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Monday, 16 June 2014

Reflections on leading & following

"Leading" and "following" are such inadequate labels for what happens when we really dance tango. 

On the other hand, I can't think of alternative concise verbs as effective replacements.  "Male and female roles" might be useful terms, but that assumes a common understanding of these roles. I'm a traditionalist in tango, and feel that the man does initiate, the woman responds and then he responds to her, and so on....  Of course, this is all driven by the music.

Tango Therapist's latest post (a poem) captures some of the subtle and hard-to-describe interaction between the dancers of tango and the music - it goes well beyond the crude "lead & follow" terminology.



  1. I am glad to hear that you are a "traditionalist." Maybe the word should be simply "rational"! Tango in English is going down the wrong path when we get closer to desexualizing or neutering tango. Tango is a dance of male/female energies. Now, I am very progressive as a linguist and therapist. It is a VERY positive thing to use inclusive language, but WOW, has this "positive thing" gone wrong with inclusive language in tango. Now leader/follower are the best terms because of inclusive language? No! People say that "leader/follower" allows men to follow and women to lead and helps the gay/lesbian community not to be offended with naming the roles after male/female! This is like having Yin and Yang to be neutered in order to avoid hurting anyone's feelings. There a women who can enter into the Rol Masculino in tango better than some men: Women who dance, showing intention clearly, protect their partner from danger, listen to the partner and the music well, and know the vocabulary and embrace better than a man. But the rol is still Yang energies! I remember learning the rol feminino from a man, and it bothered me afterward I got a good sense of how to embrace a man in a woman's role. I started asking myself why some women had been dancing for over 10 years and still hadn't learned to lean into me as I had learned in two lessons. I wasn't sure if I wanted to learn the ladies' part after that. I don't want to know what they should be doing! I want to just be present with what they are doing.

    Presently, I am thinking about the terms that have two terms and we can shorten the the second word: Listener-GUIDE (for the rol masculino) and dual-LISTENER (for the rol feminino). The "dual" is not intuitive, but is necessary because too often the woman must listen to the "argument" that the man is having with the Leader (la Música)!!! :-) If the woman is listening to the music, she influences the way I am dancing and hearing the Leader (the music). We are both listeners, of course, but I must also navigate and keep her from harm from the occasional crazy tanguero who is using his partner as a WMD (woman of mass destruction). :-) Love your blog, and I am delighted that you liked my poem. I think the poem says it better than any of my prose, but few read my blog when I post something. Maybe I should play the guitar to the poem next time??

  2. Tango Therapist, your comments certainly highlight the fact that there's much more to real tango than simply leading and following.

    In her excellent book "The Meaning of Tango" Christine Denniston described the ultimate level of Tango dancing - improvisando - "where not only the follower but also the leader accessed the active meditative state, abandoning the self to the other, when a new creature was created with one heart leading all four feet, and being led by the music." Interestingly, despite this active meditative state, the dancers are actually able to collaborate with other dancers on the floor.


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