Wednesday, 28 April 2010

An aspiring leader

If you are a follower then learning to lead brings up some interesting issues. When I first started following, I would anticipate moves too quickly, I didn’t wait for ‘la marca’, I just guessed – incredibly frustrating for the leaders I was with! When I was trying to solve this problem, I decided that it might be good to learn to lead, my logic being that if I understood how frustrating it was to have a happy-go-lucky kind of follower, I might improve myself.

I mentioned this to my teacher and quite rightly (I now believe) she said she thought it was too early for me to try and learn the other part; that it would confuse me and make me less coherent. By this stage, I had only been dancing about 8 months (!) and now looking back on it, I think what a ridiculous idea! My teacher was very kind and told me that originally in BA, men used to learn to follow for about 2-3 years before being allowed to start to lead and that perhaps I should think in terms of that time period. My outlook has changed a bit now (I’m a much better follower) but I still think it is important to learn to lead but I understand now realistically that still might be some way off.

The other night however, I was asked to lead in a class where there were too many women. It didn’t go well and afterwards, I tried to think about why I led so badly and what makes a good leader. I realised that my problem was that I couldn’t convey my meaning across to the other person and that makes me feel very one sided. I can understand the language (ie: following) but I can’t speak it myself (ie: leading). However, when I say ‘understand’ I don’t mean that I can explain why I know what a particular signal means, I mean that somehow I just ‘know’ what to do. This means it is very hard when I’m dancing with a leader and they ask me why a move went wrong. ‘What would make you do X or Y?’ they ask and I can’t give them a sensible answer.

When I explained this to a friend (a leader), he said that he experienced it the same way but as a leader. He obviously could say ‘I do X and Y and she moves Z’ but this was only how it worked for him in a class situation. Once he was out on the dance floor and caught up in the tango, he just responded to the music. Moves came out of his lead without him consciously planning them and sometimes something magical would happen. Everything would flow from one to the other and then suddenly he’d realise the music was drawing to an end, and he had been dancing seamlessly and unconsciously for the last 2/3 minutes.

Something to aim for!


  1. I've found myself in this predicament many times in whatever I do. In tango, there comes a time when one (either lead or follow) just has to "Let go."

    The mechanical step-by-step stuff is easy. However, in order to makes things flow, I find that I should just not think about it and be guided by the music, with my partner in mind... then magic happens.

    Now that you're thinking about this, I don't think it will be long until you can make it happen.

  2. As a woman, I am happy to let go and follow what is led, even if it isn't what the leader intended. If they ask you what went wrong, just say you followed what was led and leave it at that.
    Just enjoy being a woman/follower. We can close our eyes and just try and enjoy the moment and the music without thinking too much. Men need to do a lot more.
    Trying to lead before you can follow is not a good idea which you fortunately realised. I don't care to lead, ever and never do in a class with not enough men. If that is the case, they should just rotate the women around the men.

  3. Exactly! What a great post. I wish more beginning leaders had realized that, and sooner.