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Travel Tales/Finding One's Way

A friend of mine returned from another city recently and told how while at a Milonga she sat for a long time without being asked. She spent the time watching couples dancing and noticed that the men weren't actually  leading. They each did a slightly different pattern over and over and their partners just walked it for them, without regard to connection. Eventually she was asked to dance, she remembered the guy's pattern and walked it for him. He was deeply impressed, told her that she was an amazing dancer and subsequently told all his friends. Each of them asked her to dance, she repeated the patterns for them that she had committed to memory earlier, and each of them was similarly deeply impressed.  She hardly sat down again!
I told her that it must have felt good to be so popular and she shrugged noncommittally, "but they weren't leading, wasn't really dancing..."
How do leaders improve if they can't trust their followers to follow?
How do followers who dance with connection get dances if the leaders prefer to dance with women who walk their patterns for them because "you hardly have to touch her, she knows just what to do!" (The obvious answer in a small scene: learn to read patterns quickly or take up gardening.)

I was dancing Milonga with a friend who kept disconnecting and stepping away from me, and she asked me why the dance wasn't working. When I told her how it felt for me she said that she'd recently been to a Milonga workshop with a visiting Argentine teacher who'd berated her for stopping walking during the song. He told her that she should always be walking, no matter what happened. "Why would he tell me that if it wasn't true?"
"Because he's an idiot?" I suggested.

A friend asked me if she was following ok at a festival a couple of years ago. A visiting Argentine teacher had slightly twisted her right hand back and forth as he led her during a workshop and told her, "This means that you do Ochos now." She was very upset because, being a solo mum she had limited time and money and had just realised that both had been wasted.

I taught a newbie the basics of good posture, how to stay connected and how to move with the leader through Ochos and giros. She took a chance and attended a workshop with a visiting Argentine teacher who exclaimed, "But you don't know any steps! How can I dance with you if you don't know any steps?"
How do dancers improve if different teachers tell them different things? How does one sift out the teachers that hinder rather than help?

I danced a very difficult tango with a European lady who clamped her ankles and knees together on every step, only took a step if she recognised it from a set menu, and danced almost completely on her own. When I returned to my seat exhausted the women to my left and right exclaimed to me that it looked incredible and that she looked like an amazing dancer. Such beautiful footwork! I exploded, "Then you dance with her!"
How does a follower improve if they only appreciate how it looks rather than how it feels, and seek to emulate followers who...don't follow?

Beth and I visited a particularly unfriendly Encuentro in Europe where almost everyone  ignored us before seeing us dance. A friendly smile or hello were met by a cool gaze and a look away. There was a pecking order at work and we were not on it.  It was very unpleasant but we had come a long way, Beth's favourite dance partner was with us and I had met a very friendly lady at the afternoon Milonga, so we were set for the evening. What quickly became apparent was that the standard was extremely low, even at this somewhat exclusive event, with a handful of leaders and followers out of a couple of hundred people. The men generally had terrible posture and shuffled awkwardly around the room. The women appeared to have all attended womens' technique classes and danced beautifully...but not with their leaders. There was a marked migration of men and women to the tables at our corner of the room after they saw us dance, and the amount of cabaceo was ridiculous thanks.

We've seen the same tired formula of bad leaders/soloist followers repeated in cities across Europe, the USA, Australia, NZ and also in BA where we see it mainly among the younger people. Women often attend technique classes, men generally don't. Men tend to dance with women who guess their patterns, women learn to dance in the absence of a lead. Wooden performances on YouTube are greeted with rapture and the circle goes around and around. The years and workshops go by with little apparent improvement.

I only know one way of breaking through the mess of conflicting messages from teachers in order to become a better dancer: learn both roles. There are simple physical attributes that dictate how well two bodies fit together and talk of 'different styles', man's role' and 'woman's role' puts an obscuring mask over a simple truth.

For men who learn to follow it lets them feel in their bones the difference between a crisp clear lead and a sloppy bag of nothing.
For women learning to lead it lets them feel in their bones what it's like when their follower 'puts energy into their feet', strides from foot to foot, changes weight when they feel like it and dances like a soloist.

Men need to learn with men so that they don't burden lady leaders with their weight and, equally importantly, learn not to 'help' the leader which is just another word for guessing and does a disservice to both leader and follower.
Women need to learn with women so that they aren't physically stressed.

For those who prefer to wait until they've mastered their current role, leader or follower, before learning the other...good luck.


  1. That's correct tangogeoff, Tango is about dancing as one and having a smooth time, not about guessing the lead or stepping out alone....


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