Tango Argentino > Leadership and how it arises

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

  1. Lilly_of_the_valley

    Lilly_of_the_valley Well-Known Member

    *has been*, sorry.
  2. twnkltoz

    twnkltoz Well-Known Member

    I'm vastly confused as well. OP's first few posts talk about ladies asking him what he wants them to do, talks like he has no concept of lead and follow after 80 hours of instruction and dancing with a highly experienced partner, then says "oh never mind, looks like I was leading and didn't know it." I have no idea what's going on in this conversation.
    Lilly_of_the_valley likes this.
  3. JohnEm

    JohnEm Well-Known Member

    Yes, "abroad" is outside Argentina. Supposedly we learn "Argentine" Tango abroad
    but some Argentines themselves admit that they teach a "Tango for Export" version.

    I understood that and was addressing that. It is frequently unhelpful
    for men (new leaders) to learn the skill of leading with an experienced
    partner. I found it best to dance either with early learners who had
    natural dance ability or with a dancer from another genre who had
    no preconceptions of tango, its look nor its "moves", whatsoever.

    You are writing about what you were taught. If you won't or cannot blame
    your teachers then you must blame, or at least question, yourself.
    And I am talking to you directly trying to help rather than talking about you
    as others are. So in that Hopefully helpful vein perhaps you should also
    ponder if you are cut out for this dance because not everyone is.
    Or do as I did when I faced a crossroads, whether to continue or abandon,
    by researching and seeking other explanations of what the dance is.
    The best for that remains www.tangoandchaos.org which gives the best
    insight into the actual social dance in Buenos Aires rather than what is
    taught abroad (again). The technicalities are not perfect but it is all we have.

    She seems to have been rather brusquely showing you, by leading you,
    what it is you have to do. Maybe you were not paying attention,
    maybe she was frustrated at your lack of comprehension as some
    posters on here are displaying, maybe at your lack of physical commitment.
    This is a physical yet sensual dance and we have no idea of what you are.
    On the other hand, maybe she was just a bad leader?
    No, it looks like a good attempt as far as it goes.
    But we could have a long conversation about what is right
    and wrong about much of it. Maybe parts of the descriptions
    are missing, maybe you don't understand, maybe your teacher
    doesn't understand. I cannot tell.

    Thanks for the detailed embrace description and I certainly disagree
    with what you have described. Here for instance is a physical impossibility:

    Chests pressed together, breastbone to breastbone;
    Woman's ribcage resting in crook of man's right elbow joint;

    The two are mutually exclusive.

    The only suggestion I can make is to shift your effort from lessons
    (private or otherwise) to practice. The usual advice is something like
    5 hours practice for every one hour of lesson.

    In the meantime, just how would you describe your physicality?
  4. Fine idea in theory, but they don't attend the milongas.

    First of all, I have not been dancing a year, only 8 months. But more importantly, I would definitely consider myself a "beginner" still to some extent, and not intermediate, for a reason which I will try to explain.

    From the very beginning when I started to learn tango, in August of last year, I determined that I wanted to learn it for social reasons, as I already explained, because I was in a new relationship with someone who enjoyed it and danced very well at an advanced level. I was totally uninterested in the idea of learning it in order to "show off". I don't have the talent for that, and it is not the right time of my life to be beginning to learn something new for "display" purposes, and it's not what I want anyway. I just wanted to be able to attend milongas and dance respectably, as Gssh said above. And more or less, I have begun to achieve that.

    A corollary of my aim as outlined in the preceding paragraph, is that I have prioritized improving the basics and fundamentals, and seeking to make the dance "feel good", over and above learning new "stuff" (I apologize for my lack of technical language to describe what I mean). Again, I have mostly progressed along the path I set out for myself in this respect. Women who have danced with me at milongas all tell me that I am "very nice" to dance with, in view of my relative inexperience... I was not seeking out their feedback as such, but they gave it unsolicited.

    That is all well and good and it is more or less what I was aiming for. But it is not grounds for claiming to be "intermediate" in any sense whatsoever, and I shall tell you why I think that.

    I mentioned above that I deprioritized doing "stuff". Now, as an observant fellow, it has not escaped my notice that most of the "stuff" at milongas is done chiefly, though not exclusively, by women. In line with other aspects of society, the women enjoy "being seen", while the men appear to take a more understated role (there are exceptions of course). No surprises there. But here's the thing. All the women I've danced with are more than capable of doing "stuff". I know this, because I see them do it when dancing with advanced men (even when those men are being totally understated as just described). They don't do it with me, though, and that's absolutely fine by me, and it's presumably because they know that I'm still a bit wet behind the ears, dance-wise, and might well be thrown off by "stuff".

    They could of course try doing it with me, and see what happens, and no doubt they will do so with time as I grow in confidence and continue to progress. But I think they are right to desist from it now, because if confronted with "stuff" I might panic and not know what to do, or I might be stupidly trying to do something else at the time, incompatible with the "stuff", et cetera. In the meantime I am quite happy doing simple things that I already know.

    Until that happens, though, I shall continue to classify myself as a beginner, even if one with a little bit of knowledge of tango.

    Of course there is a barrier!

    You have to understand that before I came to tango just a few months ago, I had no prior knowledge of dance. I had literally never set foot on a dance floor. Sure, I'd done all manner of other physical stuff, sports and the like, but it's not the same especially in terms of the language used to describe it.

    As you've gathered I have plenty of people to talk to about my tango, but, the problem is as with many other issues in life, people who know how to do something well can't necessarily explain exactly how they do it. Now, this forum is a written environment, so I came here with the hope that the very helpful people who participate can put into words that I understand some of the concepts I've been struggling with.

    See if you can understand why I'm confused... I learn a figure in my lessons, let's say for argument's sake that is a parallel-system cruzada, followed by a quarter-turn counterclockwise with a step forward for the man, backward for the woman. Then a sidestep to the right for the man, left for the woman. Then a pivot on the right (weighted) foot for the man, still counterclockwise, and two backward steps, which are forward steps for the woman. Then another pivot in the same direction and another parallel-system cruzada to finish.

    I struggle to learn this in my lesson, but get it eventually after a lot of practice outside the lesson. Finally I think I have it, but try to use it in a milonga, but for whatever reason it doesn't happen. When I ask for feedback, I am told that I "don't know how to lead it".

    Unfamiliar with dancing language, I presume that "leading it" is some higher-level operation over and above normal dancing. So in classes and casual conversation, I go around telling women that I apparently "don't know how to lead it" and they should be aware of this... I'm not there yet in terms of dancing skill.

    Imagine my surprise when I am then told that this is nonsense, I do in fact "lead it" and have been leading during other figures, such as cross-system cruzadas and ochos. It is explained to me that if I do a move in tango successfully, I have in fact "led it", whether I know it or not.

    So to come back to the original problem I now have no idea what was meant when I heard that I "don't know how to lead it": did it mean that...
    • I attempted the move at a time when the woman was doing a different move and therefore it was not coordinated?
    • I attempted the move at some other "illegal" time?
    • I knew I was doing the move, but the woman didn't know I was doing it, and therefore couldn't possibly be expected to do the corresponding female moves?
    • If the above, was it because I did the opening parallel-system cruzada like a normal parallel-system cruzada, without some kind of coded difference that would let her know that the next plan was to do a funny twist in the middle followed by another cruzada, rather than just resume dancing normally?
    • If so, what on Earth is the commonly-accepted encoding for this communication?
    etc. etc. and I can brood over it as long as I like without ever really knowing the answer.

    And now I get asked in this thread "have I ever been led", which sounds like a passive sense, and having just learned that doing it successfully in tango is "leading it", what is this passive expression supposed to mean at all?

    Is it any wonder that I feel like the only one who doesn't know what's going on? It may well be that the dance can only really be done and not talked about, and my best bet is just to keep copying my teachers, as I have been doing, and learning it by feel, and not trying to understand it consciously or put it into words... words that mean little to me when they are used in a special technical sense that is as yet unfamiliar, and different from their meaning in plain English.
  5. twnkltoz

    twnkltoz Well-Known Member

    I feel like you're still asking questions we've already answered and that you're making this way more complicated than it needs to be.

    There are all kinds of ways to define leading in dance, but I think the simplest is that you convey to your partner, through your body and frame, what you want her to do and she does it. If you walk forward with your partner in your dance frame, and she takes a step backward, then you led it. You told her what you wanted and she complied. If you want to do a molinette, and you move your body in such a way that you do it and so does she, you led it. If you attempted a pattern and she did not do what you wanted, you didn't lead it. When you are learning the sequence of steps in your lesson, an integral part of that should be how to lead it--how to tell your partner what she needs to do.

    Maybe on some of those patterns, you did lead it. But you said early in the thread those ladies said you are nice enough to dance with but you don't really lead it. You said they sometimes ask you what you want them to do, and you think "I have no idea." So what we've been trying to tell you is that it is your job to decide what to do through the entire dance and tell (with your body, not your mouth) your partner what you want--that is leading. She may take some liberties and do extra "stuff" (embellishments), but you still gave her a framework to work within. You told her to do ochos, she did them but did a little extra foot flick. You did a parada, she took the opportunity to drag her foot up your leg. But all her "stuff" starts with you, the leader.

    NONE of this is about showing off. It is not about competitions, shows, prizes, or anything else. Leading and following in a social manner is what tango IS.
    wooh likes this.
  6. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    For the most part, all "stuff" that the woman does is led (by the leader), other than embellishments or decorations.

    I'm suspecting (but granted, not positive), that your training has had an over emphasis on patterns. If the only women who can follow your lead, were in the same class with you, then I would agree with the women at the milonga who say, you don't know how to lead it. The rest of my post is based upon that premise.

    Basically in social tango, it is an improvised dance, where any step can come after any other step (as long as the leader knows how to lead it). Hopefully that has been made clear to you. Most teachers will use patterns as a part of their teaching, but if you're not learning how to take patterns apart and do the steps in different sequences, you're missing out on a big part of tango.

    Also, when learning a pattern, the most important thing for you as a leader is to know what steps you want the follower to do. As funny as it sounds, in social tango, your steps (as a leader) just aren't that important. It's your lead that's important. You can just do whatever steps you need to do, to enable yourself to lead her steps well. If you can't remember both sets of steps, then make sure you know what the follower is supposed to do. Sure, the teacher may come over and correct you on your steps, but at the milonga, it doesn't matter what steps you do, as long as you are leading her well (i.e. the lead should be both clear and comfortable for her).

    My two cents.
    (if it's worth that much)
  7. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    Ok, to extremely simplify things, followers do not do stuff. Leaders do stuff. A very crude idea of tango/dancing/lead and follow is to some extent that the leader does stuff, and the follower keeps up with the geometry and the things that the leader does. The fact that it looks like the follower is doing stuff is because the stuff leaders do is designed that way, not because the leader does nothing. Its like, i don't know, as an extreme image, waving around a hankerchief - it is not the hankerchief that "does" things, and the person waving it not doing things, even though the visual expression is that the person is standing still and moving their wrist a little bit, while the hankerchief makes big waves and everything.

    (on reading this again - apologies to all followers reading this - i am just getting somewhat desperate trying to find an image that works here)

    No. if you don't lead stuff, they are not going to do stuff. They are not desisting, you are desisting. You are watching other people waving around hankerchiefs and look at yours not moving, and complain "i wish i had one of the cool hankerchiefs that do all that exciting twirly stuff".

    There is no figures - a figure is just a practice tool where a bunch of basic moves are strung together in a likely/useful way, to allow us to practice transitions between moves, and you have to let the follower know every single of these moves. So if you take the chain of moves you presented above,
    1) parallel-system cruzada
    2) quarter turn counterclockwise
    4)step forward for the man, step backward for the woman
    5) counterclockwise pivot
    6) backwards steps
    7) forward steps
    8) another pivot
    9) parallel system cruzada

    Then the follower does not know that you are going to chain the moves like this - for example a counterclockwise pivot is just a counterclockwise pivot, there are no set things that come before or after. So there are millions of things one could do after a pivot - in this exercise you two of them - walking backward (6) and doing a cruzada (9). You are also practicing that you you can pivot after walking forward, and so on.

    Now when you practice this in class the followers will know after a while that you want to do different things at the two pivots, but at a milonga a person you are dancing with has probably never used this specific chain of moves to practice, so you need to communicate what happens at each step. The chain is not real, only the single steps within are. You could shorten the chain - go from 5 directly to 9. You could loop within this chain - go from 8 to 6. You can do as may forward steps as you want at 4 or 7. At 4 you could do sidestep, ocho, forward step, and go to 5.

    It is like learning how to drive - you drive a certain route to practice, and practice parking in a specific parking lot, but that does not mean that "how to park" is "first we go left at main and first, and then we pull into the grocery store parking lot, and then we turn into the first parking spot in the second row" - you can also use the same skill to park in the third slot, or on a different parking lot, and so on.

    No, if the follower does the move you wanted them to do you have lead it successfully. "leading" is communicating what move you expect them to do. If you don't do anything they are not going to do anything. If you move to the side, they will match you - not because they wanted to move there, and you got lucky that what they were doing miraculously matched what you wanted to do, but because you decided to move there, and she followed you.


    There is no "resuming dancing normally". I assume you usually exit a cruzada by walking forward out of it? Well, if you don't walk forward, the follower can't walk backward (unless they are willing to pull you along). When you turn they will turn, because else your torsos would not be parallel anymore / the embrace would be deformed. When you walk forward she has to walk forward or you would crash into her.

    I am having a lot of problems understanding how you conceptualize the relationship between the leader and follower - from your current perspective, when you walk forward could you describe why you think that the follower is moving backwards at the same time? and if you stop walking, and collect, why is the follower doing that, too?

    When you did your privates, did your teacher ever show you what the follower is supposed to feel from you during a figure/how to communicate your intent by asking you to play the followers role, and they did the leaders role?

    To some extent you are right, learning by feel is the most direct way of learning this - dancing is about communicating with each other. That is why having a teacher lead you, and feeling how they use their body to communicate helps.
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2015
    All Sales Are Final and sixela like this.
  8. Krys

    Krys New Member

    Did you speak about that with you teacher? Does she expect student attend the milongas after one year and not before?
    Maybe in her way of teaching, she explains how to lead (and follow) after having show some patterns (no judgement here, just an idea that some stuffs are not explain by your teacher because she want to explain other stuffs before, like how to walk, the correct posture ...)
    What do other leaders?

    Do you see other beginners in the milongas? Maybe you could try to dance with them.

    What do you mean by practicing? I guess you are practicing alone... It will be OK to learn your part of a pattern (and to improve your balance, your body awareness ...) but not how to lead.
    It looks like you think that when dancing tango you are doing some choreography. It is not.
    Lilly_of_the_valley likes this.
  9. Lilly_of_the_valley

    Lilly_of_the_valley Well-Known Member

  10. Lilly_of_the_valley

    Lilly_of_the_valley Well-Known Member

    Wow. This is some case of serious miscommunication we got here! Somehow, the main idea of social dancing -- that it is based on musical connection between two partners, also commonly known as "lead and follow" -- either was never brought up clearly or did not get through and was lost. I am not sure how exactly that happened, but I would urge anyone who found himself or herself in a similar predicament to visit an instructor who regularly dances in the milongas, and a whole bunch of people comment about him/her that he/she is a great leader/follower/partner to dance with.
    JohnEm likes this.
  11. Lilly_of_the_valley

    Lilly_of_the_valley Well-Known Member

    "I can do some basic stuff like cruzada, ocho, and molinete, but not much else."

    This is not basic stuff. I would not consider someone who can consistently lead (translation -- make the follower execute) those maneuvres on a random follower a beginner leader. That would be an advanced beginner to intermediate level of skills, depending on the quality of execution and the level of your follower (in general, it takes more skills to lead an unskilled/beginning follow).
  12. twnkltoz

    twnkltoz Well-Known Member

    I have to wonder how much of the communication gap is on the side of of the instructor and how much is the student.
    Bailamosdance likes this.
  13. Lilly_of_the_valley

    Lilly_of_the_valley Well-Known Member

    Cannot help but wonder the same thing, although inclined to believe there has been a bit of both. Because, in my view, if someone keeps hammering some idea on one's head it would either get through, at least partially, or one would eventually leave not being able to sustain all that hammering. No matter how much the above mentioned one is stuck in their own ideas and not willing to give them up, one of the two outcomes would happen. Or... ?

    I have a question to the topic starter: have the replies on this thread helped you to clear out the situation, at least some?
  14. sixela

    sixela Well-Known Member

    Well, Duh! Of course it's sufficient, because there's no way you can make the other person's part of the movement (unless you start on the Way of the Furniture Mover). Well, its not sufficient since you also need to feel how she reacts while you're doing "your part" and that _modulates_ "your part".

    Reacting and guessing are two different things.

    Light in a good way simply means to respond naturally to the lead with the uppoer body without needing a lot of pressure in the connection with the leader (except when it's needed or when the leader himself offers it). Which, of course, also entails "fast". You're making it sound bad, which is quite puzzling. "Bad fast" is something different, where lack of disassociation makes the follower's body move as one rigid block.

    You don't need to be heavy as a follower, merely present, i.e. not moving out of the embrace because you think you "know" where and how fast to go.

    But you can do that while being very, very, very light (which is why I try to be careful when I use the word "resistance", which can easily be misunderstood). The very best porteñas I've danced with are light as a feather if you move them in a correct way and turn into proverbial 10000lbs gorillas only when what you're doing makes no sense (either takes them off-balance or off-music) or when they want to see how much they can influence you and play with you (in the latter case, they'll try to be as light as they can get away with, i.e. not 10000lbs unless you're 'hard of feeling').

    If a follower is really "heavy' and offers a lot of resistance she'll encourage her practice partner leaders to overlead, and more advanced followers will not like that. As a follower, you _have_ got to respond to what the leader offers, even though you need to stay connected.
  15. sixela

    sixela Well-Known Member

    When they're good, they don't do it to "be seen". They do it to respond to their leaders and to express the music.
    Lilly_of_the_valley likes this.
  16. sixela

    sixela Well-Known Member

    That can be many things, but in short, it means that _her_ response to your movement (and the embrace) was different from what you expected.

    Usually, that means that you're either messing up the embrace or unconsciously doing something that will prevent her from moving where you want to, despite the fact you _think_ you invite her to move in a certain way (e.g. if you rotate to the right and expect her to step forward _in_ the room between you, but block her from doing so by squeezing her tightly with your right arm; that gives her _no_ way to do anything that feels right, since what you're "telling" her is self-contradictory).

    She's usually moving with you (but sometimes in non-trivial ways as the amount of attention towards the other partner, suspension, body tone etc. all have an influence on exactly _how_ you're connected) so that's a bit of a contradiction in terms, unless _you_ also were doing a different move or the embrace failed to connect you.

    Your timing being off is a definite possibility. But you probably have to think micro and not macro...there's no "illegal beat" for giving an impulse, although what move that turns _into_ may be different from what you think.

    She doesn't need to "know". She just needs to respond but needs to be familiar with all the possibilities. And if her response is not what you had anticipated, then you actually led something _different_ from what you expected, and you need to dance _that_ (i.e. recover).

    These are not coded differences. You have to prepare some moves well in advance to tell the follower what to expect, but it should be setting it all up quite naturally (e.g. starting to turn in a certain direction to initiate a giro, to avoid a jerky start to the rotation in the next step if you want it all to be smooth and unaccelerated).

    There's no encoding. If she really is an advanced dancer and her natural response is "wrong" for what you're trying to achieve, then you're not leading what you think you are.
    All Sales Are Final likes this.
  17. sixela

    sixela Well-Known Member

    It is.
  18. Krys

    Krys New Member

    Totally agree. Sorry if I was not clear.
    My guess is that "All sales are final" does not "need" to modulate "his part" because his follower reacts very well. Or that there is something wrong in the w

    Yes and his followers say he does "not know how to lead". So I believe they are guessing more than reacting.

  19. Krys

    Krys New Member

    Agree but I think his partner moves without any pressure at all from his upper body. By "more heavy" I mean with someone who will not move without pressure from his chest (hope it is clearer).
    She probably "guess" more than reacts. So he needs to dance with some partners who will not guess (because they do not want to, or because they are not able to guess...).
  20. sixela

    sixela Well-Known Member

    I don't call that "heavy" since it is dangerous (even when you use the word "resistance", while technically correct, is often misunderstood). I tend to call it "present" or "attentive".

    I'd use "compliant motion" to describe what both leader and follower are doing but that's something not many people would understand.

    I don't think that's the problem, though, given his practice partner is much more experienced than he is. Really good and experienced followers will usually not "guess"; they'll respond to the leader's movement and finish their movement to its logical conclusion and align with the leader and not more, since guessing any further will close the door to many options for the leader.

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