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Leading / following in Tango Dancing


  • Michael Cysouw, Subject: Leading-Following
  • Daniel Trenner, Subject: Daniel T on Exchanging Lead and Follow
  • Larry Carroll, Subject: Re: Exchanging Lead/Follow

    Date:    Thu, 9 Nov 1995 03:56:53 -0500
    From:    Michael Cysouw
    Subject: Leading-Following
    Ray Penalva wrote:
    >And what can we say about that issue of who is the leader ?. He must
    >be ?    She must be...?   Who ?  B-)
    >So you see, it is not important who leads but how it is done.
    >I know most argentinian milongueros of today will feel uncomfortable
    >relinquishing the leading role but just wait a generation and we'll see.
    I consider myself to be of the younger generation working on the equalizing
    of the leading and the following role. I'm searching for a way for some
    years now.
    The main reason to abandon the strict leading of the man is, in my case,
    that I became fed up with leading all the time. The first time this
    happened, some years ago, was when tango was just steps and figures to me,
    haven't not then dicovered the 'real' tango. We just worked on improvising
    from both sides, trying to react to each other. The most beautiful moment I
    remember was when we just stood still for some beats, because we both
    waited for the other to take the initiative, but no one did.
    When I discovered tango to be much more then just steps and figures, I
    abandoned the leading-following problem, but now it is back completely,in a
    much more promising way.
    One of the things that 'real' tango is (IMO), is *not* leading the steps of
    the woman. You have to lead the movement of the body, lead an intention,
    but let herself make the steps to it. Depending on how she makes het steps
    (I mean very basic properties like the impuls and exact position, not (in
    the first place) adornments etc.), the leading is influenced by it.
    >From here it is a small step for the woman to take over the lead: it
    consists just of 'making the step' a little bit more different then
    intended by the leader, so the 'leading-being-influenced-by-the-woman'
    changes into 'following-the-woman'.
    The main problem at the moment is to get the women to really do things
    themselves. They are almost all so used to following, that they mostly
    don't even think of doing something out of their own volition. A few ladies
    here start to get some confidence, so let's just wait and work. (Note that
    this is a problem for me, as it seems like I'm very much alone here as a
    leader to try to abandon the leading, or ain't I?)
    Michael Cysouw
    Nijmegen, Holland
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    Date:    Sun, 12 Nov 1995 04:51:34 -0500
    From:    L Daniel Trenner
    Subject: Daniel T on Exchanging Lead and Follow
    First off thank you all for the feedback on my last posting. Second, I want
    to apologise in advance for not quoting from all the various postings I have
    been reading and responding point by point. There is just not enough time for
    me, or I'm not efficient enough in managing all this information.
    Next I want to ask if there is anyone in Argentina reading in on this list.
     Here we are interneting about tango and most, if not all of us are living in
    the "first" world. I think this is important to keep in mind, especially when
    we get the urge to be sticky about our opinions.
    In Argentina during the last ten years or so there was one milonguero who was
    most famous for his domination of the followers role. When he taught me to do
    lifts he made me lift him and he, at about 180 pounds, made my 110 pound
    technically trained female partner feel like a brick. He was so fast at
    decorations that his style of doing followers adornments has influenced the
    entire generation of young stage dancers, I'm speaking of the followers, who
    have in turn influenced the new generation of social dancers, which is one
    good reason for the emergence of such creative following in the present
    generation of young tango dancers, both European and American.
    He was a humble man who almost never performed, prefering to let his students
    take the limelight, but who delighted us with two exceptional performances in
    the years before his death.
    In 1989 he performed as the follower at the last "homanaje"
    to Virulazo at Glorias Argentinas, in Mataderos, following Virulazo himself,
    as was fitting being that he had been the practice partner of Virulazo when
    they were young men.
    Some years latr he performed in a playful piece put together by Carlos Gomez
    and Carlos Riverola for an evening at Jorge Manganelli's fridays at Akarense,
    in Villa Urquiza, where he and Pepito Avelleneda where enlisted to play the
    godfathers of two gangs and where the culmination was where he followed
    I am of course refering to Antonio Todaro.
    Antonio's special fondness for dancing the followers part well is well known
    among Argentines, but it would be a mistake to label him an exception.  While
    it is true that since the epoch of feminine participation in the tango
    practices in BA the older milongueros have for the most part shuned exchange
    of lead and follow, that unfortunate turn of events has much more to do with
    cultural homophobia and shame than it has to do with the tango.
    The same milongueros who will not dance with each other or with the younger
    men in front of women, will all tell you both about the history of the dance
    being invented by men, and of the tradition of the men's practice, where men
    danced with men to hone their skills for the social dance.
    What fewer of them will talk about is how some of the men used to specialize
    in the followers role and how they were fought over in the practices because
    only with such a partner did one really have the opportunity to prepare at a
    high level.
    What they will all tell you is how they were forced by their elders to dance
    the woman's part for months before they were allowed to lead.
    The dance having been created and perfected in a gender segregated
    environment, movement was continually swapped back and forth between lead and
    follow roles, as it continues to be today.  One's experiential knowledge of
    both roles enriching one's ability to dance either, and fueling one's
    creativity, which is of course the real judge of one's tango character.
    One of the unfortunate results of the generally good gender integration of
    the Argentine tango practice during the last couple of generations of tango
    dancers is the making of this story of the exchange of lead and follow
    subliminal rather than overt.  This is the same couple of generations that
    has exported the dance with gusto to foriegn shores, and while the foriegners
    are from societies when men and women much more easily open to the change of
    roles, the tango arrived with a "modern" imprint of shame which has distorted
    the natural learning process.
    This unfortunate short circuiting of what had been a hundred years or more
    practice of exchanging lead and follow among dancers learning to lead is
    probably why it is complained about   in all the places that I have been to
    dance tango, which is now quite a few, and I don't exaggerate when I say all,
    and that includes BA, that there are never enough good leaders.
    Interesting, especially because during the golden years of the tango it was
    the reverse situation, there always being many more capable male dancers than
    women to accompany them.
    So to all of the women out there who find men dancing there part distasteful,
    I say that it was men who invented your part, and if you distain learning to
    lead, well, you don't have learn to lead in order to follow, but consider
    please that in the golden age of the tango the woman was supposed to dance a
    much quieter and obedient part that that which has evolved today. And that
    evolution was inspired by men like Antonio Todaro and Juan Bruno who dreamed
    of expanding the follower's part, in part because they enjoy dancing it
    themselves.  Most of the new followers decorations are robbed from leads that
    preceded them historically and are then made femine to the taste of the
    individual follower.
    Keep in mind that those same decorations were often embellished footwork
    robbed by the leads from the follows, and so on back through improvisational
    history to the first walks around the practice floor.
    My students are not permited to gender specialize until they have all
    mastered the beginning techniques of lead and follow.
    To this end steps, like the so called "basic" are not introduced until
    students have mastered the elements of walking and leading such walks.
    We have had the greatest success with our leads who seem a lot less stressed
    out, but that is only natural as we are really following the traditional
    Argentine learning process, only making it coeducational.
    As to the natural evolution occuring in the social dance due to the
    coeducational nature of practice.  It is an interesting paradox, that the
    only way to stop it would be to segregate the sexes again, have only men
    practice together, and chaperone the women, and not really teach them to
    dance, much as it used to be.  We would then set up the woman on a pedestal
    again, as the difficult to obtain object of the male desire, and we would
    reinvigorate the sharp male competition to obtain them.
    Baring such nonsense, there is no turning back.  Those of us interested in
    the new state of affairs should turn our full energies to the enjoyment of
    what is really a far healthier and more evolved situation. It will demand our
    full attentions if we are to keep up.
    And men should be aware that with a new generation of very talented women
    turning ther attention to mastering our part, that we will be left out of
    dance if we don't also become ambidanctrous.
    And finally for those who fear any loss of our sensuality, or god forbid our
    sexuality, well, I can only speak as a man.  If you know that you are really
    a man, then you have nothing to fear.
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    Date:    Sun, 12 Nov 1995 14:31:57 -0800
    From:    Larry Carroll
    Subject: Re: Exchanging Lead/Follow
    In only a few cases have I been lead in tango, both by teachers
    to show me how to lead well.
    Knowing beforehand that I should relax and let it happen, to wait not
    anticipate, I noticed how wonderful it felt. Like Zen meditation.  I
    felt very in tune with my body and with gravity and the music, with my
    teacher and even with everyone and everything else around me.  I had
    the leisure to perceive things I usually couldn't because all my
    attention was on doing my job as leader.
    So I'm ready for a revolution, where men get the same rights to
    dance ecstasy as women!
                                            Larry de Norte America
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    Garrit Fleischmann 19.Jan.96
    Email: kontakt(at)