Saturday, 18 June 2011

Lead and follow

Tango UK is the main UK tango message board, and from time to time it's also used for discussions on tango. Message boards don't work that well for discussions, and anyway Tango UK probably isn't read outside the UK.

In a recent discussion, Chrisjj talked about the prevalence in the UK of '...pattern recognition lead-follow' which he says is 'Wholly divorced from the way people from BA and around the world dance tango in clubs.'

I felt there was more to be said about 'pattern recognition'. Every now and again I dance with a newcomer who is unwilling to be drawn into a close embrace. I don't particularly enjoy dancing open, but an open embrace works fine - just so long as the woman maintains a tight grip with her left hand. So long as there is a rigid frame her body will follow what my body is doing. Remembering back to classes, that grip on the man's upper right arm is always taught, always insisted on. So why do newcomers invariably dispense with it? Every time I've danced with a newcomer I've had to say, look, you must hold on with your right hand. Oh yes... she says, and promptly forgets. So how does lead and follow work if there's no positive connection between the two bodies?

'Pattern recognition' is certainly there, but my impression is that there's a strong visual element. She watches my shoulders, and matches my movement with hers. Sadly, this, like pattern recognition, is a terribly long way round. Ask a friend to point at something at the same time as you do, and your hands won't move together. Take that friend's hand and point with it, and the two arms will move together. Instead of being something physically enjoyable, two bodies moving as one, tango becomes a skill set in which even the greatest skill won't result in moving together.

Chrisjj praises Andreas Wichter's teaching: Andreas of course teaches close embrace classes, and there's no visual lead, and no need for it, in close embrace.

There's too much inferior teaching: perhaps there's just too much teaching. Maybe it's my own limited ability, but the partners I've found difficult to dance with are those who have spent a lot of time in classes, and taken 'women's technique' to heart, whereas women who've enjoyed dancing a lot are always a pleasure to dance with, and I look forward to catching their eye across the floor when the music we both enjoy is played.


Anonymous said...

This may be of interest,a discussion at Sydney Tango.
David G

Tangocommuter said...

Thanks, David G, for the link to your forum. Some interesting stories in that recent thread about the embrace. Just one point: one section of it mentions a teacher in Buenos Aires called Ana Maria Shaper. In case anyone is looking for her, I presume this is Ana Maria Schapira ( She speaks some English and travels regularly. I found her very helpful and sympathetic to anyone who wants to learn to dance.

Chris, UK said...

""'Pattern recognition' is certainly there, but my impression is that there's a strong visual element. She watches my shoulders, and matches my movement with hers."

Following by sight is the favourite method of the many UK tango dance schools that have an embrace-averse attitude to the dance. E.g. the one in my home city Cambridge uses the shirt button variation. Beginner girls are told to fix their sight on the top button of the guy's shirt, and as the guy moves, the girl moves to keep in line with it.

Whatever the particular variety of embrace substitute, I've found that most newcomers that have even a little natural understanding of the dance soon discover it doesn't work. The other kind of student finds the place it works best is class, so that's where they stay until after a couple of years they too are teaching it.

This is why there's so much more embrace-free dancing in classes than milongas. It is not embrace-aversion in learners, as often cited by class teachers. It is embrace-aversion in the kind of people who most become class teachers.

"anyway Tango UK probably isn't read outside the UK"

A little - 10-15% according to the link analytics I see.

Leetsy said...

I read the same thread with interest, as a beginner lady...

There is a "comfort blanket" in watching for visual clues, especially when you're not wholly sure of who you're dancing with but on Sunday, I danced with someone new during class who told me to look over his right shoulder (we were in open embrace) and I resolutely did. It wasn't easy to resist searching for "clues" but I was pleasantly surprised by how easy his lead was to follow without the need for visuals or other hints. I liked the fact that he encouraged me to do this and made me feel safe enough. Often, there's an anxiety that I'm going to do something wrong and not wanting to do that, so it is easier to be lazy (especially after a long week) and watch the chest (especially at my height!) but I felt like I'd actually danced after just feeling for the lead. It's not easy but I am going to try and stick with it.

Tangocommuter said...

Leetsy, that's a wonderful story! It's great you found a helpful partner, and I hope you continue to feel that you are actually dancing. I'm sure it will become second nature very quickly.

John said...

I read your Lead and Follow article with interest. One question, which category of

a) those who have spent a lot of time in classes, and taken 'women's technique' to heart,
b) women who've enjoyed dancing a lot

would you put MsH in?

msHedgehog said...

I am also curious to know which category you'd put me in, as I can't tell from what you've said.

Also, Andreas's classes are largely technique classes. And when Tete told you to bend your knees, I think that was technique advice.

Tangocommuter said...

John, I'm not sure why you would want to regard these two as necessarily mutually exclusive.

I've no idea whether MsH has spent time in the 'women's technique' classes I referred to. I doubt it, but I believe she's enjoyed dancing a lot, and enjoyed general classes like those Andreas gives. & I know dancers who've 'done' classes for years, and rarely been to milongas, and they aren't easy to dance with.

John, recent 'women's technique' classes advertise hours on dissociation, spiral and circular moves, sensual and effective ochos, elastic boleos, rounded moves, and embellishments. Do you think you'd really enjoy dancing with a partner who'd just come from one of these classes? But dance with a partner who'd spent the afternoon just dancing? My experience is that I'd be much more likely to enjoy the tanda!

John said...

@TC Personally I don't consider them to be mutually exclusive - hence my question of MsH being a good example of someone who both works on her technique and who clearly enjoys dancing.

What I am unclear about is where you are drawing the line at "technique". Are you saying you dislike dancing with women who work on their technique, or just those who go to women's technique classes? How about those that go to private lessons? What about, as MsH says, classes or workshops which are highly technique based? The workshop you're alluding too is extremely technique based (I've taken it as a follower).

To answer your second question, obviously dancing with someone who's just done a 3 hour workshop is going to be different from someone who's been dancing all afternoon. Though I wouldn't necessarilly say one was going to be better than the other. The woman who'd been dancing all afternoon may have had a sucession of lousy dances or she may be really sexy and a rubbish follower for example.

Given the choice though, I would rather dance with women who do work on their technique, including such workshops as you mention than with women who don't. To me, tango is a language, the better the two dancers can speak it the more subtle nuances can be used and the greater the potential for a deeper conversation.

I'm uncertain if this is what you mean, hence my search for clarification, but are you advocating that women don't study technique and simply learn by dancing and doing what comes naturally? And that you dislike dancing with women who don't follow this path?

richardslade said...

Hello TC,
I read your article with a lot of interest after my disucssion with Chris. I too only usually dance close embrace, though open up sometimes when I feel that the follower is more comfortable (it's the comfort of the follower which for me ensures a good tanda).

Just to clarify too, any points I made about patterns had nothing to do with lead and follow by sight.

Chris said...

John, I must say I find your enthusiasm for women to "work on their technique" to be plain creepy. Would you propose the same for every other kind of intimate physical and emotional relationship between the sexes?? The only women who need to work on their technique are the ones who have to earn a living from it, whether in tango or otherwise.

This new phenomenon of women-only classes is simply exploitation of women who don't get enough partners in the the milongas. The reason we see about ten times as many women's classes as men's in the UK is just that there are about ten times as many partner-less women as men, and the tango professionelles have grabbed this chance to make money out of misfortune.

It's quite sad to see women reduced to the point where they really do prefer to spend three hours in a classroom with not a guy in sight, than go out to the milongas. And pay three times as much for it. What's really tragic is most of them are only there because already they've done too much classing and too little dancing. What they're buying is just more of the problem they're trying to solve.

Wouldn't it be good if we had a few BA milongueras around here? Workshop girls, you could tell then how you learned by partnering with guys who can't dance, and hear what they think of that. Then explain how you've progressed to learning by partnering with thin air. I think you'd hear some really valuable advice...