Richness of Tango

These are some often recurring tango discussions.

One recurring discussion is about “active following” versus “passive following”. What people typically mean by these expressions is that in “active following” the leader gives an impulse to the follower, who then decides how to interpret the lead, for example by changing timing, or increasing or decreasing the energy of the lead. The leader follows her through the movement, and then receives the follower, and gives a new impulse for the next direction. This creates a kind of kinetic exchange, where gravity (and turn in “leading”) changes back and forth between the leader and the follower.

Some other people use expression “active following” or something similar to mean that the follower may do decorations, or take even extra steps which fit the music, but this is done within (without interpreting or changing the timing or the kinetic energy) the original impulse of the lead. (This is not incompatible with the first version, so some people may use both.)

There is also third interpretation, adopted by some contact improvisation style dancers as well as some others, mostly beginners, where “active following” means that for example extra weight shifts and extra steps can be taken to any direction at any time, even when they are not connected to lead. Here there are actually in practice two leaders.

Sadly, people very rarely clarify how they use the terms.

* * *

Another discussion is about “becoming one in tango”. From recent Facebook discussion:

“There is this myth, in tango”, X said, “that it’s about becoming one. But there isn’t one of you dancing. There are two. And you both have to dance. Leaders, it’s not about controlling *her* body; it’s about controlling your own body. It’s not about managing her movement; it’s about managing your own movement. When we dance, it’s not that Y [X’s partner] feels me moving her with changes in my embrace. I move *myself* and she feels my movement and responds with her own movement. It’s not about doing something to her, out *there* [demonstrating an outwardly-projected movement]; it’s about something that happens *here* [brushing his hand over his torso, showing his own body in motion].”

* * *

Sometimes one talks about the “control” separately. There are leaders who might be accurately called Puppet Masters, who completely control the movement of the follower, having the follower in an iron grip. Their idea is that the leader moves the follower. The other idea is that the leader moves himself, which signals to the follower of the direction. Sometimes these controlling leaders may even say that the follower should not do decorations because they may disturb the leader etc.

* * *

Many other discussions are about “connection”. When some people who talk about connection they are really talking about the “kinetic connection” what I described in the “active leading” and “passive following” above.

Others, when talking about connections, seem to talk about more blissful mystical experiences, referring to “energy fields” etc. These same people may be talking about “becoming one” And there are those people who say that they “do not believe connection exists”, meaning such experiences.

* * *

There is richness and variety in these descriptions and opinions. The only natural explanation I have come up with is these disagreements are a sign that people experience tango quite differently. To me, this richness is positive life force. Unfortunately, many seem to think there is only one right way to dance.

While all these discussions seem different on the surface, they seem to revolve around two major themes. More about these two themes in a later post.

About Mikko

A man hopelessly bitten by the argentine tango bug.
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4 Responses to Richness of Tango

  1. Chris says:

    This may interest:

    “There is no “lead” and “follow”.
    Alberto Paz

    IME this view is quite prevalent amongst Argentines who dance socially, as opposed to commercially.

  2. Mikko says:

    Interesting video, thank you! Yes, I do personally have the same view.

    However, last time I was in Buenos Aires I found local people who had other opinions about this, also those who danced socially. For example many beginners who have started taking lessons. I do not think it is useful to try to convince people about this by appealing to authority, because although I respect the older milongueros, not everybody, even in Argentina, cares what they say.

    To me, the truth in what Alberto Paz (and others) are saying can be found many ways. One of them is by imitation, being helped to experience it directly by somebody who knows about this experience. Another one is by experience, which is more bitter. It means that keep on dancing, and maybe in 20 years you will understand what it means. (Another milonguero said this.) These two are mentioned by a quote from Conficius. He also lists a third one, by reflection, but I think there are not too many people around who have the real skill of reflection, so maybe this is not possible for us. I don’t think it means talking in the internet.

    • Chris says:

      Mikko wrote: “However, last time I was in Buenos Aires I found local people who had other opinions about this, also those who danced socially. For example many beginners who have started taking lessons.

      Indeed. Most beginners doing lessons are beginners doing classes and yes, they have a very different opinion. They almost always favour Lead and Follow over (let’s call it) Dance Together. This is no surprise, since in a class where people are trying to learn to dance by dancing with people who cannot dance, Lead and Follow works best and Dance Together works worst. Beginners who want Dance Together are soon not in classes, so the statistical sample “beginners doing lessons” is most unrepresentative of beginners as a whole.

      It is interesting to look beyond beginners (most of which soon quit), to continuers.

      • Mikko says:

        Yes, both ways are encountered in life.

        For me, the question is actually much larger than tango, it is about life in general. We can accept life, and flow with it, create harmony. Or we can compete, which pushes the relationship from “together” to “leader/follower”, creating disharmony.

        It is also present here in this discussion box. Discussion can be a dance. It does not need to be leader/follower thing where you use force to get the other person to agree with you.

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