How ANYONE can be a great leader in tango

By Andrew L. Kaye

How ANYONE can be a great leader in tango:
Five points for tango success

TANGO—The myth, the surprise, the seduction, the silence. For many, a religion, a way of life—milonguerismo. But what about the raw facts? How do we take charge of our dancing?

The answer, I believe, has two parts of equal importance: one is artistry; and the other is technique. Both are demanding, and their perfection generally takes many years of study and perseverance. In this article I will address five areas for consideration for leaders, principally in the realm of technique, to help them achieve their goal of becoming great tangueros. (An article addressing some important technical considerations for followers will appear in March 2011).

1) A step is a transfer of weight

In its essence, the “step” in tango is a “transfer of weight.” If we have not made a full and proper transfer of weight, we have not executed our step. If we overshoot this transfer of weight, we are making more than one step, and this will also cause problems in our dance. When we define a step as a transfer of weight, we will realize that the step needs to originate in the standing leg (i.e. from the floor); and end when we are perfectly in balance over the new standing leg.

2) A successful lead comes from the leader’s mastery of his own basic changes of weight; and this needs to be practiced

When we watch a professional tanguero, we can notice his superiority by his very first change of weight. Nevermind that later in his performance he’ll be leading molinetes while pivoting on his own axis and at the same time executing ornaments with his other leg. This takes years of practice, and no normal social dancer will likely ever be doing this on the dance floor. What is important is the beauty and clarity of each individual weight-transfer. Leaders: make it your goal to emulate the basic steps of the professional, not their fancy moves. Your basic technique is something learned and maintained through consistent practice. As Daniel Trenner, a master of the dance and an important figure in the tango revival in the USA, has said, “Left, right, left, right – this is what you’ll be working on in 20 years!” Give your full attention to practicing basic technique, and the advanced steps will come later (and often with ease).

3) The first consideration in the mind of the leader must always be his partner

The only thing that makes the leader’s part harder than the follower’s, if anything, is that he must keep in mind, at all times, exactly what his partner needs to be doing, and he needs to pay equal attention to this as to his own necessary movements. After all, if the follower does something differently than expected, the leader will have to adjust his movements to accommodate hers (the follower has an active role in this, too, of course; a companion article addressing expectations for the follower will be published next month). Men need to dance with a continual awareness of the movements of their partner in mind, and always be ready to adjust if things do not go according to plan. As a general rule, lead the woman to “steps” or “sequences” only when you fully understand the requirements of both parts.

4) The Wait/Weight rule

Keeping the woman in mind makes men realize that they have to wait for her to execute her step (her change of weight) before going on to the next one. We can call this the “Wait Weight” rule. If men do not obey this, the woman may feel shoved around – her partner is not listening attentively to her movements and does not wait until she’s ready to execute the next one, making her feel that she needs to move prematurely. Remember, you need to know the woman’s movements, not make her do them. You need to give her the time to do them. (There are exceptions, of course, for example in certain advanced sequences where a single dynamic impulse from the leader asks for two or three consecutive steps by the follower; but we need to prepare for this).

5) The “connection” to your partner is first through the floor and only second through the touch.

“Connection” does not come from squeezing your partner. It comes from the grounded sensation that emerges when the bodies of the dancing pair are each in a beautiful tango relationship with the floor. When this is achieved, the leader and follower are able to to send and receive sensitive movement communications. This communication is via the floor, and may thus be entirely invisible to onlookers, while being clear and vivid to the dancing couple. Argentines are heard to say, “learn to love the floor,” and sometimes they are referring to the motions of the foot of the free leg; but from the perspective of foundational technique, loving the floor should be principally from your supporting leg.

These five thoughts are among other important elements that we need to master to become great tangueros; but they form a solid foundation. Keep these in mind, and tangueras will love you for it!

© 2011 Andrew L. Kaye

Thanks to Dragan Ranitovic, Svetlana Howells, and Valeriya Spektor for their editorial suggestions; if the reader finds problems with the conceptualizations in this article, however, they belong solely to the author.


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