Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Imagine a Milonga with only ONE Leader!

A milonga with one leader would be the best milonga you have ever gone to.  This is visionary.  It won't happen in my lifetime.

I am imagining in this visionary milonga that music is the only true leader.  Sure, men have their masculine role but would not be telling woman how to move -- movement dictators.  And woman would have their role, allowing multiple possibilities and new ideas "between" each impulse the man provides.  I said "visionary," okay, but this is what I try to do with every tanda.

March, I have promised myself, will be musicality month.   This article will presents the same piece of music (given above) which I will focus on later, and in that article I will explain what I call the "Di Sarili clave."  If you are curious what "la clave" is in Latin American music, including tango, please stay tuned.  The idea is to know better what the music is saying in order to allow it to lead you.

But for now, let's go back to the foundation of all musicality:

Men don't lead.  Music does.  Music gives the impulse for humans to move through rhythm, harmony and melody, the holy trinity of music.  Men do not give this impulse, unless the woman is deaf and feels the music only through the music he hears, which is a beautiful possibility.  But until now I have never danced with a woman who is truly deaf.  I have danced with many women who have been unwittingly trained to be deaf to the music.  The training comes from poor teaching and the experience of men who are mechanically constructing what teachers have taught them and hoping it will fit into the music somehow.  Shame on teachers who teach steps.  Music teaches steps.

Women can have this mantra of freedom:  "There are two types of men in the world:  Those who dance to the music and those who do not.  As I dance with a man I will discern which type of man he is.  If he does not dance to the music, then I will let him lead."  So it is true that some men must lead what they do because the music is superfluous.  Let him lead.

Men can have this mantra for freedom:  "There are two types of women in the world.  Those who allow the music to lead them and those who rely on the man to lead.   I will "listen" to her movement, and if she hears the music we will dance to the music's lead.  If she relies just on me, then I must be patient with the delay in her steps, caused by following me and not the music."  If a woman does not feel the Di Sarli clave, for example, then I cannot easily dance to the music.  She does not have to know what this is, but she must feel it.

A discussion of this can change things, but ONLY at a práctica.  I used to keep dancing with these women, but it becomes such a chore to have my main job not as a dancer but as her Musik-Übersetzer.  I will eventually avoid her eyes at a milonga.  She hurts my right ankle when she does not dance to the music.

Ladies:  I think there is a cultural belief that men often do not hear the music.  Do you know how hard it is to have the responsibility to translate the pulse of the music, be aware of my own feet and yours too, especially since most have been taught that the music is not the leader?  This is a good research question about gender differences and hearing the music.  With training women can be the less skillfull of the two sexes if she has been trained NOT to listen to the music.  And this is the problem:  The majority of tango teachers teach women to rely on the man to lead.  Please do NOT give yourself over to his lead.  Give yourself over to the music first.  Dance for the music first; your partner second.  Have you ever noticed that people start dancing after the music starts?  This is a good indication that we dance because of the music not because of our partner's lead.  Obvious, ¿no?

I can understand why teachers tell men to lead and women to follow.  But sorry.  They are sadly mistaken.  They have abbreviated an important step.  In Argentina, perhaps, one can assume that the women not only have heard tango all their lives but that they are truly listening.  Not even in Argentina is this 100% true.

IF WOMEN are listening to the music men can now do other things.  They make an intention.  The great tanguera then moves in such a way that allows him to create things within the music.  This is the male/female biological model as well, isn't it?

Paradigm Shift
What happens when there is a philosophical change -- that the MUSIC leads?  This is my experience:  I dance with a woman at a práctica.  I mention that I want her to own the music and allow it to lead her.  I then see a huge change in the way she dances.  It is important, then, that dancers understand philosophically that allowing the music to be the lead makes my job easier.  I can have that philosophy and that will help, but only when I have a tanguera who allows the music to be the lead, then  and only then can I truly dance.  And only then is she free to truly dance.

Ladies, please read "The End of the Lead is Near."  Click here for the link.  I am not suggesting that you leave the feminine engergy of your role.  A man gives the inpulse (the note) and you give the pause (the rest).  This is the musical analogy.

No step should be taken in tango unless it is led -- by the music.  


  1. Yes, yes, yes! A good dance happens when we are both listening to the music, and a great dance happens when we are both listening to the music in the same way (when the music leads us in the same way, I suppose). Love it!

  2. Mark, I hear exactly what you're saying and agree with almost everything - except the suggestion that the woman listen to the music first and her partner second. If the man and the woman hear the music differently, and the woman is following the music, the dance simply will not happen. And that is where the two people must make an adjustment (just as you suggestion). For my part, if I realize that the man hears the music differently from me, I make an adjustment to dance primarily to his lead rather than primarily to the music. I don't see it as an imposition on my musicality and don't think of it as somehow diminishing my creative possibilities. I just see it as the particular shape that this particular dance is going to take and dance to that shape. I still have room to express my musicality in the embellishments and all the other ways in which I can communicate my sense of the music back to the leader. But I still listen to and follow his lead.

  3. @Hola Tanguera moderna... y también Izabella: You both bring up similar points. Both can be musical people but may hear different things. Actually this happens every time to some degree. Then we must listen to each other. Izabella, the reason that I object to using the world "lead" for the man is that I have a similar experience of adjusting for what SHE is hearing, and sometimes because of it, totally new ways of movement happen. This phenomenon is NOT him or her "leading" but both listening to the music and to each other. What a sad analogy -- the military analogy (lead and follow)-- to describe a very complex and magical phenomenon. The female energy (staying in her role) is so powerful that I could easily mistake it as a "lead." And women often mistake male energy as a "lead" because that is the language that teachers have mistakenly used. I stand by listening first to the music, and guess what? That is what makes it so easy to dance with you! You are totally dialed into the music that I do not have to translate it to you. You are an example of the phenomenon I am describing here! A woman who listens to the music first!

  4. Very nice post, Tango-Beat. So many good thoughts in here.

    I definitely see the question of who to follow – man or music – come up very often. My perspective as a follower (although I often lead as well) is that it very much depends. I like what you say about following the music first because very often this is instructive for the men and ensures that it is truly a partner dance. But the follower’s ability to do this depends on how much room she is given. It is possible to follow the music even if the guy is off if the embrace is more open or at least relaxed. If the embrace from him is extremely tight, following the music first (or at all) can be almost impossible. If you try to follow the music first and find that it’s a fight with no signs of letting up, it’s better to focus on the connection and just accept that this particular dance won’t be about the music. Most likely these leaders won’t get second and third dances for a while, unless of course they’re still in the beginning stages of learning and just need time to mature.

    It’s always a balance for sure. I think you should always follow both at once as much as possible. I don’t like the idea of sacrificing connection for the music either, because the connection often leads us to a different and deeper understanding of the music than we would have developed with the music alone. I try to find the balance that feels right in each particular dance. Sometimes I find a point of connection that I would not have initially chosen for the dance. So I try to be open to different possibilities. I’ve had amazing dances that weren’t based so much on music (beyond the basic beat) but were very creative and engaging in terms of movement and space. Other dances have been based on connection and that floating feeling. In these dances I’ve chosen to hear the music in a different way than I normally would. It might be less musical overall, but it still serving the balance of connection and musicality that my partner and I have chosen for that particular dance. And usually the musicality is still there much more than is realized consciously.

    Can’t wait to hear what you have to say about the DiSarli clave!!

  5. When a couple has reached the point where they are deeply rooted in the music they know and can freely choose their movements in their expressions then it is probably safe to say that the music leads this couple! Somewhere, the couple must also have a balance in their personalities - or otherwise one will dominate!
    But still, I believe that this balance between the leader, the follower and the music is dynamic, with small changes all the time like in a kaleidoscope! What a beautifull patterns there will be!

    But it is not just one music but several possibilities and all have their interpretations of the steps. A musically trained friend, leader, likes unusual rhythmic choices. Some followers who believe he is out of the music starts do very clearly the basic rhythm. Another lady realized after a while how his steps are related to music in an unusual way and get a dance experience beyond the ordinary. He needs a follower who can stay connected untill she understands the new way of dancing.

    @Joy in Motion could this be part of the more rich experience you were describing above?

    @TangoBeat you got my mind moving and I have got some new ideas thanks to your posting. Thanks!

  6. @Joy and @Leading Lady: Since the inception in 2009 of Tango-Beat I have never had such a string of profound responses which have taught me new dimensions of thinking. I learn a lot from the dialog in comments, but the response to the post have been down-right humbling and awe inspiring. I have much to learn from the female-role perspective. My comments, I realize are over-statement ("visionary") of what I would like to see happen more in my own little world of tango, a microcosm in a universe of different expressions of the walking embrace.

  7. It is natural that two individuals as a couple have different interpretation of music. The willingness and the process of adjusting oneself through body dialogue in a dance to achieve 2 as 1 are what the connection is about and where unique moments are created.


  8. Thank you for your article.

    I was linked here by a friend and find it and the comments thought provoking.

    To me dancing is very complicated and tango is one of the most intricate of dances.

    Being a beginner myself, I see dancing as somewhat akin to the revolutions of the plants and around the sun.

    The sun is the music, the earth is the leader, the moon is the follower, and the space surrounding them is their dance space. Both the earth and moon are pulled by the sun, however, they don't go straight into the sun. They dance around it, taking the energy of the sun and creating movement. At the same time, the earth and moon pull at each other, each effecting new motions--new interpretations in dance. And it is clear when looking from the outside, which direction the earth and moon are going, within the smaller context of earth and moon interactions, the path is still yielding--the movements are still playing out the music.

    Because of this, I personally feel that the moon has plenty of freedom to encircle and dance to both the earth and the sun, but at the same time she always stay with the earth. Instead of the moon receiving only the pull of the sun, which is not immediately on her, but also receives the pull from the earth which is her partner in this celestial dance. If she allows the pull of the sun to be too strong, the connection between earth and moon falls apart and they are each soloing their revolutions. It takes two to tango, so I don't think she can do this without changing the mode of the dance.

    As for the earth, he must always be receptive to the moons pull and vibrancy. If he isn't, he will fly of course and never finish his revolution around the sun. Without the moons centrifugal pull, the earth would not be able to make such an elaborate yearly cycle. His dance will be plain and lifeless.


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