the followers being interpreters. They interpret the suggestion of the lead through dancing. Perfect.

The essay talks about the followers outside of traditional world being asked to step forwards with a confident and masculine energy – how interesting. And importantly they define what I was asking for as ‘active following’ – and discuss that many people resent this as a devaluation of femininity.

This quote says so much :

“I think it’s very clear in Tango that the man leads and the woman follows. But this doesn’t mean that the woman is passive, nor does it mean that the man is the boss, that he commands the woman. Because Tango is a dialogue, it’s a conversation. One proposes the topic, and the other continues the conversation, and the content and the form of the dialogue is constructed by each … The man who dances Tango well dances smoothly, clearly, piecing together the dialogue one step at a time. And this isn’t an new idea. If you look at the old dancers, and the true milongueros, the really good milongueros don’t have that arrogant attitude in their dance. On the contrary, the man who dances like that doesn’t know how to dance.” – Olga Besio.

But I want to return to my main realisation over the last couple of days – the followers I am talking about are dancing with me. Someone with only two years experience. And almost all of them are also still within their first few years of their own learning. Of course they follow and worry about mistakes.

I know 4 followers quite well who are either my teacher or partners in an advanced class – they have so many years of experience – and would dance in exactly the way I ask – except they have absolutely no interest in dancing with me. Of course not! They want to dance with someone who can lead them properly and bring out exactly the dancing that I was asking for in my original post – something they are so keen to express but so lacking in opportunity to do so.

I don’t want to wish my life away … but I so look forward to being good enough that these dancers want to dance with me … as well as the followers who do dance with me now … who will also be years further along their journeys.






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