Tag Archives: Following

Women Leading

It should come as no surprise to people who read this blog that we do not like it when women lead in Tango.  To preface,  let us say we are feminists.  We believe in equal rights.  We are very open-minded and very liberal. Anyone who has been to our classes can attest to the fact that we don’t appear to have a traditional/stereotypical relationship.  K does the majority of the talking in front of a group.  She is outgoing and loud (and a little crazy).  Jorge, on the other hand, is quiet, calm, and very easy going.  Leaving our personal relationship aside, let us put it this way: If ever there was a woman you would guess would start up leading in the milongas, your first bet would be K.

However, K doesn’t lead in the milongas and here are the main reasons why we don’t like women leading (in general and especially in the milongas):

1) lack of culture and tradition

Tango is a traditional dance that calls upon a man to lead a woman.  It is part of the dance and it is part of the culture. In the same way that neglecting to use the cabeceo or proper floorcraft are a disrespect to the culture, so is a woman leading.

2) lack of “manliness” or male energy

Men are on average bigger and taller than women (Jorge is taller, but not always bigger – and there are plenty of men that are bigger, but not taller :)  Men are more likely to emit a male energy when they dance – women are not as likely to do so.  A woman is more likely to look wimpy and dance in a “feminine” way (not to mention often in heels!?). She is also likely to feel wimpy. As such, “wimpy” men are not very enjoyable to dance with either.

3) lack of reason

Yes, it may be important for female teachers to learn how to lead (although if you teach as a couple, this may be less important). That said, the majority of dancers on the floor are not teachers.  Yes, there are often more women in a milonga (but K has no interest in getting up on the floor to lead those extra women and has no problem dancing less). Yes, K practices leading (and has yet to lead a better follower than Jorge ;).  Although it definitely benefits a man’s dance to learn how to follow, it does not help a woman to follow better. It may indeed give her insight into the minds of and problems faced by leaders, but it will not do much to improve anything in her dance.

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Traditionally, Tango is a “man’s” dance, but this does not negate the fact that the woman has an equal role.  The culture and tradition of Argentine Tango can be respected and followed even while it continues to evolve.  For example, we teach our male students how to embrace a woman so that both parties are comfortable.  Perhaps it is safe to say that in days gone by, the man chose his embrace without any input from the woman… and no woman would dare tell him to change his embrace.  Our students are taught that they will eventually find an embrace that is theirs, but they are also taught, for example, that having a left arm that bends at a far steeper angle than 90 degrees in going to put strain on a woman’s right shoulder and her back… and so not to do it.

In conclusion, let us make it clear that we are NOT referring to, nor are we against, couples in a homosexual relationship wanting to learn and dance Tango. We would only suggest that each person in the dance partnership embrace the expectations of whichever role they choose, be it leader or follower.

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Sweating and Tango; Something is Wrong

After reading an excellent post on My Tango Diaries about odors and sweating, we were inspired to write about sweating from a different perspective.

Unfortunately, we cannot remember where we heard or read this:  Argentine Tango is one of the most efficient dances that exists.  We tried googling it to no avail.  Regardless, we agree with this (possibly imagined) statement completely.

In our pre-Buenos Aires times, we were quite the profuse sweat-ers.  Jorge insists that K doesn’t really sweat at all, but that’s only in comparison to him.  Don’t do it – don’t believe that sweating is only reserved for larger-bodied individuals.  When Jorge el Flaco sweats, he drips it and it doesn’t take much for him to do so.  For this reason, it never seemed strange that we used to start sweating after only the first song of a tanda.  We had heard the “efficiency” comment, but we didn’t know how that made any sense.  That was until we began learning (from our maestro) in Buenos Aires.

Our pre-Buenos Aires Tango was a muscular affair.  Our backs were tense, our legs and butts were flexed, and most of all, our arms were tight and ready for all the leading that was supposed to happen through them.  When we finally learned to relax our bodies, activate our core and arms rather than flexing them, and in other words: to lead/follow properly, we finally stopped sweating.  That combined with relaxing the legs and making room between them, putting our weight in, and thus our hips over, our heels instead of the often taught idea of having your weight on the balls of your feet (weight in the balls of your feet = flexed toes and legs), and using our bodies to lead/follow rather than arms, resulted in our understanding of Tango being the most efficient dance.

If you are sweating easily and feeling tired after a couple of dances in a cool room, you are without a doubt using your body incorrectly in Tango.  Clearly, other circumstances can create sweaty situations and a bit of moisture is only understandable.  Pay attention to your body and attempt to feel what your muscles are doing – from the tips of your toes (ladies, are your toes gripping the floor?) to the top of your head (is your neck stiff and your head stuck in one position?).  Tango is all about the embrace.  You cannot possibly enjoy a beautiful embrace if you are flexing muscles and have tension throughout your body.

As as aside… whether or not you sweat, remember to be showered and wear deodorant EVERY TIME you go out to Tango.


Are You a Leading Cheater?

The best dancers are supposed to be able to lead anyone, regardless of the follower’s level right?  Really?  We have always questioned this “fact”.  How is this possibly true?  If a woman does not know how to embrace the man, if she doesn’t understand what the lead feels like (in general), if she is lacking necessary technique, then what?  We’re not saying we haven’t seen all these “great teachers” lead women exactly where they wanted them to go.  We are saying that these “great teachers” are often totally cheating in doing so.

Jorge is not one of these “great teachers” and cannot, for the life of him, make his followers do “anything” he wants.  Apparently Jorge is not a very good leader then.  He must have been lied to over and over again in Buenos Aires because he was consistently told how clear his lead was and how he lead with his full body (by teachers and dancers).  The main criticism/feedback was to “increase the font size”.  That is, his lead was clear and good, but he could make it even clearer, even better, even bigger for those women who weren’t very sensitive followers.

Why can’t Jorge make the follower do what he wants?  The answer lies in the question with the word “make”.  It is not in his nature, his personality, or his dance to “make” a follower do anything (nor is it really in the nature of Argentine Tango).  If he feels that his follower cannot follow a certain movement, he simply will not do it again.

Entonces, what is meant by “cheating” in the lead?  Leaders can cheat in one of two ways: with the killer left arm or with the killer right arm.  Let us describe what we mean.

The killer left arm is popular among some in our Tango community.  It is actually taught by some as the proper way to lead in Tango.  And in all honesty, if the follower offers enough resistance with her right arm, the leader can basically lead the follower to do anything.  Does it feel nice for the follower?  Well that depends.  If you are a follower with an ego who just wants to be perfect at any cost, the answer is yes.  However, if you are a follower in love with the dance and the embrace, the answer is no.  And well, the answer is a definite no when the man uses his left arm so much that you are left with a sore shoulder after the dance (there are a few of these leaders in TO and many followers complain about it and don’t enjoy dancing with these men, but saying no is just too difficult).

The killer right arm, conversely, occurs when the leader crushes his follower.  In this situation, we are not speaking of the awful right HAND lead.  You know what we’re talking about ladies.  That evil hand you feel on your back pushing and pulling you through ochos.  Shudder!  No.  We are speaking of the men who cannot trust their followers (often with good reason) to embrace or follow the lead.  Therefore, these men crush the living daylight out of their followers so there isn’t a chance a step will be missed.

A good leader invites his follower to move with him and a great leader finds a way to invite the follower with little choice of rejection.  The use of arms and excessive muscle cancels out the chance for an invitation.  All we saw and felt of the good dancers in Buenos Aires were comfortable cloud-like (close) embraces that used the body (with arms being an extension of the body) to invite the woman to  follow.

Here’s the analogy: Tango is often compared to a language.  Therefore, if a woman visits Argentina with no knowledge of Spanish, can a man really make her understand what he wants her to do?  He can of course use body language, but if some of the body language is different between the cultures, this will be of little help.  Perhaps he’s asking her to join him for “mate” and holds an imaginary cup to his face with one hand while holding and imaginary straw to his lips with the other hand.  This could easily be misunderstood or not understood at all.  He could use “force” and drag her to his place and show her the mate gourd and straw, but is this really an enjoyable experience?  In other words, it does not matter how great his body language is.  If she does not have some basic knowledge of the language, he will either have to force her to understand or they will both look a little silly not being able to communicate with one another.

For us, the moral of the story is that women need to be taking “Spanish” classes before attempting to communicate with advanced speakers. Men who do not want to use force, have every right to speak only with women they feel comfortable communicating with.  When they both decide to show up at a “Spanish” practica, then they can attempt to communicate together because it is a place of practice.

To further add to the analogy and as a side thought… After one spends time learning, practicing and speaking a foreign language in a foreign country, it is usually the case that the foreign language will deteriorate when one returns to the home country.  When no one else is speaking that foreign language, it is quite difficult to maintain the level previously achieved unless one continues to communicate with others of the same or better language abilities.  So why is it so difficult for people to understand why we, for example, do not want to dance with people who do not dance with good technique and a proper embrace?


Comical Compliments x 2

We have been struggling a great deal with a big faux-pas here in Buenos Aires.  We do not enjoy dancing in the milongas.  Yes, everyone take a moment to gasp and shake their head in disgust.  We definitely didn’t see that one coming ourselves.*

Here is a brief overview of our reasons.

Both of us:

1) don’t enjoy having to sit apart in order to dance with other people – we miss out on enjoying each others’ company

2) we don’t like the lack of space to dance – dancing Tango in busy downtown milongas is akin to shuffling forward in a grocery line (there is a contradiction in the fact that the walk is one of the most important elements of Tango given that there is NO space to take one normal sized step in a milonga)

K:

1) has not been impressed with the level of dancing (we were both convinced this would not be an issue here, but it is)

2) although she may enjoy some wonderful dances with some wonderful dancers, she does not care if she dances with any of them again (were there some exceptions? yes, but few and far between)

3) she grows tired of the same old steps and patterns found on the crowded milonga floor

Jorge:

1) hates how his dancing is dictated by space and the couples around him rather than by the music and his creative energy

2) finds it difficult to dance with the Porteñas of the milonga that are used to dancing the same old steps and patterns found on the crowded milonga floor because they assume the steps rather than follow

This last point leads to the title of this post.  K received the most comical compliment from two different men on the same night.  In Castellano, she was told by surprised men, “You follow everything!” This compliment really shines light on the difficulties Jorge has with the dancing of the Porteñas.  Meanwhile K was flattered but couldn’t help laugh to herself.  Isn’t she supposed follow everything!?

*As a post-script: We learned to love dancing in the milongas once our Tango movement became appropriate for crowded milongas AND once we unlearned/released the muscle-leading/following we were accustomed to.