|Photo by Johann Stadlbauer|
In 2010, I shared my ideas on a teacher-only Facebook page, and I was mostly criticized by teachers, especially one in NYC. Also, I found a weird opposition that I did not expect: Women who loved closing their eyes and being followers!
What I did not mean to say was the woman's experience of closing her eyes and yielding herself over to her partner was wrong, but that the experience was not best described with the word "following." "Entregar" (yield/follow) is for both partners give ourselves over fully to the music and to each other. Both of us. Yielding is not a function of "following" or of "leading."
I can only speak for myself. Women do not need me for advocacy. Early on I was always surprised when a woman would say, "You are an amazing leader." She had just led me to new realizations and vistas. I would protest with something like, "What happened has more to do with us than with me." But these words were taken as some sort of modest acceptance of her praise. I wondered why she did not listen to my words of inclusion! Why would she not believe that the magic was very much the synergy of two becoming one, of the two of us being equally responsible for what happened? How is it that I had some new break-through ideas while dancing with that special tanguera? Where did this magical interaction that took the breath away from both of us come from? I felt as if she were responsible yet she was pointing at me! Really, it is funny to consider this positive finger-pointing blame.
Recently, I spoke with well-known, self-taught tango musicologists, Christian Tobler and Monka Dias from Switzerland. We agreed that the music is the leader. Finally! Surely the magic of dancing with such a talented tango musicologist, Monika, was the result of both of us allowing the music to lead. The level of musicality that ensued was in part from knowing the music together but also allowing the music to be the true leader. Wunderbar!
My first article on this belief (The End of the Leading is Near") raised a few eyebrows. A follow-up article stirred up a few tangueros/tangueras as well: "Follower: A Job without Promotion." But, I have not repented from my heresy. I think the idea has been sound, but it needs practical tests by teachers. At a practica, I have time to time introduced the idea to beginner women who dance behind the beat and they immediately jump forward about two years in their dancing skill. Teachers, I am afraid, who teach women to follow that man are having them pay too much attention to body language and close their ears to the music!
Over time, the philosophical idea has matured a bit from its inception nearly two years ago. I now suggest four elements that change in their importance from song to song, partner to partner, night to night:
- Partners must listen to the music. Bodily clues are important, but as much as 90% of the lead comes from the music most of the time.
- Both dance partners must "listen" and respond to each other's bodily cues. One may have more flexibility, quicker reflexes, extended endurance or experience than the other.
- Both need to have some basics with the embrace, stance and traditions of tango vocabulary.
- Finally, partners must listen in order to do something with the embrace, stance, and vocabulary. The tango vocabulary is simply words. The embrace and stance create a particular accent (salón or milonguero accents, for example). Speaking in tandem needs roles to work as we have in tango. Again this is not speak/listen roles! I know when I take the first step, the woman does something with it, and already we are using syntax, rhetoric, intonation, pauses and phrasing to build ways of expressing ideas as poetry to to the music we hear. This body language is simultaneously a bodily and musical language -- as is the unity of yin and yang, musical note and musical rest. One cannot exist without the other.
Women inspire me to new heights and their aura helps the next dance or stays with me forever. Please don't make me responsible for everything. Ladies, men form the word but YOU make it lyrics and music! Tango is at its best an analogy for a tandem creative process of making music, or making poetry, or sculpting the beauty of the human soul -- all while touching the hem of the divine. Tango is not well served by the military simile of lead-and-follow. Tango is not tantamount to a monologue or even a dialogue (taking turns). Teaching tango requires a better vocabulary than stealing from the ballroom community or the military academy to get across a point of masculine and feminine energies in tandem dancing.
Lead and follow is not the tango I dance. Nor have I ever danced with a woman who just took orders, sat in the passenger's seat as I took her for a drive. Nor have I ever had a dialogue on the dance floor with a woman who would just listen. But these are the analogies I hear others use to talk about tango. Tango has always been something more mystically profound than these.
That is why I am still dancing tango. My hunch is that this mystical embrace and inexplicable tandem movement to music is what draws you back as well.
Photo: I got this from Johann Stadlbauer, via Oskar Pankratz. Location: A milonga and tango music workshop in Sankt Valentin, Austria. Monika Dias and Christian Tobler did an excellent job in their presentation on the music on tango's Golden Era. Later Christian tortured us all with the highest fidelity recordings available (none from MP3's) and the most intuitive tanda architecture I have ever experienced. He would not let me sit down. Pure torture.
Pictured: Astrid Lehrner, Mark Word.