Follow as if you were leading

In last Monday’s class Mauro was teaching about back ocho technique, pointing out that this was primarily a Follower move, although Leaders use it in the back sacada. When, for demonstrations, he had me lead him in back cross, back sacadas (i.e., both of us doing back crossing steps) they were the smoothest, easiest back sacadas I’ve ever experienced.

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We can’t say it was because he provided an easier target with long legs. (😉, amigo.) If I were asked to explain it as simply as possible, I’d say he was fully activated, aware of possibilities. He required no pulling into position from me, nor did he pull me. He stepped around me at a perfect distance, and he kept his own balance. He did not collect his legs automatically. He provided a stable base to act against/with to power my pivot and our mutual flow.

I don’t know the story behind Mauro learning to follow. He follows (and leads) quite well. For me, I learned to follow (quite well) in order to feel what I needed to produce a comfortable, clear lead. From ballroom dance days decades ago, on into recent years of Argentine tango, it has always seemed useful to study both “follower” and “leader” technique to grow as a dancer.

Early in my tango journey I was told by a surprised teacher, “You follow better than you lead!” Unhelpful but accurate at the time; possibly still true. Leaders of every gender and orientation, from just beginners to maestros, after leading me in dance have reacted with surprise and delighted joy at what they were able to accomplish in the dance. No brag, just fact.

What do I bring to a dance partnership when I follow?

  • Good balance to support myself and help my partner if needed
  • Great energy that amplifies my partner’s intentions
  • Great energy matching
  • Awareness of many movement and interaction possibilities, such that I make them easy for my partner, and I take advantage of them when offered (such as follower sacadas)
  • A calm mind (“I have no need to prove myself. I can simply be myself, and be with my partner.”)
  • Patience

Aside: In a class I appreciate the importance of responding to leads as honestly as I can so that they learn the effect of their leading, while in a social dance situation I am actively seeking to contribute to our mutual success in creating a wonderful dance experience.

So, wow, yeah, that was a heck of a long (and self-aggrandizing) preface to my thesis: Learning to lead can make you a better follower. Of course, the converse is also true, learning to follow can make you a better leader, but most everyone accepts that premise without question.

Everyone will benefit from learning both roles in Argentine tango because it leads to empowerment of a more fully developed dancer. Not only our learning but also our teaching will benefit when we move away from both gender-identified roles, as well as from role-identified dance.

I am not belittling or saying to do away with role-specific style or movement preferences. But being aware of what our partner does and wants gives us access to a greater range of useful, mutually beneficial responses.

When we can think in terms of two dancers moving with each other it gives us access to greater creative possibilities. “If I can do this to them, and we reverse it, then they can do that to me.” “If I am moving forward, I am the one in the power position.”

It’s a Yin-Yang thing. At different moments of the dance throughout the dance both partners will, ideally, exercise leader and follower intentions. I realize that the way I prefer to dance, with an equally powerful and aware partner isn’t to everyone’s preference. Nevertheless, learning both roles gives you access to any style and power balance that you and your partner want.

What do you have to say?