By Andrew L. Kaye.
1. Tango is not about leading and following; it is about dancing.
A tanguera is at a milonga to dance, not to follow. A great tanda is magical coming together of two sentient, creative beings ready to make something happen in motion, in harmony with each other, with the music, and with the room. In this, there is no “leading and following” in the pedestrian meaning of these terms. Both individuals are creating the dance in fluid response to the sensuous ebb and flow of the music. In this process, the man is placed in charge of navigation; but both will lead and follow as the creative process unfolds.
2. Use the floor, not the man
In order to dance and not merely to follow, one has to have a command of one’s own axis and one’s ability to move with precision and the right amount of energy; that is, one has to have a command of one’s technique. Just as the tanguera does not like it when she is squeezed, pushed, or pulled by the man, as these actions limit her freedom to dance, the man does not want to be leaned upon or otherwise used to support the weight of his partner, as this will limit his freedom. When the man—the technically capable man, that is—leads the accomplished tanguera to a calesita, she does not use her arms and his to maintain her balance. She uses the floor and the resources of her own body (her musculature, her poise, her core).
3. Study, and practice
Because technical mastery is so essential to the dance, it is imperative that the dancer, whether man or woman, practice. This is best done under the guidance of a competent teacher or coach. Unfortunately, technique classes are sparse, and group classes rarely focus on anything but steps and sequences. Women rightly complain about this state of affairs; but the situation won’t change if the students don’t demand it. Consider either working with a private instructor that you trust, or seek out group classes that focus on technique rather than steps.
4. Seek quality, not quantity
Many aspiring tangueras complain that men won’t dance with them…that they have to sit at milongas without dancing…that the world is unfair, when a bad male dancer can get to dance, whatever his shape or his age, but not, apparently, the woman. Most often, however, this is simply not true. The bad male dancer’s choice of dance partners is severely limited. Ask a tanguero whom you admire, if they have had to earn the right to win dances from the best tangueras. Of course they have! Aspiring tangueras: consider carefully whether you really want to dance with a less than qualified “leader.” It is completely understandable that you want to dance. But dancing with poor leaders can adversely affect your dancing. Bad dancers may transmit their bad dance habits to you; after a woman dances with a bouncy man, she may start bouncing with every partner! If you are dancing with unsuitable partners, you are neither enjoying the dance as you deserve to, nor improving yourself. You are also giving the men the impression that they are good, and don’t need to study! And worse, many men don’t pay their dues by studying and learning to dance tango properly. Rather than going out nightly to milongas to dance poorly with bad leaders, consider investing your time in classes which allow you to focus on improving your own dance. This in itself is a rewarding process. And when you have improved, without a doubt, your dance options at the milongas will expand, as will your enjoyment of the dance.
5. Dance to your body first
This may sound counter-intuitive in tango. We are told “follow the man’s chest”; “put yourself in front of the man’s chest”; “face the man.” In my opinion, these notions may be well-intentioned, but for the most part, they are not well founded. Yes, in certain sequences, it is important for the woman to know where to step in relationship with the man; and it is important for the man and woman to maintain the same distance from each other. But in normal dancing, the woman’s first priority should be to make a natural step that allows her to find her new axis, with certainty, with comfort, and with grace.
6. Dance to the music!
You were perhaps told to “listen to the music through the man” and dance that way. I see it somewhat differently. I want to dance with a partner who is listening to the music directly, with her ears, body, and heart. Great tango dancers are continually in a vivid state of awareness of their partner, the music, and their own bodies. The man must additionally be acutely aware of the room, because of his navigational role; but the woman also must be aware of the room, otherwise how can she appropriately adjust her ganchos and boleos so as not to hurt someone? (In general, ganchos and boleo should be directed around the man. I intend to address such technical issues in future articles). The woman’s relationship to the music is equally as important to the dance as the man’s is. It is through their simultaneous listening to the music and to each other and their creative response to these, on top of a strong technical foundation, that a great and magical tanda emerges. And no doubt, everyone else will notice!
These six thoughts are among other important elements that can help you in your quest to become a great tanguera, always desired, always in demand, and very, very satisfied!
© 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.