Tango Argentino > Leadership and how it arises

Discussion in 'Tango Argentino' started by All Sales Are Final, Apr 7, 2015.

  1. Hello friends,

    Several of you helped me out with a few very useful pointers half a year ago when I was just beginning. I'm still a total novice, of course, but since then I've taken maybe 40 private lessons, attended a similar number of group classes, done hundreds of hours of practice at home and been to maybe a couple dozen milongas, though I don't usually dance more than three or four tandas. I can do some basic stuff like cruzada, ocho, and molinete, but not much else. Suits me fine for the moment.

    I'm wondering whether I'm nearing the point where I should be thinking about leadership, or whether it's still too early. This isn't my own idea: I didn't really give this a thought until recently, but women I dance with (primarily my partner) say that I'm nice enough to dance with but don't really "lead it". I can't pretend I understand what that means, though. I guess it really refers to me struggling to keep up with the other dancer, rather than being decisive about the dance.

    Do you need to take specific steps to attain this "leadership", or does it arise as a construct of experience? I suppose it's hardly surprising that I'm apparently not "leading it" at the moment, since in all pairings I am the less experienced dancer.

    I've gotten a lot of feedback along these lines from women, but it would be good to get a male perspective. Do you "lead it"? Does this mean being more assertive in some way, or a step or two ahead of the other person, or is it just a mindset that arises spontaneously? Is it something concrete? I'd be nervous about being a step or more ahead, because I want to be in time with the music and not spoil that.

    I guess I could be more assertive, but I feel like I don't have enough information just yet on what is happening on the dance floor. It's probably because I don't "feel" the information supposedly passed through the chest connection. At a milonga, if I watch my partner dance with another man, I can see clearly what her upper body is doing, what her legs are doing (although though I understand that according to my teachers you're not supposed to worry about the legs, but it's easier for me to distinguish the various routines like cruzada, ocho, molinete etc. by the leg motions at present... I'm not very experienced at reading the upper body) and because I can see it, I can more or less understand from what I have learned, what corresponding action I should be doing with my own body at that time, if I were in that position.

    But when I'm dancing myself, of course I can't see any of it and have no real idea what I should be doing at any given moment, because I don't really, truly know for a fact what she's doing. I get that I have to "feel" it but do I have to wait for that to happen before I can learn to "lead it"?

    Thanks in advance for your suggestions.
  2. twnkltoz

    twnkltoz Well-Known Member

    I don't understand the question. What are you learning in all these lessons if you don't know how to lead? How are you dancing with all these ladies if you're not leading?
  3. It's not really "all these" ladies... sorry if I gave that impression. Just my girlfriend, the girl from another couple we met in the city's tango community and made friends with, and one or two of the women who organize the milongas from time to time and said they'd like to dance a few tandas with me.

    And no I'm not really leading it since all of the aforementioned are, without exception, more experienced than I am.

    Like I said I've only learned cruzada, molinete and ocho (back and forward) as well as how to string these together and how to adopt proper posture (weight forward, push off the ground, stillness in the upper body etc.). I know it's not much but I'm a slow learner.
  4. twnkltoz

    twnkltoz Well-Known Member

    Relative level of experience has nothing to do with it. How do they know you want a cruzada, molinette, or ochos? Are you verbally telling them? Are they guessing? Backleading? Sorry, I'm genuinely confused.
  5. Lois Donnay

    Lois Donnay Member

    Hmm - I think I understand. Your partners would like you to be more clear. Maybe more assertive.

    I say, yes - feel your partner's legs under you. Place them where you want them. Focus on that during walking. Iprove your walk - take bigger steps, and see how your partner reacts. My guess is, she'll like it.
  6. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    Hello Lois. Welcome. Are you the Lois from Minneapolis / St Paul?

    All Sales... You should have been taught about leading from the very beginning. Have more to say about who ever you have been taking lessons from, but, maybe I'm missing something here.

    You as the leader probably won't, unless both you and your partner have been schooled in a weight sharing embrace.
    If your chests "aren't touching enough" you have to rely on another source of information; that being what comes through your arms/hands/shoulders. (can hardly wait for other opinions!)

    You be more concerned with passing information to your partner if you want to lead.

    The simplest thing I can thing of would be to practice starting and stopping with a partner. Think about how she knows when to step backwards, and when to stop.
    Another simple exercise is to alternate leading weight changes in place while varying the timing of the changes / the length of the pauses.
    Personally, I think doing this to music is the best way to go.

    Lead an ocho. How does your partner know that you want her to "step across and behind herself." Or, if you can lead a forward ocho, how does she know that you want her to do that?

    If you can ask your partner to do these things, you are "leading."
    Mladenac likes this.
  7. Thanks Steve, I will try these exercises for sure. I'll do it in my next home practice session.

    My girlfriend said the same thing (in fact she raised it, the main reason why I'm asking the question here) but her best guess is that the teacher took it as "assumed knowledge". But I didn't learn any other dances before tango, so I didn't have any existing knowledge to work from.

    Thanks Lois, I will definitely try this. I've noticed that taking bigger steps helps me to be more "forward" which is apparently essential. That's fine in class, trouble is in the social dance there's not much space for it. That seems to be why I'm always plenty "forward" enough during practice, but at a milonga apparently the "connection disappears"... sounds nasty :-(

    I have no idea how they know. I have enough trouble at the moment figuring out what the woman is doing. Add to that an attempt to know how the woman knows what I'm doing, which is what I think you're asking about, and I am going to be confused beyond belief.

    I mean, during the lessons if the teacher has asked for a particular move, then I'm assuming both parties know what to do. But in the social dance I am doing the male variants of those figures (which appear to be a deal simpler than the female ones, incidentally) and I am assuming that the woman is doing the corresponding thing. God help us if not!

    Frankly, most of the women are almost as tall as I am and dance with me in close embrace, so as far as what they are doing, your guess is as good as mine, I can't see a thing. I'm assuming it's just the stuff I know, though; I think they save the fancy moves for men who are more experienced. I know that my girlfriend never tries to do anything I haven't learned yet, even though I've seen her do amazing things with other dancers.

    The girl from the couple who is friends with us, by contrast, is very petite and prefers to dance in open embrace, so I can see what she does. Not always sure what is what exactly, but it all looks pretty good. I quite like dancing with her actually because she never stops and waits for me to do something but just gets on with it. We always have fun.
    Mladenac likes this.
  8. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    One good reason why weight changes in place are your friend. Small rock steps also known as cradle or cunita are also good for dancing while not moving a lot.

    Ask you partners what they are feeling when you lead certain movements. If neither of them can tell you, come on back and we can talk about it.

    Also, ask your partners to not do ANYTHING unless they feel that you are asking them to do it.
  9. Someday

    Someday Member

    I second Steve's comments on doing the simple weight changes, walking and pivoting and as mentioned and that the partner needs to feel your 'intention'. Leading is concrete and I think it consists of two parts: The first part is the clear intention on your part on what you want your partner to do BEFORE your feet move. Think about a simple walk forwards in an embrace; the partner needs to feel your intention (i.e. your chest begins to move forwards before your feet move (otherwise you would walk on her feet). When she/he feels your chest move then they can begin to move their feet in the direction of your intention. The second part, is that your have to think about your partner and their timing. Just because you think you want to move forwards or do that ocho, and even if you do show intention, you have to give them some time to react. You will find that some partners are like 'Ferraris' and almost as soon as you think about the movement they react. Others take more time to internalize your intention before they react. You have to be sensitive to this and give them the time they need. It took me a while to understand this and I still marvel at the differences in reaction time of followers. I must say that when one dances with a 'Ferrari' it'
    s pretty amazing as to their responsiveness.

    One other thing I'll throw out is to a) take lessons on just walking and ochos from a male teacher and/or b) switch off following and leading with a male partner who is a little or much better than you and ask for feedback on your leadership. The dynamics between men-men is different than male-female and since you both are expected to lead, you can compare notes. Also, its good for all leaders to learn something about following so you know what the followers are expecting in order to follow you.
  10. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    The rudiments of leading and following should have been the topic of your first ever lesson. Every lesson, after that, should have built, incrementally, on those fundamentals; every class you took should have reinforced them and every practise session should have been an opportunity to build your own skills and experience. To be honest, it sounds as though you have yet to start to receive any actual tango instruction (and that, probably isn't your fault) ...

    Tango, as a social dance (and I have no interest in any other sort, but YMMV) is based on an improvisatory approach to shared movement in response to tango music in the embrace of a partner. Everything else is secondary. Improvising can be as simple as deciding whether to walk or to pause (and on what rhythm), and a truly satisfying dance can be constructed from nothing else at all (assuming you have the space to walk). As you start to put together the skills of a leader, you can add additional elements - ochos, the molinete/giro and the cruzada, and there are plenty more, of course. Every element of the dance requires an action from you, as leader, suggesting a response from your partner, as follower. You don't cross: she does. Why? You don't dance ochos (usually): she does: why?

    If you came to me for a lesson, we would begin with some exercises:
    • Finding an embrace within your comfort zone, where you can feel which leg your partner is standing on.
    • Performing weight changes, in place, settling on one foot or the other, feeling that your partner is moving with you.
    • Coming together in your chosen embrace, 'negotiating' weight changes to settle your partner on the standing leg you have chosen, and then causing her to take a single (and just one) step in any of the possible directions, first with you accompanying that step, and then without moving yourself. Repeat many, many times.
    • Repeat the exercise, but to music, waiting for a 'suitable' moment to lead the step, so that it 'makes sense' as the first movement of a dance.
    • Repeat, again, but now with a definite intention as to the size of your partner's step. Repeat until you can place her foot to within an inch of your target, again, and again, and again. As you repeat, vary the direction and the size of the steps.
    All of this assumes a willing and patient partner, and she too, has to learn the rudiments of following. You may be unable, straight away, to 'master' these exercises if she is struggling with her role, but it takes two to tango.

    For a student of average aptitude, there is more than enough, there, for an hour's first lesson. Dancing tango is nothing more than repeating the process of initiating a single movement or action, and then another, and then another. So if you can lead one action, you have the beginnings of the necessary technique to be able to lead a dance.

    In your second lesson with me, we would focus as much on connection with the music as with your partner.
    • We will listen to the first few phrases of a simple, rhythmic, song. We will make sure that you can hear the gentle pulse of the music, and can identify the beginning and end of the musical phrases.
    • We will do lots of walking: not to be concerned with style, but with the way that you carry your weight, the way that you begin, execute and finish each step: essentially the relationship between intention, and movement of the torso, then foot, the transfer of weight from one foot to the other and the management of balance to be ready and able to make a new movement in any direction.
    • You will practise how to communicate the intention not to walk, so that you can begin to walk each phrase of a simple song, pausing/stopping between phrases.
    • You will start to think about following your partner's movement, and always having an awareness of her response to your intention.
    • You will experiment with finding different speeds of walking within a basic musical pulse: walking at half the speed of the pulse (stepping on every second beat), and of walking at twice the speed of the pulse. You will practise managing the energy of your walk to communicate the intention to change speed during the walk (which is a logical development from stopping and starting at all).
    Your fundamental objectives are twofold:
    1. Develop the motor skills you need to create movement/action through communicating intention, and to follow through with an actual movement/action.
    2. Develop the skill of awareness of your partner's balance and movement at all times. Always know where her weight is. Always know which foot she is standing on. Always know what she needs to do next to act on your intention. Always be feeling for her response, and act on that, when it doesn't match your intention. Refine, refine and refine, until your intention becomes her response - and then stop thinking about it at all.
    Later, you will discover that your partner is not actuated by strings, controlled by you as though a puppet-master, but that she has been developing her own skill set too, and that she has her own, equally valid 'voice' in your shared dance. Lead through clarity of intention, but always follow, anyway. Learn to hear (really, feel) her voice, and to value the variety and richness of two people sharing a dance: equal in responsibility, but with complimentary roles. Don't try to include too many elements in your dance too quickly: make sure that you have time to think between leading new actions/elements, and that you have time to feel what she is actually doing. If you lead a cross (and you need to learn how to do that) make sure that you feel her crossing - and BTW, everything has been set up before the crossing step, if you only feel the actual cross, you didn't lead it, or weren't 'listening'.

    More than enough, from me ...
  11. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    I'm at a loss to see the connection between the probability of being taught about leading, and any possible style of embrace, but perhaps that's not, quite, what you meant?

    Only that it is the same information, communicated through different points of connection.

    Dancing apilado lies at one end of a range of possibilities and is a personal style preference, only likely to be adopted a certain way along the tango path. Most beginners will be guided by their teacher (sometimes with unfortunate results ...), but not many would start to work on the rudiments of the dance in such an embrace. It certainly shouldn't be normative for all dancers, even as a goal.

    In my experience, it is practised by only a very small percentage of tango dancers, and a beginner is likely to be better served by an embrace that can involve chest contact, as a conduit of communication, but with each dancer still on their own axes (if only just).
  12. newbie

    newbie Well-Known Member

    Ask them to lead you the way you do and then the way they want. If there is a teacher, ask them to lead the teacher the way you do and then the way they want, so the teacher can validate their point. Or not.
  13. LadyLeader

    LadyLeader Active Member

    Your partner can be asking for a different attitude. When I am walking I can have exactly same number of steps during a song but the walk can be totally different. I can be strolling around or have self confidence and show determination.
    The first one can be a capacity issue and the last option is definitely growing by experience.

    When I am on a workshop with difficult new material I go back to the un-lead state. We do the steps parallel until we find the way it is working and after that I start to grow my leading part. That goes on and little by little I start to play with the new steps and variations so the leading and following gets developed and tested.
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2015
  14. twnkltoz

    twnkltoz Well-Known Member

    Oh, dear... There is a serious hole in your dance education. Whether your teacher has let you down or you have directed your focus in the wrong direction, I can't say, but I'm glad you're looking into it now.

    UKDancer gave you some excellent advice above, as did others. It may seem overwhelming right now, but do what you can with it and use this thread to ask your teacher some questions that will get your lessons on the right track.

    You must know what your partner is doing at all times so you can lead her to do what you intend. (Hopefully leaving her some room for creativity while you direct the dance.) Tango is all about your connection with her and how you use that to express the music. Without that, beautiful posture and walking technique means nothing. You may as well dance alone.
    UKDancer likes this.
  15. Thank you all for such helpful suggestions.

    UKDancer, you've put in an enormous amount of effort to help me. Thank you. Yes, I can confirm we worked on most of the exercises you suggested above in my early lessons (but not quite all), and do revisit them regularly. However I didn't realize that this was intended as a means of cultivating the early seeds of leadership. I had assumed that would come later.

    Not too much of an issue for me as I played several instruments and sang, both solo and in ensembles, to a high standard as a younger man. I even used to teach children piano and music theory, for goodness' sake :)

    My teacher did mention that men generally led, and women generally followed; with time I also intuitively picked up that men generally move in a forward direction and women in a backward one, and that the male movements, at least to my aesthetic sense, appear less intricate and elaborate than the female ones. However I did not really gain any insight into how soon, if ever, I could be expected to take on the said leadership role, and assumed it was like anything else... you begin as an apprentice and pay attention to those more experienced than yourself, and when you increase in confidence and knowledge, you are able to lead others to do what you have learned yourself: just like in all human organizations and merit-based hierarchies. Are you saying that is not correct?

    That may be so, but let's not get carried away, twnkltoz... I only wanted to learn this skill to be able to dance socially, in an "improvisatory" way as UKDancer said. I'm not trying to win any prizes here... I'm not talented enough and too old to be setting that up as an aim.

    All of the teachers at our city's tango school (not just my teachers) who have seen me dance have said I've made enormous progress for someone who started from scratch in August, and I'm fairly happy with my own development too; I just want to take it to the next level, as suggested, which is why I started this query.
  16. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    You need to be leading right from the beginning. If you're going to set off with your left foot, intending your partner to walk with her right, you need to know that that foot is free for her, and to initiate her movement. That's leading. If she is an experienced follower, and happy to support you in your learning and practise, then the best service she can do you is to faithfully follow exactly what you lead - that is, to react to your body language and her perception of your intention for her own movement. Is she perceives nothing, then she should do nothing. It can be a bruising experience to get, exactly, what you ask for, particularly if your partner just stops dancing altogether if you don't lead the next step, but it is also very illuminating.

    Take an analogy: driving a car. Once you have been driving for a while, you don't need to actively think your way through the process of negotiating a junction, or changing speed or direction - but you did when you were a beginner. Tango is like that (not the same, obviously, but like it). To start with you have to think about every aspect of your body language, at least to the extent that it conveys what you intend for your partner's movement. Think about leading a molinete/giro. You have to get it started, by creating the body shape and dynamic that sets your partner off on her first step. But you can't then leave her to it. She is dancing around you: you need to turn yourself, and create a shape that 'fits' with her having begun to dance the distinctive pattern of four steps from which every molinete is created. Your body shape and dynamic has to fit her having completed the first step of that pattern, and also it needs to suggest that the pattern continues. Sooner or later, you will have to end it.

    Consider the possibility that you lead a molinete beginning with her taking either a forward or backward step. You can't indicate more, until she has taken that step, but then, it is your intention that determines whether the next step she takes is to the side, or whether she pivots and returns on her previous path - and dances an ocho. If you leave it to her experience to do one or the other, you are not leading. So you need an idea of what you intend, and to develop the body awareness of a) what she is actually doing in response to your intention, and b) how to modify your own body position to maintain the dance according to your intention over several steps/actions.
  17. twnkltoz

    twnkltoz Well-Known Member

    I apologize if my posts sound harsh. They're not meant to be, but it's hard with written communication. I want to help you and see you enjoy the dance more than you ever realized you could.

    I'm not talking about winning prizes. I'm talking about dancing in the social way UKD describes. The way you describe your dancing indicates you're missing the fundamental understanding the nature of the dance. That may not be your fault, but regardless, now is better than never!
  18. This does happen to me a lot. Not so much in lessons, but in milongas. I also get whispered in my ear from time to time "what do you want me to do?" No idea, lady, you're the expert, I think to myself. It doesn't tend happen as often in lessons because what we are doing is generally fairly explicit.

    I've heard people say this before, when we go out with other friends who dance tango, for example. Some fellow above was talking about a Ferrari as well. You see, this is what I don't understand. Whether it's a jalopy or a painstakingly finished and tuned piece of German engineering, a car is just a dumb machine. It may do impressive stuff, but it doesn't think. A female human being, by contrast, is, shall we say, highly rational and intelligent, and yet far from predictable. I find it difficult to see the similarity.

    I have the feeling I need to take time and read through all your answers several times over, and internally digest and absorb them, UKDancer, as there is a lot of obviously very well thought-out content there and none of it is immediately intuitive to me at the moment. Thank you so much and I'll let you know the results of my attempts to put into practice what you teach.
  19. twnkltoz

    twnkltoz Well-Known Member

    This is my point. Relative level of experience has nothing to do with it. She is asking you to do your job, and you aren't doing it. In partner dancing, there are two jobs: leader and follower. This is not determined by experience level. Unless you have mutually agreed otherwise, the man leads and the lady follows. He makes the decisions on where to go and what patterns to do, etc. The lady follows, adding her own embellishments and musicality if allowed by the leader. So, "I have no idea" should not be a part of your internal monologue. The music is telling you to walk? You walk. You want her to do an ocho? You lead her to do it.

    A woman is certainly all those things, but she's also consented to let you drive her by accepting the invitation to dance (or asking you). You are driving. She will go where you tell her as long as you tell her what you want. That's her job.
  20. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    The car never does impressive stuff on its own: someone has to drive it. A Ferrari may well be capable than more than a jalopy, but you still have to drive it.

    Actually, a follower is meant to be, in a sense (obviously, not in all senses) just a dumb machine. She may be rational and intelligent, but she shouldn't be thinking about the dance, at all, but dancing in the moment, with you and the music. Your role is to create a basic structure for your shared dance. She has a different, complimentary, role, so this should never happen:

    The only thing she has to do is to follow your lead, and if she does it expertly, you are lucky. If you have no idea what comes next, then it goes without saying that you are not leading anything, and stopping altogether is a perfectly sensible response. At a milonga, thanking you for the dance, and going to sit down is another perfectly reasonable response.

    If a class is structured (as so many are) around you both dancing a fixed pattern of steps, and you learn your bit, and you assume that she will learn hers, then don't expect to learn anything useful about tango in such a setting. You could spend your time trying to work out how you would need to lead a stranger to follow every element of the pattern, and to do that requires, as a minimum, that you understand what the follower needs to actually be doing at least as well as any of the followers in the room. Frankly, your time would be better spent with a different style of instruction, one that is based on the fundamentals of the dance, and not with learned patterns.

    You've got a lot to think about: good luck.

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