One definition of a good leader, from a follower’s viewpoint:
Someone who makes you dance beautifully and who, if you make a mistake, covers it up so well, the follower herself even doubts if it was a mistake.
I have an adapted, borrowed theory. To dance well, you need to have some kind of understanding about the lyrics. Go to any workshop (good or bad) and the Spanish speakers will always extol about the importance of the lyrics in tango. When I attended a workshop with Los Disparis (a good workshop by the way) they spoke of how the tango lyrics were the ordinary man’s poetry and show us his dreams and fears [See my entry on their class here].
My Spanish is pretty basic but I’m trying to make it a habit to get a translation of at least the title of some of my favourite tangos. Obviously, the whole song is ideal but the title is a good starting point. I also think it’s quite important to learn a few words/phrases that come up in a lot of tango songs. I’m starting simple, ‘corazon’ (heart), ‘mi vida’ (my life) ‘penas’ (pain, sorrows) and then sometimes when I’m dancing I’ll hear one of these words sung out over the melody and I’ll suddenly feel something shift inside me as I understand just a little bit more about what I am dancing to and why.
Well that is my theory. I’ve now told it to two leaders on separate occasions and both have argued against it and said that understanding the English version wouldn’t help their dancing in any way (and one even speaks intermediate Spanish). Perhaps you need to have a certain mindset to go with this idea.
There is a tanguero who I meet quite regularly in class but rarely see at a milonga. In class, he generally gets the basics of the move first time. If I’m fortunate enough to be with him at the start, I know I’m in good hands and we can work on ironing out the difficulties straightaway.
The other night I saw him at a milonga and he asked me to dance. I was pleased and expected a pleasant tanda. Unfortunately, I’ve now realised that although this tanguero is good at steps and can easily navigate a studio with 8 couples – take him to a full size dance floor, add a lot of dancers (some of which will inevitably be erratic) and suddenly he goes to pieces. As we ‘bounced’ (ouch!) around the dance floor, I thought ‘Is this the same guy?’ He led steps that we had done in class admirably well, until ‘Bang’ – there goes another couple, that ‘I’ have now hit with my back.
I finally gave up when he stopped quite abruptly in the line of dance and started leading me into Americano with the free leg going forwards and back. One of those erratic couples careered into us and I felt my heel scrape down her ankle! Now it wasn’t entirely our fault (they were heading towards us at speed) but instantly my partner announced that they were in the wrong. As the girl ‘limped’ off the dancefloor, he said, ‘The floorcraft is not great tonight is it?’ and kept on dancing. Maybe not, but what about the limping girl?, I thought. As the last beats ended, I left him to go and apologise to the girl who thankfully did not bite off my head .
So now I know. Keep him in a classroom, avoid him on the dance floor.
There is a theory that a follower can give herself up entirely to the dance and find a complete connection with her partner. This state is sometimes called ‘entrega’ and means to surrender. Some followers dislike this term as they feel it is describing a situation where you lose all self control and allow the leader to take over. I was interested to read however, that this term comes from the verb ‘entregarse’ a reflexive verb which means not to surrender but to 'choose' to surrender yourself, a subtle but key difference.
For a follower to do this though, she must have trust in her partner. She must believe he will lead her through the dance safely and that she will allow herself to feel the music through him. Trust however, can’t just be expected.
I was dancing with someone not so long ago and he kept leading me into backwards linear boleos. They kept jarring with me. Just as I was relaxing, he’d throw in another. Eventually, I told him that I didn’t like boleos (and especially linear ones) as I was always afraid that I’d kick someone. ‘Relax’, he told me. ‘Trust me’.
I thought this was quite presumptuous. This guy dances well but I’ve not danced with him that much. To assume that I would give him my utter trust after one tango was incorrect. Perhaps I’m too uptight and serious or could this be what distinguishes a good tanguero from a dancer.
There is an interesting piece on 'entrega' on the Tango and Chaos site. It mentions there the trinity that makes up entrega: Man, Woman, Music. All parts have to be equal and this makes perfect sense to me.
Therefore asking me for my trust like a stick of gum is never going to work.