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My first class - follower's role

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Date:    Sat, 9 Oct 1999 17:50:31 +0200
From:    emanuela
Subject: my first class - follower's role


Hello to the list members!
This is my first mail to the list, because I couldn't ever speak of argentine
tango before; I only danced ballroom tango (I am not sure about the name,
but I mean the tango you learn in mazurka, polka, walzer classes...).
Yesterday evening I had my first class of argentine tango, with my guy as
the leader, and I had much problem in following because it seemed to
me that the best results of the movements depended basically just on me,
on my feet position exp. So it seemed to me that the leader has power,
and the follower must be perfect.
I found all the lesson very mortifying, because the teacher continued to
address to me as the guilty for the little problems we had in walking, and I
had a strong tentation to leave.
I hope this is a beginner's feeling, but the fact of following will be ever
the same. I hope I will learn soon some "indipendent" steps !
I know the problem of following is not exclusive for argentine tango, but
it is
common to many many dances; actually I never had problem in following
in other couple-dances, maybe because your the follower is more free, I
mean a wrong step doesn't have the terrible consequences it has on arg.
tango !
Today I watched at Sally Potter's "Tango lesson" film, and at the end she
said: "I can't follow because I personally am used to be the leader".

I am wondering: which are the concepts I have not understand that will
make bearable the follower's role?

Thanks to all the followers will help me to understand what to do, and all
the leaders will tell me what they expect from the follower.

I will beg the pardon of anyone if the subject is old-dated or not
interesting.

Emanuela

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Date:    Wed, 13 Oct 1999 07:58:22 -0600
From:    Tom Stermitz
Subject: Re: my first class - follower's role


You face some real issues and resolving them is very fascinating.

In most dances the follower is used to hearing the beat and having at
least a little role interpreting it in her footsteps, presumably
synchronized with the leader. In tango it is the leader who
interprets the beat and leads each step. Tango simply doesn't work
unless the follower waits to see where and when he wants her
footsteps to land.

So Tango does require a certain "absolute obedience" on the part of
the follower, at least at the beginning. The most fundamental step of
tango is for the leader to switch between parallel and crossed feet
relationship. This fails if you step on your own.

This is the form.

You should try leading a bit as it will give you the opportunity to
feel and see how it works from the leader's perspective. It also
gives you the opportunity to interpret the music, something that you
won't get to for a little while.

Some of the interesting things for the follower to explore are
sensuality, smoothness, sensitivity, vertigo and intuition. These are
wonderful aspects of tango that the leader has a hard time finding.

In the long run, you can and will interpret the music, but not really
in your footsteps. The interesting things of tango happen in between
the steps; topics like man & woman, energy & softness, manipulation &
caring, boldness & giving-in.

The follower ENABLES the leader's interpretation. The good milonguera
is even able to change the leader's mind about his steps without him
knowing.

Oh, you can also decorate, but that isn't really as interesting as
the connection and communication between you and the leader.

[original message cited]

Tom Stermitz

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Date:    Wed, 13 Oct 1999 19:33:05 EDT
From:    Charles Roques
Subject: Re: my first class - follower's role


In response to your first class experience:

Since you have just taken your first class you needn't worry about your role
too much at this point because there many things to learn. If your teacher
said it was your fault or you were causing the problems then you should
perhaps find another teacher. Not only does it sound mean spirited and
judgmental but it doesn't sound like they have very much understanding or
patience about teaching. Beginners in tango (even with other dance
experience) shouldn't be expected to start moving correctly right away and
certainly not in the first lesson. Tango is very different from other dances
especially traditional ballroom. Number 1, it is a walk so you will have to
unlearn some of the concepts and skills you learned in ballroom like rising
up and down as you move and "swaying" and stepping up on the balls and
"skitting" lightly across the floor(pardon my terminology but I think you
know what I mean). Besides perhaps your partner is not leading you correctly.
Also people still learning should be very careful about instructing each
other or being critical. As to your role basically you need to learn how to
respond to his signals. There is a whole new vocabulary you are learning so
it will take a while to grasp it. It shouldn't take you long with your
experience but be very careful about holding on to the concepts you know from
ballroom. I have heard many tango dancers observe that people with ballroom
experience don't dance tango very well because they can't let go of that
experience. You absolutely must start as a beginner and be patient. As to
following and being totally subservient, that is not true. I like to think of
tango partners as being active followers, not passive ones and when I dance
with them it becomes more of a challenge to try steps with them and in spite
of what I do they can still follow anything. It becomes a playful duel. As
far as the beat or "compas" goes, you actually have quite a bit of
responsibility in that you should always follow the beat within the steps the
man leads. You should never just leave it all to him. If he tries different
figures with you, you should always be aware of the beat and rhythm so that
your feet will land on time. When you become more experienced the quality of
movement that you do and adornments and embellishments will give you a way to
personalize and express your own dancing. You will find that many men do not
follow the music very well and just want to show off the steps they know so
for them to be critical of you is just chauvinism. What is interesting to me
sometimes is that a really good partner will actually follow my mistakes as
well.
Tango is about a way of moving through steps, not the steps themselves. But
that is what distinguishes one dance from another anyway. Pay close attention
to how tango dancers move. The consequences of not following that you are
talking about are really more of a result of tango steps being precise and
because the partners feet often step very close to each other. I wouldn't
pretend to think I could teach you anything via e-mail but you might pay
attention to these things:
--Keep your feet close to the floor, almost touching it but not scraping or
sliding on it. Especially when executing ochos. Never raise them up off the
floor. Later when you learn some other steps you might do a boleo like that
but for now, don't.
--Keep your legs close together as you move through steps, touching your
knees and ankles as they pass each other.
--Learn to not anticipate the man's movements because many steps can be
rearranged and will not be lead the same way by every man.
--Maintain a slight flex to your knees, don't lock them especially when
turning.
--Don't move your hips. Maintain an erect position and if moving to the side,
don't "sway".
--Learn to walk without bouncing up and down. Good tango dancers never go up
and down.

There are many other things but I don't believe in teaching dancing from
written instruction. Above all be very patient. Tango is a difficult dance.
Even if you are an accomplished dancer.
Just in case-my credentials. I study four classes a week with Danel and Maria
here in NYC and have taken workshops with numerous dancers among them Pablo
Veron, Facundo and Kely, Leandro and Andrea, Julio Balmacedo and Corina de La
Rosa, and others. I teach tango and I dance six nights a week.
As to Sally Potter, anyone who makes movies as self-involved as hers probably
couldn't feel comfortable following anything. She is a good example of how
spending lots of money to study with the greatest tango dancer in the world
won't make you good unless you can give yourself up to the dance. Pablo was
right. She'll never get it.
Best of luck,
Charles Roques

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Date:    Wed, 13 Oct 1999 19:17:45 -0400
From:    Ronda Patino
Subject: Re: my first class - follower's role


I think Emanuela brings up an excellent point.  More and more women new to
tango are confronting this problem.  How can I be an active competent
professional during the day and suddenly "follow" in tango.  For me, the
pleasure of following is in responding to the energy of the leader and also
the variety and adventure the follow role provides.  What I explain to our
new students is that it is similar to skiing, kyaking, or sailing in that
you are responding to a force outside yourself, trying to keep your
balance, enjoying the challenge or going for a "ride".   When I ski I do
not try to change the mountain, some days there is more snow, wind, etc.
then others, same is true for the river (low water, high water, the current
and compositon of the river) or when sailing how the wind is, etc.  With
sports depending on weather or nature, it is different every time as the
conditions change.  For me, this is the adventure.  Similarly with tango,
even when dancing with the same person (regular partner) his mood,
interpretation of the music, even what shirt or jacket he has chosen
provides a different experience. Changing partners provides even more
variety. There are many joys to "following": the music, the feeling of
movement, but also matching myself to the partner. It is like trying to
stand in a ray of sunlight, finding the warmth and enjoying it. I might
also say that I enjoy affirming my partner.  Letting him know I am glad he
exists, glad to be in his arms, glad to share these three minutes of this
dance; for me tango is a haven, a place to rest and become rejuvenated from
every day life.  Give it a try, the rewards may astound you!


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Date:    Wed, 13 Oct 1999 22:41:46 -0400
From:    Melinda Bates
Subject: my first class - follower's role


Emanuela, I enjoyed your observations and questions.  The role of follower
is much more than passive.  Can you imagine a kind of yielding that comes
not from weakness but from strength and experience? This is following in
tango.

> ...I had much problem in following because it seemed to
> me that the best results of the movements depended basically just on me,
> on my feet position exp. So it seemed to me that the leader has power,
> and the follower must be perfect.

> ...I found all the lesson very mortifying, because the teacher continued to
> address to me as the guilty for the little problems we had in walking, and
> I had a strong tentation to leave.

I think we are all appalled that a teacher would make any student,
especially a beginner, feel "guilty".  Good teachers encourage - and they
have to do a lot of that in tango because it is so difficult.  The problem
may have been your following, or his leading, but the idea of a class is to
solve these "problems" together, not embarrass anyone.  Maybe you need to
find another teacher.

> I hope this is a beginner's feeling, but the fact of following will be
> ever the same. I hope I will learn soon some "indipendent" steps !

Tango is the only dance I know in which the follower may be doing something
completely different from the leader, while (hopefully) still marking the
same rhythm.  This is one thing that makes it challenging.  In swing or
waltz if the woman gets "lost" she can LOOK at the man to figure out what
she should be doing.  This is not the case in tango.

Nevertheless, there are adornments or embellishments which mark the dance as
your own.  These come with time.  I took (and still take) great pleasure in
the practice of trying to make every step, no matter how "simple" as elegant
as possible.  This makes every dance an opportunity to improve and express
yourself.

> I know the problem of following is not exclusive for argentine tango, but
> it is common to many many dances; actually I never had problem in following
> in other couple-dances, maybe because your the follower is more free, I
> mean a wrong step doesn't have the terrible consequences it has on arg.
> tango !

Yes, when you are dancing with feet so close together, a wrong step can be
dangerous.  This is why tangueros practice "just" walking so much.  There is
a feel and a look to the walk that only comes with time and practice.  With
that practice you will step confidently, and know that he will know where
you are and where your feet - and your balance are as well.  This is
difficult for men to learn.  More difficult, I think, than following.  Is
there another dance which requires the man to know what foot his partner is
on?  (I don't dance ballroom....)

> Today I watched at Sally Potter's "Tango lesson" film, and at the end she
> said: "I can't follow because I personally am used to be the leader".
> I am wondering: which are the concepts I have not understand that will
> make bearable the follower's role?
>
> Thanks to all the followers will help me to understand what to do, and all
> the leaders will tell me what they expect from the follower.

This film is very controversial in these parts.  My take on it is that I'm
sorry for Sally (or any woman) if she can not relinquish her "power" to
become a good follower.  There is a sweetness and subtlety in yielding this
way that is far more rewarding than insisting on having one's place of
authority.  It is a concept somewhat antithetical to today's liberated anglo
women, but it is undeniably true for a lot of us.  After all, the men don't
get to close their eyes and lose themselves in the moment - they have to
keep us both from crashing into someone!

When you have danced tango for a while, and dance with experienced leaders,
you will enjoy the pauses and stillness which allow you to play and make the
dance your own.  To me this is far more interesting than being led in a
series of complicated steps which the man does not really know well enough
to lead.

> I will beg the pardon of anyone if the subject is old-dated or not
> interesting.

I appreciated your comments and look forward to hearing from other women
about their experiences, and from men about what they like and dislike.

Melinda


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Date:    Wed, 13 Oct 1999 23:54:16 -0700
From:    Manuel Patino
Subject: Re: my first class - follower's role


----- Original Message -----
From: emanuela <grecu@NOVARA.ALPCOM.IT>
Subject: my first class - follower's role

Emanuela,

Your problem seems to be rather common among women learning
to dance Argentine Tango as followers. I see a lot of
similar frustration among students, specially at the
begining stages.

>I had much problem in following because it seemed to me
> that the best results of the movements depended basically
> just on me, on my feet position exp. So it seemed to me
> that the leader has power, and the follower must be perfect.

Your perception is correct in some respects. The results of
*your* movements do depend on you. However, the leader has
the *role* of leading but not much *power*. One could say
that the lead is nothing more than an *invitation* to a move
by the follower. Not only that but the leader must also
follow the follower so this is really more complex than what
you've apparently perceived. Yes, the follower must follow
flawlessly but the leader must also lead as well.

> I found all the lesson very mortifying, because the teacher
> continued to address to me as the guilty for the
> little problems we had in walking, and I
> had a strong tentation to leave.

I believe that it is difficult for most people to receive
feedback or correction. I know that I have a problem when
I'm receiving the same instruction time after time and still
cannot understand or perform the figure. It is not easy to
assume the role of student or novice and receive perceived
criticism. Although many other respondents have said that
your teacher was insensitive, impatient, etc. It might also
be that he or she was honestly trying to help learn by
pointing out the mistakes and providing the proper
instruction.
I've seen countless occasions when followers lean backwards
from their head and upper body and when they walk backwards
they continously *fall* and are unable to stop. Obviously
when a follower moves in this fashion, the whole dance is
difficult and ackward the leader cannot lead and must always
watch so he wont step on her feet. I think these followers
move like that even after months of instruction to the
contrary because they are trying to take control from the
leader, thus, they "pull" the leader while walking backwards
instead of *accepting* the impulse or lead from their
partner. Of course, these women are very frustrated with
tango and I'm sure that they feel like quitting but what is
the instructor to do? similarly, what are their partners to
do? Surely one cannot encourage and praise this dancing. One
can say positive and empowering things about their
personality, looks, intellingence or what have you but
certainly not about the way they walk backwards.

> I hope this is a beginner's feeling, but the fact of
> following will be ever the
> same. I hope I will learn soon some "indipendent" steps!

Forget dancing independent steps from the leader. This is
simpoly not tango. The follower in tango is not subservient
or inferior to the leader but has entered into an agreement
to do this thing. The whole thing is set up that way, the
leader leads or invites and the follower follows or accepts.
If this is not acceptable or too difficult why not learn to
lead? Many women enjoy dancing tango as leaders. Granted,
almost all the followers will also be women but so what?
Gender norwithstanding, the roles must be observed. If you
cannot follow comfortably and still want to dance tango, by
all means learn to lead ;-)

> I know the problem of following is not exclusive for
> argentine tango, but it is common to many many dances; actually
> I never had problem in following
> in other couple-dances, maybe because your the follower is
> more free, I mean a wrong step doesn't have the terrible
> consequences it has on arg. tango !

Actually, the consequenses or a wrong step in other dances
is as frustrating as in A/T. The biggest difference is that
in A/T there is more of a chance for getting ones feet
stepped on. Personally, I find it just as frustrating to
dance swing or salsa or merengue with a partner that will
not follow. It is always much more fun to experience the
synergy of a follower who follows with energy, passion and
precision. Where every step is perfectly matched and every
move exquisitely answered. Of course, this is perfection so
not so easy to attain.

> Today I watched at Sally Potter's "Tango lesson" film, and
> at the end she said: "I can't follow because I personally
> am used to be the leader".

That was just a dialog in a movie. It was part of a script
and frankly, the whole movie was controversial. Still, I
think that she did do a good job of dancing for the film. Of
course, she was dancing with some of the best leaders in the
world and guys like Pablo Veron can make almost *any*
follower look good. Personally, I think such an answer is a
cop out. Learning to dance as a follower is not easy and
requires a lot of work and commitment. Same as learning to
dance as a leader. Most men could use the same cop-out to
excuse their inability to lead. After all not all men are
*leaders* in the arena of life, not by a long stretch. So
they could just say " I cannot lead because I'm used to
following instructions". I seriously doubt that most men who
adnce tango are leaders in their office, community, etc.
Most are peers and followers and a few are the leaders or
Alpha men.

> I am wondering: which are the concepts I have not understand
> that will make bearable the follower's role?

Personally, I believe that the main concept that escapes you
is that dancing tango is not easy and takes a lot of
learning. Practice and instruction are hard to do as so many
other things call for one's attention. I would posit that
learning to dance tango either as leader or follower is like
learning to play the violing. In other words, very difficult
and laborious. It takes time and work, one must understand
and know the music and must learn to move *with* the music
and *with* one's partner. Don't forget, the leader *must*,
absolutely follow, even *obey* the music the concept the
he/she is in *control* is almost illusory. I say keep trying
if you really want to learn and as I said before, if you
cannot stomach following, by all means learn to lead.

Soulful tangos to all,

Manuel

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Hello Emanuela,

thanks for your first time posting, most of the discussions here come
from the "old" tango folks, and it's allways good to have fresh
ideas and questions.


[....]
> on my feet position exp. So it seemed to me that the leader has power,
> and the follower must be perfect.
[....]
> I hope I will learn soon some "indipendent" steps !

Well, that's not my idea of leading and following. The leader should never
use physical power to lead, you can even lead/follow without touching each other.

Leading is an invitation for the follower to do a movement, and the follower
allways does this movement by him/herself.
After indicating the follower what kind of movement he wants to do (walking, stopping,
change of weight, turning or whatever), the leader waits for the follwer to start
with the movement, and in this moment, the leader follows the follwer till the end
of this single movement. Then again, the leader initiates another movement, waits
for the follower to start and then follows himself again.

It means that both, leader and follower have allways to "listen" to the movements
of the partner.

The leader is not forcing the follower to move, but invites the follower to do a movement.

And if he waits for the follower to start the movement, and the follower misunderstood the
lead (which might not have been clear enough), then the leader can react and join
the follower in this single movement.

It's a great way of really dancing together, and enjoying it. It's also a good way
to compensate misunderstandings in leading and following. And you won't feel the
need to do "independent" steps, because you will get the best feeling when the
communication is flowing smoothly between the partners in the couple.

I myself started to learn Tango as a leader, but I also enjoy very much following from
time to time.

If you don't like the leassons by that specific teacher, please don't blame the
Tango for it. :-)
Just change the teacher!

Enjoy the Tango,

Garrit


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Garrit Fleischmann Okt.99
Email: kontakt(at)cyber-tango.com