Tango Argentino > Good article on why leading in not more important than following

Discussion in 'Tango Argentino' started by Someday, Jun 4, 2017.

  1. Someday

    Someday Member

    This article changed my viewpoint and vocabulary on the topic. I was in the camp of 'just follow' but now I see the challenges of a follower much more clearly. I'll be giving following a try in the future to improve my understanding. Thought this was a good article for our community to see.
  2. Mladenac

    Mladenac Well-Known Member

    And why do we need to download the article?
    There is a security threat when downloading files.
  3. Larinda McRaven

    Larinda McRaven Site Moderator Staff Member

  4. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    FWIW, I've never heard anyone say that leading was more important than following. Tango is a partner dance.

    I do think generally speaking, leaders take longer to become proficient than followers do when starting out. It takes time for the leaders to be able to do their steps, as well as lead at the same time (with the correct timing). Oh yeah, they also have to worry about how to deal with floorcraft issues, and try to avoid some other couple about to bump into your follower.

    However, I also think that the followers steps are more difficult than leaders steps, in the social dance, (not so much for performers). In particular, the follower's back ocho is much more difficult than any step that leaders do, (again, I'm only talking about the social dance).

    I've also observed than often at some point, down the road (maybe a couple years, or so), maybe half the leaders will catch up to the followers, and surpass them. In the US (I don't know about other places), a woman is more likely to have had some dance training in her youth, than men.

    Do I have an opinion on which role is more difficult? Not really. They both are difficult, IMO.
  5. Lilly_of_the_valley

    Lilly_of_the_valley Well-Known Member

    All similar discussions seem to stem from the same concepts that have nothing to do with Argentine Tango itself (or any social dance, in my opinion, but I am not so proficient in other dances, so I won't insist on that :)) Among them:
    That partners' roles in a partner dance are not merely different (man's role, woman's role), they are also somehow unequal;
    That "dancing" primarily means "choreography/figures/steps";
    That inadequate teaching and inaccurate information about the dance is a standard sine qua non (just because it is fairly present in life);
    itwillhappen likes this.
  6. itwillhappen

    itwillhappen Active Member

    The first paragraph, two statements of fact, I do not agree with both.
    And it's from the title not about "importance" like in the thread but about "difficulty" - for me is it it obvious that the leading is significant more difficult. At least up to an upper intermediate level.
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2017
  7. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    This article creates a mild form of vertigo for me - i completely agree with its thesis, but i disagree with basically all the supporting arguments presented there. I feel that some ways it perpetuates all the stereotypes and what i consider misconceptions about how tango/dance works that make people experience following as "less " than leading.

    1. Followers have to master more vocabulary than leaders do.
    2. Followers have more movement, balance, and timing demands.
    3. Followers must develop more skills of inhibition and interpretation.
    4. Men are less likely to have dance experience and more likely to have insecurities about dancing.
    5. We have a cultural attitude that leading is more important, more involved, and more difficult than following.
    6. In classes we challenge leaders in their primary skills, but don't challenge followers in their primary skills. (the example given is "...classes focusing on a single piece of vocabulary, which creates a real-world situation for the leader, but not for the follower.")

    I personally think mastery of vocabulary, either for leaders or followers is a dead end, and no matter what ones opinion on teaching vocabulary in classes is, i think what is really behind most of these arguments is that we do an awful job at teaching the techniques and principles of active tango following to both leaders and followers. I think we have almost lost half of tango because the basic structure of instruction was the almost invariably male teacher travelling and teaching and demonstrating with talented local followers with much less experience. So what we see is very much a leaders dance in the sense of vocabulary, technique and mindset is set up to work in this environment. I think this is a flaw of tango teaching and learning, and not inherently part of the dance.

    There is amazingly little support for followers to become advanced followers and develop their dance beyond a certain point. What i tend to see is that tango instruction emphasizes followers to dance as little as possible, and instead attempt to become an extension of the leaders dance. And after maybe 4 or 5 years followers realize that most leaders dances are actually not that interesting once they have mastered the pure technical challenges, and they stop dancing tango or go sideways into djing, leading, or something else where they can explore their personal relationship with the music.

    Tango is a leaders dance because we make it so - neither leaders nor followers are taught the followers dance of tango. (interestingly enough we are really good about _talking_ about tango as the followers dance - how often have we heard "the leader follows the follower" and "the leader creates an opening and the follower decides how and when to take it", "the giro is powered by the follower" and things like that (i often wonder if we hear echoes of teachers of the past more than reflections of what is actually danced)).
    itwillhappen and sixela like this.
  8. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    would this till be true if we taught beginning followers from the first lesson "Followers: your job is to explore the geometry of the couple. The leader only leads when they have a base, and while they move from base to base the follower has complete freedom. Lets look at the ocho. The first exercise is to doubletime it without the leader noticing. Remember the basic technique of manipulating the length of the leaders step by working with the geometry of the couple . Leaders: For this exercise you are just the metronome of the couple. You are only allowed to do 3 steps walking forward, and then 2 ochos and then repeat. Don't change the rhythm, it will destroy the followers ability to improvise. Don't disturb the followers balance. Be as neutral as possible. You have to create a neutral, reliable background, the musicality and interpretation is all hers. "?

    Because these are intermediate follower skills, i would guess roughly equivalent to the level of a lead cross or gancho.
    itwillhappen and oldtangoguy like this.
  9. oldtangoguy

    oldtangoguy Active Member

    Sounds like you are talking adornos. Follows get to do things if the lead doesn't notice and consequently they don't mess with his plans.

    OTOH, I consider that intermediate following is not about adornos, but rather it is about sharing in the dance. Not back leading, but, for example, becoming heavy or light to help control the speed of the dance. In this case, the follow is able to contribute to the musicality of the couple rather than just letting the lead drive it and the follow doing independent musical things like adornos.

    Suddenly, the follower becomes a real partner in the dance. How to exercise this sharing is, in my experience, essentially never taught.
    Mladenac, Gssh and sixela like this.
  10. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    Hmm - i was aiming for something slightly different - the exercise would be an adorno, but the technical skill i was aiming for is awareness the leaders axis and maintaining it when extending a step into a doubletime, and extending the lenght of the lead there, and of the moment when the leader is between bases, and the follower can shape the the dance knowing that the leader will not get in their way.

    So less "don't mess with the leaders plans"/"let the lead drive", but more about knowing and using the couples geometry and dynamics. Its not passive, but active.

    Maybe instead "without the leader noticing" should have been something like "without the shape of the couple changing in a way that requires a deliberate action to get the whole thing back on track ?

    the one teacher i had who at least trying to teach this used this framework to do it - he asked my partner to think of my dance as being composed of times where i was on a base, and therefore she could not do anything, and times where i had left my base and was committed to something, a step, a lead, and then she was free to do what she wanted to do. Just like as a leader there are times when i can lead, and times where i would just take the follower of balance. Extending and compressing the leaders dance is part of that, and playing with the geometry, too.

    There are degrees to that - a while ago we had a thread where somebody asked if it was possible for a follower to do a sidestep when the leader leads a front step, and i actually think this is possible, but the extreme theoretical end of the range and not something anybody could really do, and adornos are the other end, where there is still a difference between what is lead and what is done, and while the geometry of the leader is not changed, the geometry of the whole couple is changed by the follower changing themselves. Being able to change the geometry of the leader and at the same time maintaining the flow of the dance is harder.
  11. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    In the alternate universe where tango was taught first by old milongueras travelling all over the world playing with this would probably be basic following ;)

    It is one of the odd things about the influence of the estilo mundial - a lot of followers now do the small adornos at the beginning of the dance, but then they don't stop the leader from starting the dance till they are done, and it is often visible how they hurry out of the adorno to avoid being "heavy".
    itwillhappen likes this.
  12. itwillhappen

    itwillhappen Active Member

    You can derive a mastery of art from every posture, breath and move in your live.
    As a mastery is difficult beyond all words, there is no difference between following and leading, of course.

    But tango is just a social dance - I measure "difficulty" in the effort it takes to learn dancing relaxed and reliable at a milonga.
    Just the way one is chatting, drinking and eating there...
  13. pascal

    pascal Active Member

    Original poster, how did "Why Leading Is Not More Difficult" become "why leading in not more important" ?
    Anyway, I went no further than the first sentence "In the most common analogy for the dance partnership, the
    follower is the picture and the leader is the frame."
  14. itwillhappen

    itwillhappen Active Member

    I agree with you that tango is to a great part taught as a "leaders dance".
    But round here we've three tango schools, two of them are driven by a female teacher mainly. That changes nothing on the situation that in my culture male dancers are a rare and thin-skinned "resource" that occupuies most of a teachers attention. (Beside that IMHO leading tango is more difficult than following.)
    Finally for them there is only limited time to transform couples from fighting to dancing before they quit the beginner to intermediate lessons.

    And to organize a really game-changing follower training with well skilled teachers and some really(!) advanced couples(!) sounds quite challenging.
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2017
  15. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    Over time my perspective on the relative scarcity of male dancers has changed. What i see is something like this:

    1) for absolute beginners there seems to be either parity or near parity
    2) there are more intermediate women than men
    3) there are fewer advanced women than men

    And i absolutely think this a function of a teaching structure where beginning and intermediate women are encouraged to have as little presence in the dance as possible. But when we get to a certain level then this is no longer interesting. Once we both have the basic technique down and vocabulary is mostly not really an interesting challenge/experience anymore we have to do something more, and the options i see for this "more" seem to be pushing the vocabulary further and going into performace/competition, consider the ones dance to be good enough and get satifaction from the tango social life, or working on this idea of shared dance (i really like this way of putting it - thanks oldtangoguy).
    And if we want to work on the shared dance we run immediately into the problem that it requires follower and leader skills that are never taught, and that are often contradictory to how we were thinking of tango before. Basically a lot of common vocabulary is somewhat difficult as shared vocabulary, leaders do not know how to follow the follower when the situation changes in ways they have not expected, followers often have an idea how to "take over", but not how to blend their dance with the leaders dance so that there are no jarring shifts where it moves from 100% leader to 100% follower with nothing inbetween, but where most of the dance smoothly moves between 80% leader and 80% follower, where the most exciting moments happen when it is not even clear anymore who heard the music like that, and who did it, but where the dyad becomes something different from the two dancers just added together.

    I have been thinking since yesterday about what a tango curriculum where the skills that i see as distinguishing advanced followers from intermediate followers were developed from the start, and it is a really interesting question. Currently followers seem to develop active following almost subconsciously after a lot of dancing, and somewhat randomly, and they have the further handicap that beginning and intermediate leaders as they are trained now don't have the skills to work with this because they are not exposed to this (except in the rough sense of "trading off who leads", which is something quite different). Maybe the "neutral follower" should really be thought of more as a training technique to allow leaders to work on their stuff under laboratory conditions, and that the complementary training technique might be something like the "neutral leader", where all the leader does is walk in a straight line stepping on the main pulse (or leads some other figure repeatedly without and deviation). So a class would have a leader skill portion which would look quite similar to what we do now, a follower skill portion where followers work on extending and shortening the couples steps, curving the couple, slurring and pushing the pulse, maintaining and supporting the couples balance and cadence when stepping somewhere different than the leader expected. Leaders learning to feel the couples geometry and cadence as something separate from the either the leaders or the followers cadence and geometry, and working on supporting it.

    I have actually seen some hints of exercises that develop skills like that - one teacher had a navigation exercise where the leaders were supposed to dance like usual while being blindfolded, and the followers were responsible for keeping the couples in the line of dance and not running into each other. That was quite interesting - there was quite a bit of pushing and pulling and breaking of moves in the beginning, but after a while it smoothed out to a remarkable degree where the the followers navigating melded with the leaders marking the vocabulary. The proverbial "heavy" BA follower who follows a mark when her musicality tells her that it is the right time is part of that. Adornos taught as finding the balance and bases of the leader, and playing when they are off base and will not/cannot interfere, and knowing how to keep the couples geometry and cadence intact while doing them.
  16. tangomaniac

    tangomaniac Active Member

    I don't agree with "followers must develop skills of inhibition and interpretation. Women should give in to the music and men should wait for them to finish. (Women need to finish on beat.)

    I don't want a woman to hold back what she's feeling.
    Reuven Thetanguero likes this.
  17. Reuven Thetanguero

    Reuven Thetanguero Active Member

    Very rarely I come a cross an article with witch I disagree with on virtually every point and argument. The referenced article here is one of those few.
    I do not know the author, so I am just talking in general terms, but if I had to assess the thinking behind this writing I would say that it’s written out of resentment of the role the leader has.
    Since leaders are typically men, it “smells” like an attempt to emasculate men and elevate followers to a equal level of importance in controlling the lead.

    But again, I am not a psychologist, nor a mind reader, so let’s review some arguments:

    “Followers have to master more vocabulary than leaders do”

    Follower must be familiar with various movements associated with the dance, not with “vocabularies”. It’s the leader’s job to deal with it... If he gives her a good lead, she doesn’t have to be familiar with the “vocabulary”, just stay on the beat and follow. From my experience a lot of the better and more experienced followers indeed close their eyes which helps them focus on responding to the lead and not think ahead.

    “Followers have more movement, balance, and timing demands”

    Dancing backward is not fundamentally different then forwards. As long as the leader protects her from floor craft dangers it’s the same. This is dancing, not walking? Did I hear a complaint about high hills? Gender discrimination?

    “Followers must develop more skills of inhibition and interpretation”

    Followers must seamlessly interpret and execute another person’s ideas in time because they follow, not lead. This is their part in team work.

    “We have a cultural attitude that leading is more important, more involved, and more difficult than following”.

    While culturally leading in life may be considered more important than following, in dancing it has never been the case. It’s a team work, one can not dance without the other.
    Teacher pay more attention to leaders because they have an additional role that followers don’t. It as simple as that.

    I could go on and on with these comments, but at some point they become repetitive because the arguments state same concepts and conclusions.

    I would state that if a mistake is made it’s the leaders fault, unless the follower was off beat or back leading.

    I have respect for all qualified dancing teachers, but when it comes to Argentine Tango, I would recommend going to the source, those instructors who live and breath Tango from early age, and who learned it in it’s original cultural environment. That is my personal experience.

    I am sure many members here will disagree will my views, just as many will agree. And that’s good - let’s keep a civil discussion.
  18. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    Yeah, the article lost me right at the beginning with that. I started to wonder if she was talking about some other dance, rather than tango.
  19. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    I read through it quickly yesterday, and, yeah, she doesn't get tango specific for some time.

    I usually think of recognizable as input input from a partner as something that happens only when I' dancing with what I would think of as an "advanced" partner. But, I think that's because of what is offered to "follows" in lessons.
    The one very notable exception to this was the man I took classes from for a year and a half. Here are class notes that he sent out from the milonga class he taught.

    Back Mover Ultimately Controls the Step
    You determine size of steps – Walking backward, you have the power to control the size of the step.
    Remember that you ground the fwd mover’s energy and that the step is not complete or fully defined until you put your foot down. Enjoy this! The reality is that you have always controlled the size of your backward step. It is the backward mover who necessarily controls the size of the step. Do it consciously and it will help you to find your heel more quickly in the ground. It will also help you to maintain connection at your pelvis because you will be
    aware of your power to channel your partner’s energy only when you feel their energy moving from their pelvis to yours and then on to your heel.
    This isn’t about usurping the lead. It is rather about making a clear musical decision HOW you choose to follow the Leader’s lead. It is very important that you see and feel all the possibilities, and let the moment, the music, the person with whom you are dancing, determine the HOW of your step.

    The author is Steven Payne, and he taught here in Portland and Eugene and probably other places I don't know about.

    I cherished dancing with women who had learned from him.
  20. oldtangoguy

    oldtangoguy Active Member

    I don't get this. If I (the leader) lead and take a small step yet the "backward mover" takes a large step, I will be pulled off axis. OTOH, if I lead, and take, a large step and yet the "backward mover" takes a short step, I step on "her" and that doesn't work either.

    I think of the power vested in the follow more in terms of weight. If I attempt to lead a large or fast step, and she resists by becoming heavy, I will naturally "lead" a shorter step unless I really want to bull into her. So she does, to some extent, have control over step size, but the size of her step isn't the primary control. Rather, step size is only secondary to the weight she offers.

    Is this what is meant by "grounding" the fwd mover's energy? I have always had a difficult time with what I consider some of the woo-woo terminology favored by some tango instructors. However, as a leader, I do understand weight, pressure, and other things I can actually feel through the connection. Energy, not so much.
    Mladenac likes this.

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