Friday, 12 March 2010

How good do you have to be before you can ignore the rules (and should you)?

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.


  1. Good that you are questioning her taking control on the dance floor. It is interesting how foreigners believe that anyone from BsAs knows best, certainly someone who teaches. I disagree. The majority of those who teach never set foot in a milonga to enjoy dancing with people they do not know. Your friend was in awe of her capabilities and allowed her to take over. She took over on the dance floor as she would in a class. That is not the prerogative of the woman in tango. She changed the rules to suit herself and took over the dance in the man's role. There are no mistakes in tango. She should have followed whatever he led, and it was his job to make the correction. If we start telling women they can take over the dance when they are at a certain level, we will have fewer men on the dance floors where they should be in charge.

    You should be uncomfortable with the idea of taking over. It's not the woman's role. It good that you thought this one through.

    Bad habits are being copied by dancers who never question a teacher because he/she was born in Argentina and must know the way things are. All the new hand and arm positions with wiggling butts are common these days, but have nothing to do with the elegance of tango. They are to impress foreigners to take more classes and engrain these bad habits into their bodies.

  2. My attitude is not to worry about it. A person who is there, will be able to interpret what this stuff really means and will be able to make the decisions, because that's what it means to be actually good at something rather than just having to go with what we're told.

  3. A natural consequence of a "wrong" lead is to just put one's foot down for example, in order not to lose balance, and this gives information back to the lead which ought to be useful.
    And, how do you know he is "doing something wrong with the music"? I have learned such lovely things from following and one of them is that I am able to hear the music in news ways through, and with, the leader.

  4. One of the worst things men around here say about a female dancer is that "she dances like a teacher", meaning she does not sincerely trust and connect during the dance, instead she judges and corrects.

  5. Thanks for your thoughts.
    [Still never got to see her dance.]

  6. Occasionally when I dance with my teacher she "adjusts" my moves; they always fit the music better and are generally less rushed that way. The very best followers can hypnotise their leaders into leading the moves they want to follow.