Tango Argentino > following or 'dancing the woman's role'?

Discussion in 'Tango Argentino' started by jfm, Jul 28, 2012.

  1. jfm

    jfm Active Member

    Disclaimer: I know JanT won't like this and I respect and understand why. On the other hand we don't all live in BA and get to dance with the milongeuros very week!

    So I've been reading a lot of posts in various threads about the 'follower' just following, or the follower creating part of the dance.
    Is it possible that the dislike of calling the role of the person facing away from the line of dance 'the woman' for PC reasons (I agree that calling it the woman's role is heteronormative and not always the best use of language depending on who is in the class) has led to an over-simplification in terms of roles within the partnership?

    I can see why, and agree that the primary driver of the dance by way of choosing when to step and in what direction is the 'leader'. Clearly only one person has a view of the dance floor in the direction of progress and because women are on average smaller, a woman might not have much peripheral vision depending on her partner (or man if he is short and following a taller man!).

    But this doesn't mean the other person can't contribute by interpreting the music in the way that they step or when.
    Isn't it nice to feel like a conversation is going on and that you are creating the dance together?

    I'm not picking on JohnEm, he's just the most recent person to have use the phrase "one body four legs".
    To me that doesn't proscribe the 'follower' from influencing the dance, if you mean that the two bodies are in tune and responding to each other. If on the other hand it means 'my body with two extra legs that I'm borrowing from someone else for 10 minutes' that doesn't sound so poetic.

    I can see how, as a beginner follower or whatever, when you still have to work hard to interpret what is being led, dancing with a really excellent leader who doesn't require any effort on your part to follow can be really nice and enjoyable when you totally surrender and let him do all the work. Having a break from resisting hideously over led ochos or being flung around in a giro that gives you no time to complete a step is blissful and completely switching off can be very very nice.

    There is a point, when you no longer have to 'work' to follow where being moved around like a piece of furniture is very pleasant but not quite fulfilling. You dance with the same guys week in, week out and they all have things they like to do at a particular time, in a particular way for most pieces of music that come on. Or they just do Miles's golden nugget the whole time, but with a beautiful embrace (JK!). Shoot me for being a bi*ch, but I get bored.

    There is a point when having no influence at all is dehumanising. It always makes me smile when someone points out a follower and says "she's dancing by herself" and what you see is her following by rote 90% of the time but every so often she puts in an embellishment or takes two tiny steps instead of one big one. OK yes, if a woman is back leading or ignoring the leader to a large extent, maybe she's dancing by herself, but if you think the other way, if the leader never listens to the follower, or doesn't like listening to the follower... maybe he is the one dancing with himself.

    Why bother dancing with another person if you aren't interacting with them except to control them? Why not just dance with a robot or a rubber crash dummy... or dance on your own?

    I'll probably get pedantically ranted at for this but I just wanted to describe a little of why followers sometimes want to have some input. I find it much more rewarding when I am allowed a bit of back and forth and if it's playful music... maybe to make my partner laugh without compromising the flow. I agree that back leading and endless big adornos are distracting and unpleasant... but hey guys I often hear "we're doing it to please the follower, it's all about the follower!" ... maybe sometimes you'd let us please you!

    Not trying to start an argument just trying to put forward my view on the role of the person who can't see.
    samina likes this.
  2. Wanderer2

    Wanderer2 New Member

    IF the follower can be led (=reoriented) at any time to avoid harm, then she can (micro-)manage her movements...
  3. guysanddolls

    guysanddolls New Member

    jfm, I think a lot of your frustration could be solved by picking up leading and sense how it feels on the other end of the embrace.

    With that said, neither the lead nor the follow should dominate music expression - each shares and contributes 50%. It sounds like leads you had shared tango with, experienced and less experienced, need to work on connection and communication. Else, I don't know how to explain you not feeling "one body four legs".

    In the same token, I personally find it not very very nice to completely switch off. I love to have my music expression in a dance, tango or otherwise. I love to contribute my 50% to the dance, be it embellishments for the more experienced/accommodating leads or maintaining line of dance for the less experienced leads. No, that does not imply I back lead or ignoring my leader.

    There is a difference between an active follower and a self-fish dancer. A beginner follower most probably start out as a passive follower, as you put it she "totally surrender" and doesn't contribute her 50% to the dance. That is why the lead ends up doing more work and perhaps conditioned to always do more work than he should.

    Likewise, there is a difference between a lead that follows the follwer and a self-fish dancer. It seems you had that difference figured out.

    Overall, a tango dance should be a cooperative effort, a partnership, a dialogue. The best leads are minimal and intuitive. The best follows are light as feather. The connection, while absolutely solid, is also minimal, almost telepathic. Leader and follower are one.

    Lead, follow, giving of weight, the connection, all tend asymptotically toward the infintessimal, approaching (but never) zero.
  4. JohnEm

    JohnEm Well-Known Member

    The whole dance is about the two bodies responding to each other,
    each body "talking" to the other. She can feel me, I can feel her respond.
    The influence on the dance is not the woman's wilful decorations but the
    music we are both hearing. It takes two, as they say, to make the dance
    work each in their own role.

    Crikey, dehumanising - I think not. However not everyone suits the tango
    of one body and four legs. If you need what you see to be a greater role,
    more independence if you like, that's ok but what sort of tango is that?

    Abroad (meaning abroad of Rio del Plata) many people find embracing,
    man and woman, giving one to the other, rather difficult. I did in my early
    days. They don't talk about British reserve in jest (well they do), and it
    takes time to acclimatise.

    Commonly people talk about this reserve being a north european thing
    and that the demonstrative Latins don't suffer from it. I'm not so sure
    that's true for tango. The codigos of the cabaceo at the BsAs milongas
    empower the women to decide who they will dance with. They choose
    (almost invisibly) who they will embrace in the dance and unseen can
    exclude the others.

    It's certainly not about control but it certainly is about both partners
    embracing each other and the dance. I hope my partners don't feel
    they are being controlled. But they are more than willing to embrace
    for 12 minutes of dance.

    I'm certainly not going to argue with you, your viewpoint is valid for you.
    Maybe you haven't yet given and received an argentine embrace and
    just danced. Janis will say it's all about the embrace which of course
    is a mystic simplification but with more than a grain of truth.

    On the other hand I know plenty of women for whom tango of the heart
    is unsuited - there's no rule that says tango is for everyone. It needs you
    to solve the conundrum of letting yourself go yet be totally absorbed
    by the dance. The simple answer is just do it.
  5. JohnEm

    JohnEm Well-Known Member

    This sounds like influences from other dances, either your own
    experience or teacher's.

    Do you give a hug your huggee cannot feel?

    A connection in any dance is physical, dancing with a jiver who gives
    nothing through the connection of hand and arm is like dancing with
    a sponge. Embrace as if you mean it so your partner can feel you
    and you him. Tango isn't light as a feather but grounded, earthy and
    downright physical. You are not weighing on him but connecting by
    means of the embrace.
  6. opendoor

    opendoor Well-Known Member

    jfm, you are to reduce dancing to taking steps. Dancing is a lot more than simply moving on the dance floor (disclaimer: I speak consciously of dancing instead of tango-ing). I think more than 80% is adjusting of bodies. When I take a woman into my arm there are so many ways of embracing. It´s absolutely intuitive and equal. When I dance on the spot it´s all about where to put my right hand, how to breath coordinately, how I feel her breath and where she puts her hand next: on my neck? On my spine? On the upper arm? When we start moving a great deal of my perception deals with our bodies. Does she find a place for her forehead, does our bodies fit togather, is she really open, does she really let herself in. Is there a give and take.

    Steps and figures actually are peripheral. Some day you will find out.

    In this respect I must take up the opposite position. It is nearly impossible to dance in a close hold and to interpret the music differently. But if this really should occur, and it actually did several times, I say: lets change the roles or sit down. Following (or the girl´s role) for me strictly means not to compete in hearing the music. Think I am not an untalented follower though there are only few opportunities to change the role. But I disable that parts of my brain instantly that analyze music and simply let myself go. My awareness slides down to my legs and feet.

    Concerning leading and following in general I recently wrote this in another thread: http://www.dance-forums.com/showpost.php?p=959348&postcount=15

    all the best
    Denada Dance likes this.
  7. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    I don't know that there's any right or wrong answer, as it's art and emotions, and different people have different preferences. I'm sure there are leaders whose preferences would match up well with your preferences, and there are others where it would not be a good fit at all.

    It really comes down to what the follower is trying to change from what the leader intended. Some stuff could be harmless, although I could see a scenario where a follower deciding to do two quick steps instead of one slow step could result in the follower getting kicked, like if the leader was going for a sacada.

    For me, when I detect that a follower is going to ignore some of my intention and do her own thing, basically I'm going to do less (lead more simple stuff) while trying to determine if there's any pattern to when she decides to do her own thing. Of course this could take away from my ability to enjoy the embrace (if I felt that's what this song/tanda was about). I also suspect that the best followers at this style would probably not find me to be their first choice, (as very few followers that I've danced with are able keep the embrace enjoyable when they do this).

    FWIW, if I felt the song was more about the steps than the embrace, I can deal with a follower like that a little better.

    For me, the embrace is what makes tango different from other partner dances. If I was not into the embrace, then what you have said might make some sense.

    Hopefully my post doesn't come across as argumentative. I'm just trying to explain my point of view, while acknowledging that there are other points of views that are just as valid (even if they are not my preference).
  8. jfm

    jfm Active Member

    Thanks to the ladies who responded, on this section of the forum it is nice to have a bit of support.

    Thanks guys, for the patronizing responses.
    You actually both missed and proved my point.

    Honestly I keep writing things and deleting them, but I realise there is no point in me saying anything at all.
  9. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    Maybe if you made your point more clearly, some of us might be able to understand it. If not, then we can always say, "it's the leader' fault"

    Can't we all just get along?

  10. JohnEm

    JohnEm Well-Known Member

    I'm quite surprised at this as you have had a range of comments
    from the constructively critical to the downright confusing.
    All par for the course on here.

    From everything you've written and including this I can only guess
    you either aren't listening or don't want hear that which is inconvenient.
    Which leads me to ask you to ask yourself - are you like that in the dance:
    unlistening and determinedly doing your own thing?

    If so, there are other open connected dances which are more suitable - salsa maybe? And no, this isn't meant to be patronising though it is direct.
  11. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    Heh, just learnt a new word!
  12. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    On a more serious note...

    jfm, I think I hear what you are "saying." Let me say that the women I most enjoy dancing with express themselves while I am dancing with them. I think the best of them are so good at what they do - and this involves reading their partner and knowing how much, or how little, of their input will be appreciated by their partner - that the guy doesn't even know what hit him.

    I especially appreciate it when a partner picks up on something in the music, and, as you mentioned, a simple example takes two steps instead of one. Another example would be if she picked up on a pause in the music that I missed. (often they are very short and come at the end of a phrase, like the pause at the end of a sentence)

    I didn't document it anywhere, but I am convinced that my dancing in Buenos Aires included this sort of thing. So, I don't think being a big fan of apilado and the traditional milongas of central BA, and wanting the woman to "express herself" when I dance with her, are mutaully exclusive.
    LoveTango likes this.
  13. bordertangoman

    bordertangoman Well-Known Member

    echo that..

    I had some dances yesterday that fell into both camps (not at the same time)
    both ways were equally delightful.
  14. bordertangoman

    bordertangoman Well-Known Member

    jfm; I think you would have like some of the workshops I experienced this weekend...

    although it was focussed on the technical aspects of barridas, which I don't use very much...the nice bit came when the teacher took the barrida i was leading and took it back the other way; whee it was so nice..later we had a whole dance like that..

    its application isn't limited to barridas, its about: listening to the follower and responding to her when she does something....(one friend had a private lesson entirely focussed on that; he said it was a real eye opener.)

    It aint easy, because you want the transitons to be smooth.. I make plenty of fast responses to unled steps or unfollowed leads to keep the dance flowing, which has helped me.

    pm me if you want know more detail..
  15. Joe

    Joe Well-Known Member

    But there is usually a limited opportunity for the follower to deviate from the leader's intent, without becoming stumbly or bumpy.
  16. opendoor

    opendoor Well-Known Member

    But these opportunities will increase with experience. And as already said above, a woman could also change the position of her left hand or start embellishing.
  17. bordertangoman

    bordertangoman Well-Known Member

    aha Stumbly and Bumpy might be two of the seven active follower dwarfs, but there is also
    Slothful, HiJill, Tricksily, Muze-ical, and Totli-taykova :D
    LoveTango likes this.
  18. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    I'm curious, when dancing a tanda, have you ever had the experience (it's an emotional experience), where the steps cease to be important, and the embrace (and moving as one) becomes the important part of the dance?

    There's a physical connection, but for some, there is also an emotional connection. The emotional connection (tango high, trance state, etc) is the thing that fascinates me the most about about tango. This emotional connection is what leads to this saying, "Sometimes the best dancers are the ones doing the least". Now if you never experience this, (and I'm convinced that a lot of people don't), what some of us are taking about probably seems like a bunch of nonsense.

    FWIW, I will dance other styles as well at a milonga (more about the steps, expression, etc), but it provides a different emotional response (not saying it's bad, but it's an emotional state that can be just as easily achieved dancing to rock music or something). Granted, even when dancing more in that style, I'll still try to find some enjoyment in the embrace aspect as well.
    Denada Dance likes this.
  19. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    Something tells me that the followers aren't going to see the humor in this.


    Thus, I expect all us leaders will be getting another lecture.


  20. bordertangoman

    bordertangoman Well-Known Member

    just tryin' to lighten the mood y'know.

    Yup that's how I see it......:D

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