Tango Argentino > leading-between forcing and inviting

Discussion in 'Tango Argentino' started by Gssh, Mar 9, 2009.

  1. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    In several of the other thread we have been touching on the question of how leading actually works. There seem to be overall two main metaphors floating around:

    1) Leading is inviting: "The follower has the choice of what they want to do", "It is leader leads, follower does something, leader follows the follower"

    2) Leading is "forcing" (bad word, but i can't think of something better right now): "A clean lead leaves the follower no choice"

    Teachers who use either of these metaphors seem to advocate mechanics that are basically identical.

    I think that both metaphors are actually not describing what a good lead is, but what a bad lead is not.

    1a) Bad leading is forcing a follower through a move that is not working
    2a) Bad leading is forcing the follower to guess what the leader might be thinking.

    The more i am dancing the more i believe that 2) is actually more important to be kept in mind by a beginning leader. Every leader who is not a completely insensitive (compare me's thread, though) will notice when a move is not working, and with practice will inevitably smooth out problems with the technique. Every follower will notice when leaders ask for physically impossible things.

    In contrast to that it is in my experience possible (and in certain communities even prevalent) to dance tango on a very high technical level as a freeform guessing game. I used to be quite into this, but the longer i am dancing the more i am getting away from that - this approach doesn't seem work as well for me to achieve the "two as one" connection, there is always a degree of detachment from the other person, it is as if i am asking her to entertain me by cool interpretations of my suggestions, and this moment of "I wonder what she is going to do next" breaks for me the deep connection. I still use this to play and have fun and explore options in the dance, but it is not what i am looking for in my tango - it is for me something that belongs in a practica, not a milonga.

    The mirror image of this is what the role of the follower is

    1b) The follower activly shapes the dance
    2b) The follower is responsible to do what the leader leads

    at its best 1) emphasizes the role of the follower as a equal co-creator of the dance - every step is determined as much or equally by the followers choices. 2) can lead to followers who feel that they have no agency in the dance and that their role is just to allow themselves to be listlessly dragged around.

    Looking at what i am looking for in a dance, and how i expereinced the development of leaders and followers i feel like this is a fundamental problem for the way tango is learned: I think the idea of equal collaboration is more important for followers, while clarity of intent is more important for leaders. In a class where the emphasis is on equal collaboration the followers are paradoxically going to have a hard time to find their voice because their choices are arbitrary and meaningless if there is no clear framework provided by the leader. On the other hand in a class where the emphasis is on the clarity of the lead the leader are going to have a hard time to learn how to lead clearly and confidently because if the follower doesn't percieve and use the freedom they have within the dance clarity is just one dimensional and sterile.

  2. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    How about an option 3: Signaling - to indicate what you are looking for the follower to do (somewhere in between forcing and inviting).
  3. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    I just don't like the word "signal" - it conjures to me images of horror stories like "if you sqeeze her hand twice she will start ochos", like the leader is outside of the dance, and not there with the follower inside of it. I wish i could think of something that emphasizes how organic the leaders dance and the followers dance fit together. Like in a football game - the offensive line-up determines the defense and vice versa, but this relationship is immediate and dynamic. "the offense forced a blitz" "the offense invited a blitz" "the offense signaled for a blitz" all seem to be slighly off to me. I don't really think i am looking for the follower to do something, i am doing something myself, and the follower is going to do something to match/complement/complete it. My favourite image is of the follower being water and the leader channelling it, but i don't think this is actually useful for anybody who hasn't expereinced what the connection can feel like.

  4. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    For me, signaling seems a lot more immediate than inviting.

    What I was actually going for, is the idea that when the lead is given (or signaled), the expectation is that the follower will do it, as opposed to "inviting" where it sounds like we then wait for the follower to decide if she's is going to accept the invitation or not.

    I was simply throwing it out there as another option. Being aware of as many difference options is useful (at least to me) as thus far, I think the correct answer depends on who the follower is.
  5. Captain Jep

    Captain Jep New Member

    I used to believe this stuff about "inviting" followers to respond to the lead. But of course that's not really what happens. The follower usually doesnt have any choice about what to do. Even if you're doing a sandwich, 99% of the time the lady will accept the invitation to cross your leg. For her not to would be against the whole spirit of the dance.

    Where this idea is important is when the lead is not clear. At that point the leader should not force the follower. He should accept that his lead was unclear and move on. The last thing he should be doing is to use his arms and body to somehow force the woman to do what he wanted. In that sense, everything the man does is by definition an invitation.

    (Apologies if I'm misinterpreting the OP - if I am please feel free to correct... )
  6. Gssh

    Gssh Well-Known Member

    Well, the reason i started the thread was to bounce ideas around - in my experience most leaders seem to converge to pretty much the same ideas after a few years of dancing. But it is awfully difficult to explain what these ideas are without to somebody who hasn't had this experience. And there seem to be a lot of threads lately that indirectly tap into this.
    So, no misinterpretation possible - i was just throwing out my perspective at the moment :)

  7. Captain Jep

    Captain Jep New Member

    Yes, I agree. I sometimes wonder though whether we have this debate because somehow we feel that the follower *should* share in the leading. You know, because we live in democracies where things are done by consensus rather than by force.

    If that is the case, I think we worry too much , because most followers are quite happy not to have to lead. As ladies have pointed out time and time again, tango offers them the relief of not having to make the decisions. And as a follower, it's a tough enough job just to follow.

    (I hope also I'm not just stating "the bleedin' obvious" here... )
  8. Peaches

    Peaches Well-Known Member

    *shrug* I like both the ideas of signaling and inviting. I think the idea of a follower "refusing" an "invitation" is a tad overblown.

    Most women, I would think, enjoy following. Enjoy the lack of responsibility for that aspect of things, and the freedom that comes for it. There are bad followers who want to do their own thing, there are bad followers who don't know any better. There are times when I have outright "refused" a lead because of hazards on the floor (another couple, namely...I don't care what the lead was, I'm not going to knowingly walk into them). There are, so I'm told, advanced followers who can suggest steps, or play with the lead, or steal the lead, or alter the timing as part of the conversation, not as a refusal. Some guys profess to like this, others don't. *shrug*

    I like the water channeling description. That particularly resonated with me. The other way I've heard it described is that they man's lead should be clean and unabiguous, and should put the follower in a position where she wants (or can most easily and comfortably do) what the man wants her to do. Makes sense to me. But that's not to say we're being physically forced there--more like the body alignment and timing is such that the desired step just happens.

    To me, a lot of this comes down to the idea of the much-talked-about intention part of the lead. Where the leader makes clear what he's wanting, but hasn't actually taken the step and caused it to happen.

    Dunno. Just my two cents.
  9. cornutt

    cornutt Well-Known Member

    Clearness in a lead has very little correlation with force. It's easily possible to use quite a bit of force and still give an ambigious lead. (I know because I've done it. :rolleyes:) I think of the lead as writing an outline. Once the outline is written, I want and expect my partner to write some of the words. I don't want to write them all; it's not my job.

    And different dances vary in the extent to which the follow can contribute original material, so to speak. In standard (ooh, there's that word), it's like an orchestra: everybody darn well better follow the conductor, or there will be chaos. AT is one of the dances at the opposite extreme, along with WCS and (to an extent) salsa; it's more analagous to a jazz combo. The leader lays down a progression of chords and changes, and then it's up to the band to fill it in.
  10. Zoopsia59

    Zoopsia59 Well-Known Member

    1) Leading is inviting: "The follower has the choice of what they want to do", "It is leader leads, follower does something, leader follows the follower"
    2) Leading is "forcing" (bad word, but i can't think of something better right now): "A clean lead leaves the follower no choice"

    I've been meaning to write my thoughts on this but I was getting confused about where to put them since this topic was creeping into so many threads. Thanks for starting a new one.

    I will just say that neither of these 2 approaches would describe my view or begin to answer the question of how to lead properly. I think good leaders and followers eventually come to similar understandings of HOW to do it, but describing it is tricky. But since non-advanced dancers are the ones trying to gain the understanding, we have to be careful how we describe it

    My idea of the invitation doesn't mean the follower can simply follow her own whim and do anything else she feels like, nor does it mean the invitation is vague. Using the "invitation" metaphor, think of these various types of invites...

    Guy calls girl, says "Would you like to go out this weekend? Maybe to a movie, or to dinner maybe Fri or Saturday night or maybe a picnic Sunday afternoon?"
    Girl says "That sounds great! I'd love to go out with you"
    Guy says "Cool!"..... and hangs up.
    Girl thinks... "Uh.. so what are we doing?"

    Another scenario.
    (forgive the gender specifics, it gets so hard to write about stuff being gender neutral the entire way through)
    Guy's brother is getting married and he is best man. He invites his significant other to join him on a trip to the wedding. When they get to the airport, sig other informs him that she decided she doesn't want to go to Chicago in the winter so she exchanged the tickets for a flight to Maui. SURPRISE!

    Uh... not acceptable.

    Person (hey I'm trying) invites other person to dinner. When they pull into the parking lot of the Pasta Factory, invitee says "OMG, I can't eat here, I have Celiac disease! There's nothing on the menu without wheat!"
    Invitor says "Too bad. We're eating here, deal with it and shut up"

    People, obviously NONE of these scenarios work in tango dancing!

    The tango "invitation" lead is not some vague thing needing interpretation. It is for a specific thing at a specific time. It is CLEAR what the invitation is for (and when) and an immediate RSVP is required. There are no alternate plans to choose from or suss out. The RSVP is either for Yes or for No. However, NO has to be an option because the follower may know something the leader doesn't that will create a problem if she (oops, back to genders) continues.

    So when we say "The follower has no choice".. well that's not really a good way to describe a correct lead. It is more accurate to say that she is not given MULTIPLE choice.

    However it is also not accurate to say she can simply ignore the lead and do something else simply because she WANTS to and then the leader adapts. The leader may have a damn good reason for leading that just as in other instances, the follow may have damn good reasons for not going there.

    An advanced leader may indeed create "play" time for the follow to create the dance. This may not even involve a switch of lead and follow. It may just involve pauses in which the leader expects the follow to add more than a quick embellishment. Trenner and Shulman did this as a dance couple and I'm sure there are others. However it is an advanced skill on both parts to do this with someone who isn't a regular partner.

    It is an advanced skill for the leader to communicate that its ok, and also advanced for the follow to pick up on it. Its also an advanced leading skill for the leader to take something the follower throws in and think "Hey! since she did that, I can make even more of it by going right into this" (My partner used to do this when I would do a beat in front with my free leg as an embellishment.. he would make my next step with that free leg a deep crossed back ocho to create even more movement around as I was unwrapping from my beat.)

    For the rest of us, it merely means that the lead has to be very clear but leave room for the follow to refuse if she has a good reason to and the leader has to be ready to respond to her refusal (rather than push through it), just as he has to be ready to adapt when she doesn't go where he leads because she made a mistake.

    So the leader is always adapting to what the follower does because she may simply screw up and not do what he meant. Or he may have led it poorly or she may have resisted for good reasons. But clearly he has to be adaptable to what she does. But that doesn't mean she gets to ignore leads and do whatever she pleases.

    That's how I view the "Invitation".
  11. Zoopsia59

    Zoopsia59 Well-Known Member

    I think you've hit on an important point. How a teacher describes the lead may be determined by the direction in which the student needs to correct.

    Someone who is too forceful may need to be told to think of it more as an invitation (darn, that word is hard to type! I have to go back and fix it EVERY time!) Someone who is too tentative and unclear may need to be told to give her no choice.

    But in reality, both students need to be striving for the same technique, but from opposite directions requiring opposite correction.

    That's one of the reasons I find large classes (and this forum sometimes, by nature of having to generalize and philosophize rather than work hands on) frustrating. Teachers need to teach individuals not simply expound on their philosophy to a group as a memorized universally ideal explanation. Even in a class, each student is an individual and the way to get a concept through to one might be different from another. But of course, in large classes you have to say SOMETHING

    That's also why I would recommend a few private or semi private lessons early on. And if the teacher doesn't seem to be talking specifically to YOU, don't take another private from them.

    (I took a private a few months ago and we had a mix up about the time. As a result, I was there very early and from the waiting area was able to hear over 1/2 of the previous student's lesson. The instructor gave me the EXACT SAME LESSON. It didn't take into account anything specific about my dancing or what I needed to work on. It was his "standard lesson for followers that he's never taught before" and therefore a complete waste of my money. If it had been a group class, I'm sure it wouldn't have varied at all from what he used as a private lesson for me.. and her)
  12. Zoopsia59

    Zoopsia59 Well-Known Member

    I wouldn't really describe it as waiting for her to decide. She has to decide pretty darn quick. The leader isn't supposed to be kept waiting for the RSVP, but he has to respect the one he gets.

    What I was trying to describe before is simply the process of the leader listening to the follower.

    In practice, the leader ALWAYS has to follow the follower's last move. No matter how good the 2 dancers are, there are going to be instances where she does not do what he expected, whether intentional or not. And he has to adapt his next move to whatever she did.

    He can't lead her from where he meant for her to be, he has to lead her from where she IS.

    So the leader's step is always a "follow" of the follower's last move regardless of whether its the move he wanted. If the leader doesn't "follow" the last move of the follower, the whole thing falls apart because most likely he willlead something that is truly awkward for her to do from there. Really good leaders probably can actually do the follower's role because good leading IS following. Each step is a single opportunity based on the what the other person just did.

    Naturally this skill takes time to develop. Its also why I try to teach leaders to think in terms of the follower's step rather than their own. If they are thinking only about their step in a sequence, they have no way to adapt to what she does. If he knows what he wants the follower to do in response to his move, he will also know right off when he didn't get the expected response and know he has to adapt rather than plough forward with his sequence. And he will be able to adapt faster to various things happening.
  13. Zoopsia59

    Zoopsia59 Well-Known Member

    Peaches, you're 2 cents is worth more than the $250 I just spent writing my posts. I should have just read the whole thread before responding and pointed to you and said "Hey! What SHE said!"
  14. Angel HI

    Angel HI Well-Known Member

    I have not posted b/c there are corresponding threads going on, and b/c I believe that Gssh has a great handle on lead and lead ability. Also, this is most profound, and bears understanding....
    Furthering that, I still offer this from the other thread.....

    1. Know where your center and balance is, and know your space (the area created by forming a circle in front of you w/ the arms).
    2. Know where her center and balance is at all times, and where her space is (ditto yours).
    3. Lead only by moving your balance within your space, and by rotating around your center. Lead yourself...not your partner. In order to do this, steps 1 and 2 must be maintained; always.
    4. Follow your own lead, then that created by the follow (lady). The process is lead-follow-follow; the last being yours.

    We use all kinds of terms to decribe this; lead, invite, propose, initiate, etc. Remember one part of the [3 part] codigo...dance (thus lead) by "the creating and taking of space". Trust it. The follow will respond, if she is remotely trying to be in the same frame of reference
  15. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    I think this is the crux of what we are discussing. I understand about collision avoidance & unclear leads (both are leader errors), but other than that, is there any valid reason to refuse the lead? Also, when she refuses the lead, what are the valid actions for the follower? Does she just stand there, or does she do some other step of her own choosing?

    I agree with all of this. In particular, when learning any new pattern, I have to understand what the followers step are, for me to be able to lead them. I try to learn my steps well enough so I don't have the spend much time thinking about them, which then allows me to focus on what I want the follower to do.
  16. Zoopsia59

    Zoopsia59 Well-Known Member

    Collision avoidance is an example of something about the move that may be a problem, but its only one example. On that subject, I don't always think of it as a 'leader error" when it involves the leader's blind spot.. the follower has a responsibility to "watch his back" (and his right when in flat on close embrace). Sometimes its someone else's fault that a collision is about to occur and the only way the leader will know about it is if the follower who can see that direction is on the ball and keeps them safe even if it disrupts his lead.

    Another common reason for follower refusal is that the move may simply be something the follower can't do because of a physical limitation. I once had a guy try to push me down into something that required more flexibility in my knee and hip than I had that night. He got insistent both vocally and physically when I resisted. I'd seen him do that kind of move with another dancer, but she was about 18 (I'm almost 50) and I assumed he knew her. I never imagined he would try that kind of stuff with an "older" stranger! And I certainly didn't think it would be a problem if I refused to do it!

    I had 2 occasions in which I had to resist a leader walking me backwards even though there was no way for him to know disaster was looming based on what he could see. In one, the tiny heel of my shoe went into a crack in the floor when I placed it. As I transferred my weight backwards over it and to the other leg, the heel got driven further into the crack and stuck.. I couldn't move what was now my front leg and the leader was still moving me backwards. If he had kept going, the least that would have happened would have been breaking my shoe. The worst of course would be falling over backwards with him on top of me and probably injuring my foot, ankle and god knows what else (and breaking my shoe).

    The other occasion was pretty comical in retrospect. We were at a milonga with live music and the leader thought we had plenty of room to dance past the musicians based on his view. Of course, being well trained, his view didn't include looking at the floor. My foot got caught in a mic cable that had drifted out. I tried to stop him, but it all happened fast. When he didn't react quickly enough, I jerked my foot to free it.

    The cable also wrapped around the leg of the music stand. My jerk started the music stand falling. By this time we stopped dancing. The musician and I both tried to grab the stand, but he hit the microphone and IT started falling! I caught the music stand, he caught the mic stand, but the sheet music on the stand went everywhere. Luckily, he wasn't the only musician and the other kept playing. It could have turned into a domino effect that would have brought the entire milonga to a screeching (literally) halt.

    And it all happened in an instant of the leader pushing through my resistance. (I'm not sure anyone could have reacted fast enough, but its an example of the need to be listening to the follower!)

    I'll answer the second part of your question in another post
  17. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    In general there reasons to "refuse the lead". But...
    There was one woman who identified herself as Razor Girl on another forum. She lives here in Portland and she is really a sweet, wonderful person. Her real name is Rose! I got to dance with her a bit and really would enjoy myself.
    One fo the things she would do, would be to literally refuse to take a step. Exactly why she did this, I don't really know, and I never asked. I don't lead leg wraps, or create opportunities for lustradas, etc, so it wasn't anything like that.
    She would also be very active in "suggesting" certain movements. This is done most easily by doing the same thing that good leaders do, build the next movement on momentum from the last movement.
    Knowing whom you can do this with, and whom you will just get upset, is very important!
    So, if someone all of a sudden doesn't do what you've led (rather than give you an interpretation that you didn't expect (I usually deflect any comments about "Was that what you wanted me to do?") they might just be testing the waters for a more interactive dance. "Is my input welcome, or not?"
    Of course they could just be a troublesome person.
    Just as leaders must earn the trust of their partners, it would be very helpful, though, to estalish the fact that you will follow well, before getting into this stuff.
    But, it must be hard if you not only follow well, but know how to lead, too!

    In reading various posts, it seems like we have a small number of people who can dance at this level, or follow well enough to begin experimenting with this stuff. I have to say though that "AT as a conversation" should not come too soon. Yes, it's that technique thing!
  18. Zoopsia59

    Zoopsia59 Well-Known Member

    It pretty much depends on WHY she's refusing as you can see from my previous post. If she's yielding the right of way to another couple about to move into the spot (or traveling through the spot) she was led to step into, she can just delay with an embellishment until its clear to go. Or she can do nothing and let the leader fix it with something else.

    If its a serious thing, most likely she will want to just STOP. If he's about to move into someone he can't see (like a backstep) she might increase her clutch on him and make a sound (like EEEK!) and not take the step. If they're about to commit felony music stoppage, all bets are off! (as is the case, if she's about to break her CIF's!)

    If its a move that feels harmful based on a personal limitation she has, she may try to do the move to a much lesser degree than he is attempting, or she may just not do it.

    Unless she needs to move quickly in another way to avoid the disaster, I don't think she should simply do something else of her own choosing. She should remain on the supporting leg she was last placed on unless she just can't.

    When you are dancing with a follower whose resistance is wacky or variable throughout the dance, it will be very hard to "hear" her when she has valid reasons to refuse. So its important for followers to be consistent in how they feel to a leader (even if its not quite the feeling he'd prefer), so that a sudden change in the resistance is immediately apparent.

    Someone who is constantly trying to adjust their level of pressure and physical connection is very frustrating to dance with, be they the leader OR the follower. I'd rather have someone who may not give me exactly the pressure I like but doesn't change it constantly over someone whose pressure is all over the place and occasionally feels great just by chance.
  19. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    Before I forget, I'd like to say that I think these threads we have going right now are great. I really appreciate the ability to better understand people's philosophy on how this stuff works.

    Now, to somewhat recap what you said (I do this to make sure I understand the essence of what you are saying, and of course you can correct me if I get it wrong), valid reasons for the follower to refuse "invitations" are basically due to issues with respect to safety and physical limitation issues. That leads me to believe that it's not OK to refuse due to "artistic differences of opinion" such as simply preferring another step to have been done instead of what was lead. Is this basically how you see it, or is there more to it?
  20. dbk

    dbk Well-Known Member

    Recently, I've been thinking of it in terms of "putting your body in such a position so as to invite and allow your follower to do the correct step correctly." Or, I suppose, "moving your body in such a way..."

    I guess I arrived at that because, as a follower, I find that my ability to do a step correctly almost always depends on my partner's body being in the right position. My partners always get yelled at by our coaches when they try to just "put" me into my step, rather than putting themselves into the step correctly and allowing me to follow. An under-arm turn, for example, a leader shouldn't be trying to "put" me into the step by "turning" me; they should moving their hand (and ribcage, etc.) correctly so I can follow the motion.

    Anyway, I have a weird way of conceptualizing things. So whatever :)

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