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

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

  1. newbie

    newbie Well-Known Member

    1) Yes
    2) Yes
    3) Yes
    4) Yes
    5) With the return of religion and obscurantism all over the world, yes. But while representing the majority of mankind, it's not that part of mankind that dances AT.
  2. snapdancer

    snapdancer Well-Known Member

    @newbie Regarding #4, why do you feel that women are naturally better dancers? There have been at least a couple of "no"s for that in this thread, so please expand on that.
  3. Joy In Motion

    Joy In Motion Active Member

    Each is more difficult in their own way: Dancing social tango is far more difficult from an improvisational perspective, in terms of the dancer's own movement, their relationship with their partner, their ability to navigate on a crowded dance floor, and their ability to hear and respond to the music. Dancing show tango is far more difficult in terms of body control and technique, clarity of timing and expression, the ability to connect with the audience, and the ability to make something rehearsed look alive. Not to mention the incredible work it takes to create a good choreography, which is tremendous.

    Not at all. Many of these teachers themselves recognize that there has been great improvement in many areas but that the leader-follow balance can be improved. Even though I am a female and primarily a follower who teaches in the primary role with an assistant, I still find myself focusing more on the leader's role. The cultural influence is that strong. But when I balance my teaching (using the methods I outlined in my article, which I wrote about from my own experience), I find that both leaders and followers learn more easily and develop a more balanced partnership from the very beginning. They also appreciate each other's roles more and experience a more balanced sense of responsibility. This is proof enough for me.

    I have seen one such man who has learned faster than most of the women. More than one, actually. And I personally found that leading came more naturally and quickly to me than following did. I started dancing both roles immediately, and I took to leading like a fish takes to water, while following has been a love-hate kind of thing. My following skills ended up outpacing my leading skills only because I ended up practicing and dancing socially as a follower far more than as a leader. But the effort it takes for me to work on certain things in my leading has always been less than working on something as a follower.
    itwillhappen and sixela like this.
  4. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    Not newbie, but my 2 cents:

    From my impressions of women who dance as leaders in my community and at festivals i don't really see any differences between their abilities and mens. I don't dance as a follower socially, so i don't know how good they actually feel as a couple, but i never had the impression that they were better leaders than men who dance the same role - and women who were beginning leaders seemed to have pretty much the same problems as men. In reverse i have not danced with many men who are followers, but the few occasions where i seriously danced with men who had put decent amount of work into their following i thought they were not doing much differently than women in that role, either. Now most women who lead probably have experience in follow, and most men who follow also have a background in leading, too, so this is not exactly comparing "natural" dancing without any exposure to related skills before, but i think its close enough.
    I think for beginners there differences in physical attributes might play a role - if somebody has done some activity that teaches balance and moving ones body in general they have an easier time at the start. But that works as much as in favour of men who have martial arts backgrounds as it does in favour of the proverbial ballerina (and both run into trouble when their ingrained body mechanics conflict with what they are now trying to do - though wrestlers are less likely to insist in wrestling body mechanics being obviously how tango should really be danced ;) )
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  5. newbie

    newbie Well-Known Member

    Lower center of gravity. And more flexible body. Say, to have a look at my nails I will half-close my hand, the palm facing me. I would to some extent be able to just turn my wrist instead, but it's not a comfortable position.
  6. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    That one i did not expect - to me it doesn't seem that among the followers the ones with lower center of gravity are overrepresented among the ones considered to be the better dancers in my community. In leaders there are quite a few who go towards the short and stocky type, but it does not seem to me that it makes a big difference - i am on the tall and slender side, and i do not feel that it is making things more difficult for me. (when i was playing judo more i felt that i had to work much harder for a lot of the vocabulary than guys with lower center of gravity did (all hip throws, most shoulder throws) - so at least compared to that body type seems to me to play much less of a role in making tango vocabulary work - some things are need adjustment based on how heights match up, but i think i need to adjust my technique more if the follower is shorter/has a lower center of gravity than me than when the follower is taller and her center of gravity is above mine)
  7. snapdancer

    snapdancer Well-Known Member

    I also am less than convinced by the lower center of gravity argument. I would want something like that to be backed up with some kind of study. Do you have any examples where a woman with a low CG was able to lead more easily?
  8. newbie

    newbie Well-Known Member

    Heaven forbid. Take the time to read your own post, the one which I answered. The relevant line is included in my previous post, by the way, if it man make your reserch quicker.
  9. Tango Distance

    Tango Distance Active Member

    He did say dancers, not leaders specifically.

    I can make some physics arguments for benefits of a lower center of gravity:
    • Less foot motion required to reacquire balance, or to start moving in a new direction. Think about a tall, light pole with a heavy weight on top.You might have to your hand move 50 cm to change directions with balancing. Put the weight at the bottom, and you might have to move only 10 cm to get the same effect.
    • A larger angle of lean while maintaining balance is possible (could be beneficial to close embrace), although this also depends on foot size :)
    • Less force is required on or by the leader for volcadas and colgadas
    • A lower center of gravity implies shorter and lighter
    I have a couple of empirical data points:

    The question had me think, and the three best followers I know are quite short and female, and there is a general correlation in my subjective ranking with lack of height and how well a lady follows. I realize this could be a flaw in my leading! I might be doing something wrong that is ameliorated by a smaller follower. It also could be because I'm used to followers being significantly shorter than I am, so that's my experience base.

    Flipping it around, I have had a few ladies lead me. I am a terrible follower. I am able to follow the two biggest ladies most easily, and definitely have more trouble with the shorter ladies. Maybe the correlation is a lower c.g. helps following, but being taller, bigger, and/or stronger helps leading?

    I'm a little bit more adventurous with a smaller, lighter follower. If something goes wrong, I'm strong enough to keep her from falling. For the record, "catching" someone has been very rare and usually in class learning something new and almost all the instances are with my DW -- we have fun pushing the limits once in a while. With the big beautiful ladies I dance more conservatively. This does not mean I do wild stage Tango with small ladies and just walk with the BBW ladies by any means -- but with the smaller lady I might try leading move X if she seems like she can do it, but with a BBW lady I'll ask if she knows how first. So this is a long way to say, maybe smaller ladies get a bit more adventurous leading and learn a bit more? Leaders are you just as adventurous with a 180 cm 90 kg lady as you are with a 50 kg lady?

    Quick anecdote: I asked a lady of significant size if we could do a volcada. She answered slowly, and said, "OK, you're big enough." It went well. BTW she is an excellent dancer, but she was a bit worried.

    This is more a Tango thing IME. I see ladies of all sizes in night club dancing, Contra, Salsa, and Blues. In my limited experience the Tango ladies definitely tend to be thinner and shorter.

    Directly to some of the posts and the topic of the article. I have done around 400 hours of leading between classes, practicas, and milongas, and about 6 hours of following. I was definitely further ahead at the 6 hour point in my leading learning that I'm am after 6 hours of following. So for me, following has been harder.
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2017
  10. snapdancer

    snapdancer Well-Known Member

    The last few posts have brought out how the differences between the genders' body construction may create an advantage for their specific role. We ask the ladies to spin more, and their lower center of gravity may make it easier to perform those spins with less difficulty. We ask men to lead, and having broader shoulders gives men more of a presence for women to lead a proper lead.

    At the lower level of dancing, these advantages are less useful. We don't ask the ladies to spin in bronze.

    And I will point out the title of the thread, which is whether or not leading is more difficult. The question of whether or not ladies are better dancers is within that context.

    Too bad we can't run a scientific experiment to determine. Such as taking 100 random non-dancing couples, splitting them into two groups with random selection, then teaching the bronze syllabus to both groups with one of the groups reversing the traditional lead-follow roles. I doubt that there would be a significant difference in performance between the two groups.
  11. LadyLeader

    LadyLeader Active Member

    I totally agree about the instruction *Don't think but follow!* not being helpful at all. As a beginner follower I would have had faster development if I have heard instead: Don't think but FEEL in your body if there is a pressure, to which direction it is moving you, what about the speed?
    The lack of an own clearly stated development goal made us followers to intervene the leaders work by *helping* the steps or compensating the missing lead. This wrong kind of kindness was and still is a problem in leader skill development.

    I have big problems with the structure of this blog posting. When the followers and followers' skills are compared to leaders in this way you easily get a feeling of - followers are as good as leaders - a defensive talk.

    My dream is that experienced followers go together and talk about their views on what following is and what stages they have gone through in the skill development. All this without mentioning the L word during the meetings, with other words an article where the leaders are left out, a story only about the follower skill!

    Followers, why not go together and write this kind of follower skill story?
    It is needed! It is important!
    Joy In Motion likes this.
  12. snapdancer

    snapdancer Well-Known Member

    Why not do it on this forum, start a new thread? It won't be as private as you propose, but maybe we "L" people would get some insight.
    dchester and LadyLeader like this.
  13. Joy In Motion

    Joy In Motion Active Member

    Very good point, Lady Leader. A friend a mine pointed out to me one sentence in this article that he disagreed with: "Beginning leaders become tense and overstressed, while beginning followers become passive and understimulated." He told me that in his experience beginner followers tend to be more overactive than underactive, doing too much rather than too little. I would curious to hear other's experiences, as I have seen both. I don't know if this fits in with your comment, but this is what it brought to mind.

    I understand what you're saying. My blog post was a response to this phrase I keep hearing repeated: "Leading is more difficult than following." This is a comparison statement, and the reasons given for believing this are also stated as comparisons. So my article counters this argument on its terms. It is definitely a defensive stance, as it is a response to a specific argument. Still, I could certainly have structured the argument differently. That's just not the choice I made. I actually had a Post Script worked out that argued against these comparisons to begin with. I am still considering adding that because I think it's a very important point. On the other hand, I actually do think the comparison is necessary in some ways because when it comes to deciding how to allocate teaching time and attention teachers are making these comparisons in their mind to make those choices whether they realize it or not. They have ideas - whether conscious or subconscious - about which role requires more skill or more time to develop that skill. So directly addressing those comparisons that we make is valuable in some ways.

    I agree that there should be more discussion about following on its own terms, as you said, "a story only about the follower skill." I have a couple of ideas about where to start and may write something about this, but I certainly hope others take up the torch as well.
    LadyLeader likes this.
  14. LadyLeader

    LadyLeader Active Member

    I agree with the blog writer about the step learning. I also think that both groups learn their own steps with equal easiness. Some individuals learn more easily then others but within the groups of leaders and followers it may be about the same.

    Next area to learn is how to produce the lead/leading signals and follow/receive the signals. Think about a basic ocho as an example. Both groups need to learn the signals for different parts of it and during the hours on the pista leaders and followers do develop all the variations needed for different partners.

    And here is the end of the list for follower responsibilities as i see it. On other hand the follower has the advantage to reach the level of true enjoyment or intuitive dancing much earlier than a leader. (a leader can experience the followers special level of relaxation and dream about geting there some day. . . )

    The list of the leader responsibilities is longer. At a later development level the conscious mental efforts and physical demands become similar for the persons forming the couple. During the journey from start to that level the leader is responsible and expected to cover for the shortcomings by learning more than a follower.

    To begin with I need to know the follower steps - if not, how could I create the signals for an appropriate lead. It doubles my step learning efforts and even today it is mentally exhausting to remember her/my steps simultaneously when I am learning a new sequence.

    Then we have the navigation which is much more than walking forward to an empty space on the pista. It is a complicated skill and last mastered. But when mastered the couple can intuitively adapt their steps to the space available while smoothly advancing on the dance line together with others. We can also, as couples, react to the music with different steps but simultaneously with others so the fully developed pista is pulsating to music. You can see this happen on some videos from BuenosAires milongas.

    The most demanding of the extras is the responsibility for content. The steps must be interesting enough and the connection to music needs to be satisfying. Different followers want different content. The leader must know what to suggest.

    In the table below the rows present the areas of responsibilities for both groups.
    The columns show how much mental/conscious effort is needed for dancing. It stretches from totally conscious steps --> totally intuitive dancing. A variation of the Four stages of competence process!

    For me the different stages/periods are these: During the Lead/Follow period the dancing is mostly a conscious process, demanding all my mental capacity. When partnering we both know the steps by heart and can easily adapt to each others; at the best moments intuitively. To reach to the absolute dance the couples on pista must have the skill to intuitively adapt to the other couples as well as to each others within the couple.


    Finally - I consider the leading and following to be the core functions in our dance. They are equally important at all levels and more similar in effort when both partners have developed their adaptation skills and later on the intuitive dance.

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  15. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    I think this shortchanges the skill set of an advanced follower - and an advanced leader - somewhat - mainly by using the shorthand of "adapting to each other" for the phase where followers are working on shaping the dance, and leaders working on working with this follower generated content - if i were to use similar terminology my table would look somewhat like this:


    (i tend to think at the moment not in terms of steps and signals, but in terms of the couple having a geometry, and both leaders and followers working on both deforming this geometry and fixing it in reaction of deformation - so i don't really think of a follower giving the leader a signal when e.g. shortening the ocho, or curving it because there is little space, or something, and then leader recognizing that signal and doing the matching leader steps, but i think of it as the leader feeling that the geometry of the couple is not where they would have it expected to be, and adapting to this in a way that keeps the couple intact and balanced)
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  16. itwillhappen

    itwillhappen Active Member

    I would appreciate if a teacher emphasises advanced follower skills as I dance with my SO. But the chance to find such a teacher is low, the chance that there will be really advanced participants is near zero. They are more like me. ;) Private lessons would be required, and there I can influence it anyway.

    And male dance class mates are in general quite rare her in Germany, I think a search relation of 1:2 is realistic. And additionally get the ladies in tango much earlier "milonga-ready", this applies some stress to partnerships. Maybe in tango the relation is even 1:3. Somehow the opposite to the circumstances in the good old time that all got build up in Argentina.
    This is a severe business limiting factor, in this way are leader more important, politically correct or not. Every teacher will handle this as well as he is able to. IMHO most time by giving leading more attention and offering follower-workshops and choreography projects - no man's land. (And in the queer-tango-scene by teaching both simultaneously or alternating, of course.)
  17. itwillhappen

    itwillhappen Active Member

    Looking onto your sheet I suppose that it's more effective for most follower to get the skills of the "partnership period" by leading and apply that to her following subsequently.
  18. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    I don't think this is true - i think learning following for people who usually lead and leading for people who usually follow is a way to get some more insight into the dance, but the skills don't directly translate (they certainly build attributes like musicality and body awareness that translate, and help debugging issues of geometry) - what is "giving a signal" as a leader is from my perspective very different from "giving a signal" as a follower. The leader navigates the couple, the follower moves (and at an advanced level steers) the couple. The image i like to use is that if we think of tango like surfing, then the leader is the wave, the follower the surfer, and the couple the surfboard. At the beginning couple is just being washed towards the beach by the leader, and the follower works on catching the wave and staying on the board. Later the follower takes control of the board, and starts turning, looking for the tube, flip the board, whatever - none of these skills stop the wave, or leave the wave, or in the end changes what is happening in the big picture sense - we always ends up on the beach in the end. Or downhill skiing - the leader is hill, and does the grooming, and the follower skis downhill -at the beginning just in a straight down, and steeper and steeper runs, and later taking more and more control of how the attack a certain run, and in the end both the leader and follower play, which is like sometimes getting of the groomed run and skiing powder.
    The point that i am trying to make that the follower skills are not a function of the leader stopping to lead, and us just taking turns controlling the couple. To stay with the surfing image - the follower controlling the board does not mean that there is no wave, and the surfer is paddling the board on their own, or in the skiing image - we do not put on furs and go cross country in flat terrain or uphill. (though there is room in tango for (very occasionally, and hopefully telegraphed by the music) to break each others dance, but that is something very different than following - or leading - in general)). No, the lead is as present, or even more present than when the follower does not use these skills - the follower might go off the groomed run, but the hill is still there, and because it is off the run the follower now to navigate the trees, and the hidden rocks, and the leader has to expand their understanding of the hill they are from the narrow confines of the groomed run to the whole thing to make sure that the follower does not comic book like step out of reality, and the hill just stops and the follower is suddenly standing in an empty void.

    I know, and i have danced with people who conceptualize their dance as essentially taking turns in leading, and where a lot of the fun is in the shifting between the different leader/follower dynamics within the couple, and where followers skills in the partnership period are basically identical to leading skills, but that is not how i personally prefer to dance - and i think that tango is actually a somewhat poor framework to explore movement from that perspective - we are too dependent on each other / mechanically coupled by the embrace to play with each other that way and maintain "orthodox" form. Other dances like swing and contact improv (i have only rather superficial exposure to either (<1yr) so i might be wrong) seem to me to offer more robust frameworks for playing with those ideas.
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  19. itwillhappen

    itwillhappen Active Member

    A great image - continuing this thread on a high level!

    But let me take it literally. I'm quite sure that in surfing I would stay a beginner, at least in this life, maybe with some ribs broken. There is no wave spot around here, the travelling would exhaust my financial ressources, with 50+ is too little time left where I might be physically fit for such an adventure.
    I choosed windsurfing instead of that. There is a wind spot I can reach on weekends, but it's too late for fast intuitive learning and on many weekends it is windless or stormy or I'm myself tired or unmotivated. I got stuck at a lower intermediate level.

    Back to your image - a wave can break on the beach, good or bad, again and again. But a surfer will not be able to surf without a good wave.
    At the end all this is a matter of opportunity, time and money for practicing. For a tango leader this is quite easy around here, at least I did a quick ramp-up to an intermediate level with 4 class mates in parallel.
    But most followers will not have highly advanced leaders at their fingertips to to practice fancy tango maneuvers often. Maybe they get faster forward by leading themselves?
  20. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    I personally don't think that leading skills transfer very straightforwardly into following skills, and i also don't think that developing these skills requires dancing with highly advanced leaders - it just requires leaders that are aware of that dimension of the dance, want to work on it, and understand their vocabulary enough to be able to lead it in the moment. Basically as soon as a leader is able to dance comfortably in a crowded milonga they are there. And in general my impression is that most communities have more advanced leaders than advanced followers.

    (which is actually an interesting paradox considering that leading is commonly viewed to be so much harder than following)
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