Early on as a follower, I learnt that the cardinal sin was to expect/anticipate a step from the leader. As someone who has danced her whole life (but never in partner dances) I found this aspect of tango very challenging. I was used to being in control of MY body and dancing how I felt steps fitted to the music. In tango, I couldn’t do this – I had to give up that aspect of my dancing and instead learn to respond to the leader’s marks.
So for about 18 months, I have worked on this and now I follow (if I do say so myself) reasonably well. I’ve learnt to shut off the part of my brain that says is this right? I keep a tight lid on the part of my brain that delights in the music and says a giro would fit in with this phrase (unless a giro is led there in which case I rip off the lid with exuberance!) and instead I just try to read like Braille the script of the dance that is being created.
This is a good place to be in and will most likely suffice for most of my ‘tango career’ but can you get to a level where you become so good as a follower that you can ignore these rules? And perhaps more importantly, should you?
Last night, my friend said to me,
- X is here. She is wonderful and teaches in BA. She’s over here to visit her husband’s family and she always drops in to XX milonga. She is amazing, whatever you lead, she follows! Its breath-taking dancing with her.
I looked over at this ‘goddess’ in interest, keen to know who to watch for in the future. But then a thought crossed my mind.
- But what does she do if you lead something wrong? Does she follow you anyway?
- Oh no. If she senses you are doing something strange/not right with the music, she will extract you both from it straightaway. I’ve been dancing with her before and suddenly, she has ground me down and held me in place while she dances us out of the mess I’ve made!
- So it was ok for her not to follow you then?
- Oh course. She’s so good, she knows when to bend the rules.
‘Is this true?’, I wondered later. Can you get to a level where you know and do deliberately move away from the traditional follower mould? My friend is certainly an adequate dancer although like the rest of us, open to making errors sometimes. He was obviously accepting of the fact that X had ‘led’ them into something better but isn’t that a dangerous path to be starting on? Or it is ok for followers of a certain level to do this? Unfortunately, I never got a chance to see the divine Ms X dance as I left too early but still I’m uncomfortable with this idea? It seems to change the whole structure of tango as I know it.