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

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

  1. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    In my experience with people learning from teachers who start beginners that way, and where dancing both roles is done in every class at every level i don't see this making much of an impact. Or, actually, it seems to lead to better leading, while not changing a lot in the average skill level for following. And the transition to advanced following skills/active following/shared dance seems to be as elusive as ever - there is a stronger willingness to switch initiative, so that the leader and follower in some sense taking turns in controlling the dance, but that doesn't seem to translate into making it easier finding this 50 50 balance where both create the dance at the same time.
  2. Joy In Motion

    Joy In Motion Active Member

    No, my original blog opening was not the main point at all, but it did come across in a way that I did not intend and so it was important to me to fix it. I am still thankful for that. Agreed that it was a side point though; it did not affect the remainder of the article.

    I don't know of any way to prove that it takes more time or is more difficult to become proficient in leading (or in following), because there is no objective way of comparing proficiency in roles that have very different skills. How do you compare someone's ability to initiate against someone's ability to respond, someone's ability to decide against someone's ability to inhibit? That judgment of proficiency alone requires an agreement on how we judge leading and following and how we judge equivalency between the two, which I don't believe is possible. That "me and everybody" personally has the experience of greater difficulty in leading indicates a *perception*, and that perception is influenced by cultural, personal, and environmental (i.e., class/learning environment) biases. To give you a counterexample, I started learning both roles from the beginning, and I personally found that leading came more easily to me. By my own personal judgment, my proficiency at leading developed more quickly than my proficiency at following (when given the equivalent amount of time practicing and dancing in each role). That is based on my subject judgment; someone else might look at my leading and following and evaluate my proficiency in each differently.

    I did not "simply" declare that an illusion exists; I gave some very specific points to consider, which allow very specific points for us all to discuss in detail. I think this has been very helpful, regardless of whether people agree with my conclusions or not, certainly far more helpful than simple declarations of personal experience that don't consider other factors that may be coloring that experience, which is what I hear everywhere and why I felt prompted to write this article. I'm really enjoying the discussions in which people have risen to the challenge of debating these issues. And I totally respect those who defend the position that leading is more difficult when they do so using thoughtful analysis. But simplistic (and, frankly, dismissive) statements like "everybody knows" and "everybody experiences _______" are not real debate. Especially in the context of this article, because the main point is to show our perceptions and experiences of these roles are shaped by cultural, personal, and environmental biases.

    I'm not entirely sure that I understand what you mean by "bring some arguments that IMHO cannot get counterbalanced against leading" (please feel free to clarify if you like; I'm actually pretty curious), but I will say that in a world that tends to underemphasize and undervalue following, I think leading could use a little counterbalancing.

    I welcome more of your thoughts on this. I'm really learning a lot from the discussions I'm seeing and am hoping to post more responses here as I have time. Thank you for everyone for contributing your thoughts.
  3. opendoor

    opendoor Well-Known Member

    Agreed. From my experience I would argue that learning both roles is hindering the process: Its more than like learning two separate dances at the same time.
    Only in the very first lesson following and leading are comparably difficult. The longer someone is into dancing the more easier following will appear, and the more demanding leading will become. After dancing two tandas in the leading role I always need one tanda in the following role for my own recreation, recovery, and well being. Of course this creates anger and upset because there are always more women around than men.
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2017
  4. snapdancer

    snapdancer Well-Known Member

    I would turn this around. Your article asserts that "our perceptions and experiences of these roles are shaped by cultural, personal, and environmental biases" but doesn't do anything to prove it. Or even provide so much as anecdotal evidence to prove it.

    Your ideas are conjecture. I know someone who works at a large law firm which has successfully defended large tobacco companies against ruinous civil judgments by reminding juries that "correlation does not prove causation".

    If you had some kind of controlled study of a large population to support your point. Or even a small population. Basically you have nothing to support your conjecture, not even anecdotes. When it comes to whether smoking causes cancer, I recognize that science has not determined the mechanism by which smoking causes lung cancer, but the statistical evidence strongly indicates that might be true.
    Lilly_of_the_valley likes this.
  5. pascal

    pascal Active Member

    Cum hoc ergo propter hoc. I guess each country has its law. In mine, the law considers that if someone has a cancer after being exposed during his work to radioactivity, asbestos, coal dust, whatever, then the company who employed him will be declared guilty. Which does not seem unfair to me, by the way.

    But yes, philosophically speaking, if I lead a boleo and the lady does a boleo, the causality cannot be proven to someone who decided that there is no causality here.
  6. snapdancer

    snapdancer Well-Known Member

    You seem to be implying that I have decided that the article is false.

    Just to be clear, I did not state that the assertions in the article were wrong. What I am stating is that the article did not even attempt to provide any proof. I could be convinced of the article author's conjectures, given sufficient proof. But right now, I have none, not even anecdotes.
  7. pascal

    pascal Active Member

    Why, no. I did not even read the article. Seeing "very good" in the title was enough to convince me that it was very bad. No, I was just recting to your saying you have a friend who sided with the companies agains the victims, a friend for whom making money is the #1 thing. I certainly wold never have such a friend.
  8. snapdancer

    snapdancer Well-Known Member

    I didn't say this person was a friend, just that I know this person. Everyone's entitled to a legal defense, even those who are unpopular or despicable.

    Around the dance floor, I try to avoid letting extraneous matters intrude. On the dance floor, one's religion, education, politics, wealth, politics, social standing, etc doesn't matter to me. What matters is their behavior on and around the dance floor.
  9. Joy In Motion

    Joy In Motion Active Member

    Anecdotes would do nothing to prove my points. Part of the problem is that so many leaders assert that leading is more difficult based solely on their personal anecdotes, on the "fact" that they (and other people they know) find leading difficult and when they look at following it doesn't seem as difficult to them. But when you ask these leaders if they have invested as much time in learning how to follow as they have learning how to lead, they always say no. (I'm not saying nobody could say yes, as there quite possibly are men out there who have, but the answer has always been no with everyone I have asked, and I have never seen a men spend as much time actively practicing/learning the following role and dancing socially as a follower.) So the majority tend to have a very shallow understanding of how much goes into following, which means their personal anecdote means nothing at all because they are not in a good place to judge the relative ease or difficulty of following or a comparable level of proficiency to leading. I can give you plenty of anecdotes, but I don't believe single (or even a handful of) anecdotes prove anything. A controlled study, as you mentioned, could *possibly* point us in a better direction, but there are no controlled studies on these things. That doesn't mean that we can't look at the world around us, reflect deeply on these different forces, consider whether what's at play, and explore whether a different way of looking at the world makes more sense and will lead to more positive classes, dance partnerships, and communities.

    My article is intended to point out alternate possibilities behind what we think we are seeing. Many people are looking at these possibilities and seeing them resonate with their experiences, or questioning their experiences in a new and positive way. Others are completely disagreeing, some of them by arguing the actual points in the article and others by simply dismissing them and refusing to consider them and argue about them. I think it's important to question and counterbalance the common but baseless ideas that get thrown around ("leading is more difficult...obviously") without any deeper thought about their truth or about the effect they have on our dance culture (which to me is equally as important as the truth). It is not my intention that people start replacing the saying "leading is more difficult than following" with my own sayings, but that people stop just repeating sayings and actually reflect and discuss and question. When a leader says that in his experience leading is more difficult than following, I think I have raised some valid questions to ask: How much have you explored the follower role compared to the leading role? Have your teachers been giving leaders all the responsibilities and leaving the impression that followers just need to relax and follow what they feel? How does your movement/music/dance background and comfort level compare to the followers who are learning alongside you?

    My articles are always on the long side for blog posts (I just can't seem to make them shorter even when some tell me it might get me more readers), but I have to reign myself in and keep them at a respectable length. There is only so much I can cover at once. This whole topic would take an entire book if I were to just keep writing. So there are many things I left out. But if there is an interest in discussing the specific points in my article further, I can say that I think the first three points of the first section of the article (on why leading isn't more difficult than following) and the last point of the second section (on why leading seems more difficult) are good points to help us discuss how we see the leading and following roles, the dance partnership as a whole, and the way that we approach and teach and talk about both roles in our communities. The first point of the second section - Men are less likely to have dance experience and more likely to have insecurities about dancing - is a trend I have identified from asking many students and community members, but I welcome everyone (men and women) to reflect on their own personal experience and how it may affect their learning curve. It may change or add more nuance to their opinion, or it may not. The second point of the second section - We have a cultural attitude that leading is more important, more involved, and more difficult than following - is based on research I've done but that I decided not to go into in this article; the book The Courageous Follower by Ira Chaleff is a good starting point for those who are interested.
  10. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    I think we are getting a bit derailed because we are discussing several different questions in parallel:

    1) Is leading more difficult than following for a beginning follower/beginner leader
    2) Is leading more difficult than following in an absolute sense accross the whole spectrum of skills
    3) Do people experience leading as being more important than following
    and even a little bit of
    4) are women naturally better dancers, and what men do looks more difficult because men are struggling so much
    5) are men considered the to be more important than women, and for that reason what they do has increased social cachet

    1) Yes
    2) No
    3) Yes
    4) No
    5) have to think about this, but maybe?

    So i am nicely 50-50 when it comes to the question if i agree of disagree with anybody ;)

    Overall i think that following is at least as difficult as leading, but that the standard leader centric progression in vocabulary and teaching manages to mask this till we reach late intermediate skill levels.

    Basically we are having a variant of the aikido problem: some beginner aikido people think that basic skill in aikido will allow them to use it to defend themselves against a boxer. And it works for them because they practice it against their classmates, who are often not very good at boxing. Beginning followers are taught to avoid exploring the skills that are the foundation of sharing the dance, because when two beginning dancers dance with each other and we want to have any kind of learning going on we can't have both working on their skills at the same time. I.e. for a leader to work on the nuances of leading they need to explore it with a follower that as neutrally as possible reflects the consequences of their techique. But for a follower to work on the nuances of following they also need to explore with at leader that as neutrally as possible reflects the consequences of their technique, and we don't usually do that, and we don't even have a good vocabulary for that.

    Another thought: In my experience a while lot of the complexity of leading is no longer neccessary for having a good dance when when dancing with an advanced follower. When dancing with the people who i consider the very best followers i often spend whole tandas doing nothing besides walking, ocho, giros, and ocho cortados, and playing with small sacadas/leg displacements during the walk, and i shamelessly steal their musicality. It is when dancing with intermediate followers where i resort to more vocabulary and pushing what i hear in the music to keep myself entertained.
  11. snapdancer

    snapdancer Well-Known Member

    I didn't ask for anecdotes, I asked for proof. You've provided neither.

    So your blog post is conjecture. Fine ... if it were presented as such rather than flat statements of fact.
  12. snapdancer

    snapdancer Well-Known Member

    In my opinion based on years of experience:

    1) Is leading more difficult than following for a beginning follower/beginner leader


    2) Is leading more difficult than following in an absolute sense across the whole spectrum of skills

    I think that as you move through the syllabus the following increases in difficulty and matches that required of the lead.

    3) Do people experience leading as being more important than following
    and even a little bit of

    Don't quite understand the question,

    4) are women naturally better dancers, and what men do looks more difficult because men are struggling so much

    I don't think that women are naturally better dancers. Men struggle because the learning curve is steep.

    5) are men considered the to be more important than women, and for that reason what they do has increased social cachet

    I don't think that men are more important. But depending on the market, men may be more valued due to rarity.
  13. Joy In Motion

    Joy In Motion Active Member

    This is a refreshing comment and a great contribution to the discussion. Thank you! I love that you phrased these points as questions, though certainly the phrasing makes a big difference.

    I think a good clarification of the first question is whether leading for a beginning is inherently more difficult or more difficult because of the way it is taught (leader-centric, as you said). I believe the latter, obviously :)

    The question "are women naturally better dancers, and what men do looks more difficult because men are struggling so much?" is a good way of putting it because it makes me question how I phrased that point and to what extent I think it plays a role. I didn't mean to imply that women are naturally better dancers, as I don't think that's true; I was trying to get at the impact of negative cultural messages that men receive about dancing, which many men have described to me. But this is highly individual and there are so many other factors at play. I will be thinking about this more.

    I recall your last question (are men considered the to be more important than women, and for that reason what they do has increased social cachet?) coming to mind at some point, but I appreciate you pointing it out. Certainly it's worthy of reflection and discussion.

    Yes, yes, yes to your analogy from the world of aikido, and whole paragraph, as well as the paragraph that follows. I'm noticing that this conversation about leading vs. following difficulty almost always starts getting into what we think good leading really is. What's also interesting though is that some teachers acknowledge that they might prefer to teach vocabulary less but that there is an expectation from students based on what they think dancing is until they have been doing it long enough to appreciate more simple and subtle work.
  14. Joy In Motion

    Joy In Motion Active Member

    And my response was that these are things that can't be proven, just as the statement "leading is more difficult than following" can't be proven. I'm not trying to prove anything; I'm offering up points for discussion. I'm not offering them up as statements of fact either; my articles are my opinions at this moment in time. My article doesn't appear in an encyclopedia or in a scholarly journal; they appear on my personal blog.
  15. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    This is one of the reasons that i am consciously trying to use "mark" instead of "lead" - i don't actually think that partner dance is "leading and following" in the sense that organizations are using. For a bit i have considered to use "man" and "woman" to distinguish between the two roles, but considering that both genders dance both roles (and there is am implied hierarchy there, too) that does not work very well. Other options i have played with are that the leader is the "navigator" and the follower is the "driver", but i don't think enough people like rallies to make this image work. In some ways it is interesting how many of these team work relationships are there - people executing somebody elses plans, adapting them on the fly to changing situations, and how rarely we think of them as less important than the planners: boxers and their coaches, football teams and their coaches, navigators and drivers, snipers and spotters.
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2017
  16. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    I agree that the difficulty matches, but the progression i see is that the average follower can pick up all the technique and skill required to be a neutral follower in about 2-3 years, and then they can follow basically anything anybody might ever want to lead (modulo acrobatics, and things that are not actually leadable). At the same time the active following skills haven't progressed at all, and suddenly when that becomes the main direction that their skills can develop into they hit a really steep learning curve - more a learning wall - and often bounce off it.
    One of the strange experiences i keep having is that followers that i considered as having incredible talent as followers and great musicality often become quite uninspiring intermediate dancers who have worked really hard to stop being an active participant in the dance, or become frustrated with the constant demands to be more neutral that they stop sharing the dance, and go the other direction and start living for the moments where they can wrench the dance away from the leader. Neither helps much on the way to the next stages.

    Re:Rarity: In my experience there is an absolute dearth of advanced followers (which i think leads to leaders optimizing their dance towards dancing with passive followers - which makes active following less supported in the community - which makes it more difficult for followers to become advanced followers - and the cycle continues).
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2017
  17. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    Lets do a thought-experiment: what would a balanced tango syllabus look like?
    1) Walking - the leaders figure. The basic practice figure is: sidestep to the left, walking forward as many steps as we want - when practicing always more than 2, stopping in the collection. Leader initiated curving of the walk.
    2) Giro - the followers figure. The basic figure is: leader opens his chest to the left by turning on the spot. The follower takes the opening using a curved sidestep to their right, and while the leader continues creating the opening starts to walk forward, forward, forward. leader closes and the follower finds the collection that is appropriate. followers work on maintaining the leaders axis and balance. variations of the followers walk, including the standard giro walk. followers exploring how to find the collection and maintaining the leaders axis from any step in the giro. Followers playing with speeding up and slowing down the turn.
    3) Rocking the follower - the leaders figure. Interrupting the followers walk, stealing a beat, continue what we were doing before. applications in the walk. applications in the giro.
    4) Walking - the followers figure. extending and compressing the walk.
    5) Giro - the leaders figure: using the ideas from the "rocking the follower" to reverse the direction of the giro, leaving the giro by stepping out of it without the follower having stopped by herself in the collection. leaders playing with speeding up and slowing down the giro.
    6) Ocho - the leaders figure - pivoting and walking together. only follower pivots. only leader pivots.
    7) Ocho - the followers figure. adornments that steal a beat. adornments that don't steal a beat.

    rough, and has probably too steep a learning curve, but what about something like this as a basic idea?
    (this is somewhat inspired by a class i had a long time ago where a teacher was teaching the ocho cortado, and he said something like "This is a womans move, you have to mean it, it has presence.")
  18. snapdancer

    snapdancer Well-Known Member

    I've been thinking on that point. Thus far I've made some progress in my own dancing without a regular dance partner, but spreading my dancing among lots of ladies based on the idea that each one has their own unique flaws and that by limiting my exposure to a particular lady I can minimize her influence on my dancing and BTW she won't be absorbing my flaws. I think that I'm at the limits of that approach, because too many of them share the same flaws. In my area there is usually a shortage of follows at group classes. I'm starting to keep my eyes open and feelers out for a follow who's interested in actually improving in a true partnership.
  19. itwillhappen

    itwillhappen Active Member

    For me "difficult" means difficult do dance socially at a milonga, the effort to become a pleasant partner.
    So it includes environmental impact, cultural, social, methodical.

    Valid arguments don't proove much. Dancing show tango is easier than social tango because the partner and the music are conversant, there is an arranged choreography and the floor is empty. Right or wrong? I simply look onto the effort it takes to dance in front of an audience.

    It sounds not compelling that leader-centric teaching makes it more difficult to learn for leaders, but maybe for followers.
    Now a decade of optimizing tango teaching is gone - are most of our teachers so stupid?

    It plays a role where relevant previous dance experience ("effort") is in place. More common for women, of course, one can just ask them. But I've not seen one man learning to dance tango quicker than most of the woman. Maybe round here women get "better" selected as there is a shortage of male partners. And all women that are good leaders have been very good followers before - at least is the motivation "there are no men" not very promising.
  20. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    Nah, it is not stupid - it is very functional and works very well. It gets leaders and followers to a basic level of competence as soon as possible. It gets a leader leading as well as they can as soon as possible.

    Lets look at Eddies the Salsa freaks famous salsa curve:
    Beginning leader have a really steep learning curve. Beginning followers have a much shallower learning curve. I am not really worried about this - different skills have different learning curves. (though i actually think that the exponential growth of leaders is somewhat optimistic - in reality what i see is that leaders get stuck at the level of the followers they dance with, just like followers get stuck at the level of leaders they dance with. So mismatched learning curves work as long as there is a supply of more advanced people in the community, but after that, if we don't know how to develop parallel with each other we are in trouble, and festivals are just a band-aid).

    But what i am trying to discuss here is in this graph is called the female plateau - it comes early in tango, and there are very few followers who break it. This is not the point where following skill stops, this is the point where the actual core skills of advanced following start, and i have not seen any teacher who systematically addresses it - a lot of instruction is addressing the problem of getting leaders to the point where their curve intersects with the followers curve (i would argue that in tango this intersection is already pretty far into the followers plateau). And at that point both leaders and followers are at least high intermediate, and mostly pretty set in their approach to things. What i think we need to think about is how to reduce the difficulty of getting out of that plateau, and i think part of this is spending time on exploring advanced follower concepts earlier.

    (now if i am realistic then i know this is not really going to happen - it would ask followers to be worse at tango that they could be, and because of that get worse and less dances...and who would want that? - just as it would ask leaders to be worse at tango than they could be - all for a vague promise of payoff sometime in the future). But i think when discussing the skill progression we usually see in out community it is valuable to recognize that we lose so many followers at that step between intermediate and advanced, and that there is a whole world of skills after that plateau that are not often seen (and that because of that leaders sometimes don't know the matching skills, and don't know how to support them).

    So it is not really "leading is more difficult, and following is easy", but "leading is front-loaded, following is back-loaded, and for whatever reason following often stops before it gets to the advanced skills, and sometimes if feels that people are not even aware that these skills exist". As i said - there are much fewer advanced followers than advanced leaders, and considering how many intermediate followers there are it seems there has to be a systematic problem somewhere.
    Mladenac and itwillhappen like this.

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