Tag Archives: roles

Change partners, change roles

Women dancing Argentine tango together

Change roles dancers have twice the fun [public domain image via Wikipedia]

You know these are favorite topics of mine, so it will be no surprise that I heartily approve, where in Daniela Borgialli’s Tango Workbook she says that her university students are expected to routinely change partners and change roles during classes.

CHANGE PARTNERS

In my mind the time to practice with your regular or preferred or ideal partners is in private practice time or a private lesson. Group class is a way to review and expose yourself to new concepts, new figures, and new partners. If at milongas you never change partners then no one is going to force you to change in class, but if you expect to dance with various people, learn to dance with various people. (Teachers: please do it in a routine, defined way, not haphazardly or at your whim.)

CHANGE ROLES

Despite its macho origins, it seems to me that Argentine tango, more so than other bailes de sala, is a wonderfully egalitarian art form. Aside from a few niceties of style and adornments, the whole gamut of tango technique is accessible to and useful to both partners.

You think followers don’t need “intention”? Consider this advice — Make a statement, not a question. FOLLOWER: “Ok, I’m here and I’m on my axis (or on you, if that’s what we’re doing); I’m ready.” NOT, “Um, was this what you had in mind; oops, I’m falling into another step, I hope it’s what you intended?” [Thank you, Arjay Centeno at the 2015 Austin Swing Championships for a funny presentation of this and other good ideas — an example of how dances do have things in common when you get down to basics.)

You think leaders don’t need ochos and molinetes and cruzadas? Even if it is only in an abbreviated form — swiveling your feet to align them properly, stepping molinete fashion around your partner to align with them, crossing to give your partner room for a step — you are doing the same actions.

To open up the full range of possibilities in the dance, both partners need comfortable access to all the tango technique, and more than from just a technique class or class warm up, they want a working knowledge in both roles.

P.S. While looking for an image to illustrate this article I find that Daniel Trenner was advocating for Change Role teaching back in 1998!

Lead, Follow … err?

Adding to the overarching purpose of promoting creativity, resourcefulness, and excellence in teachers of Argentine tango, Two big themes played out at the Tango Teacher Coop (TTC) Minnesota Tango Camp http://tangoteachercoop.org/ this past June 12-15, 2014. (I see these themes also receiving a lot of attention in the Swing and Blues dance communities.)

The first big idea was that tango dancers, regardless of their preferred role, should learn to both lead and follow from the beginning.

Advanced students understand the value of having a good facility in both roles as an aid to learning. In this way you can directly fee what kind of inputs, from either role, provoke useful responses or awareness in your partner. Furthermore, Anything you can do, I can do better, as the song lyric goes. Though it may be stylized differently in each role, everything in tango is fair game for either role. That’s one of the things that makes Argentine tango such a richly creative ballroom dance.

Mitra Martin, a principal of Oxygen Tango School of Los Angeles http://oxygentango.com/, where they teach students both the lead and follow role from the beginning, made a highly effective case for this in her workshop session. We held brief mock “debates” on the propositions that “Leaders shouldn’t learn to follow” and “Followers shouldn’t learn to lead.” The principal non-silly pro argument was that these would slow everyone down and possibly confuse them. The con arguments (i.e., yes, teach both roles to everyone) involved learning faster and better, gaining creative options, and gaining empathy for your partner’s role. Mitra reported that at their school this approach doesn’t slow down the learning process, as everyone is learning faster even though they are learning both sides of the embrace.

The second big idea, closely related to the first one, was to give followers a bigger voice in the dance.

In today’s world of striving for equality, lots of followers and leaders feel that the notion of the follower submitting themselves to the will of the leader is antiquated and stifles creativity. One way of addressing this concern indirectly is for teachers to get away from role stereotypes, such as the gender-biased he and she, or even leader-follower, supposedly gender neutral but charged with the notions of controller and one being controlled.

I found myself enchanted with Brigitta Winkler’s http://brigittatango.de/ suggestion of Flow (follower) and Space (leader) as alternative terms. On reflection it struck me that one could view these states or qualities as flowing and exchanging between the partners over the course of a movement or figure. For example, as one partner flows about the space of the other in the circular movement of a molinete, if you aim the flow perpendicular (tangential) to the space, then you can flow with a sacada into the space they allow between their stepping legs.

That struck me as an interesting notion, but just as cumbersome as any textual depiction of dance movement. I got to thinking about forward/backward, left/right, inside/outside (of the embrace/of the line of dance circle?) — from which partner’s viewpoint? Then it occurred to me that by using the imperative mood (commands) with 2nd person you; and 3rd person plural they (which is gender-neutral and, despite what your high school teacher may have told you, grammatically correct with a singular subject) to refer to your partner, you don’t even need to refer to role.

  1. Lead your partner to a basic cross with you also ending crossed, right behind left.
  2. Leading a molinete around you CW (clockwise) …
  3. As they step out of the cross, you may tap with right behind for an adorno, then …
  4. Lead them across your path and somewhat away from you (instead of around and near you).
  5. They step with right, and you step with right into the space under their trailing shoulder for a sacada.
  6. In your new positions your right side continues pulling around your right, to …
  7. Lead them in an open (side) step to your right across your path, as …
  8. You step with left under their trailing shoulder for a second sacada.
  9. Parada: In your new positions you end your rotation, but allow them to continue somewhat and settle back on their right leg, as …
  10. You hold them in this position as you place your right foot alongside their extended foot.
  11. Sandwich their extended foot with your other foot, then bring them forward as you step back and settle on your right leg.
  12. Pasada: Allow them to pass over your extended foot.
  13. Pivot both to face torso-to-torso.

Well now that doesn’t seem like an improvement over any other method of textual depiction. Maybe this tabular idea from Oxygen Tango is easier:
http://www.oxygentango.com/news/2013/6/11/how-to-take-notes-on-tango-turns.html.

There was so much more, of course, in all the Teacher Training, Tango Classes, Instructional and Guided Practice, Panel Discussions, and Milongas. Led by the work, knowledge, experience, and creativity of Argentine tango teachers Homer & Cristina Ladas, Nick Jones & Diana Cruz, Jason Laughlin, Melanie Klaric, Tomás Howlin, Brigitta Winkler, and Mitra Martin, and produced by Sabine Ibes and a whole host of volunteers. (Go to http://tangoteachercoop.org/about/ to get on the mailing list for future announcements.)

Act as if

Milonga de Apertura - Centro De Exposiciones - Tango Buenos Aires Festival y Mundial

On returning home from two and a half weeks in Buenos Aires – a sort of celebration of the second anniversary of my new “career” in Argentine tango, I’ve received sweet, kind compliments (even if sometimes sounding, justifiably, somewhat backhanded) from lovely dance partners. You feel like you’re dancing more like your true self. You’re dancing so much better; you must have learned a lot in Buenos Aires.

That last one got me thinking. Well, yes, I did take some wonderful classes at Escula DNI Tango, and the Tango Milonguero workshop with Susana Miller in Houston shortly before leaving was valuable preparation. But what did I really learn in Buenos Aires that seemed to create a dramatic difference, enough so that people would want to comment on it.

I feel that it was at the Buenos Aires milongas where I learned to start trusting myself and enjoying myself more. There, I was an unknown quantity, taken as is  for a fresh evaluation. Now, as an experienced dancer with lots of lessons and miles under my feet, I was no longer the awkward, hesitant, unsure beginner who tormented followers in Austin who had light-years more experience and skills. I’ll be forever grateful to the followers who can relax into making every tanda a pleasant one, even with a bumbling beginner. That kept me going.

The people at Buenos Aires milongas were looking for and expecting to enjoy a deliciously warm embrace while moving to the music in a delightful way. And for my part, I sought to act as if I was just the person to give them the best of what they were hoping for. Happily, oh so happily, we all achieved our desires not only rarely, or even just a few times, but many times, most of the time. I met women from around the world, and porteñas, where it felt like I’d been dancing with them my entire life.

Tragedy-Comedy masks

I have a dear friend – who, alas, slouches — bad posture. One time I suggested that they act as if they were a military officer, carrying themselves with a proud, erect bearing. They said, no, they couldn’t do that because it would seem fake; they wanted to present their true selves. Well what are we doing if not acting throughout our lives? The difference is that some choose better roles, juicier parts with more chance to shine.

As the NLP presuppositions tell us, you cannot not communicate. So do we choose a role that says I’m large and in charge, or do we default to a bit part that says I’m small, and I don’t care what you think about how I look.

Now sure, we may not have all the technical tools, understandings, and experience to truly and fully occupy our chosen role. But if we are working diligently on acquiring those things, and we observe outstanding models of what we want to be, then we use our sense of empathy to feel inside the way those examples make us feel. Today’s Internet world gives us so many good opportunities to explore, find, and observe role models.

How do we go about modeling a master tanguero? Setting aside technical issues of pattern, movement, placement, and timing — things we look to our teachers and classes for, then what do we have? Well clearly they are in charge, masters of the situation, with no hesitancy or doubt about what they want to achieve. Every step has clear intention behind it. Every moment has connection paramount in importance. They know who they are and they know their partner knows.

But wait! What about that last part, with those partners who knew you in the dismal days? You write a new Act is what you do. While you honor and respect the person, the dancer you were, with good and bad parts, who got you where you are now, you also recognize that this is your Second Act, where you are creating experiences of yourself with your partners, not of who you were, or even of who you are now sometimes, but rather acting as if you are already the great dancer you are becoming.

Pasos felices,
  –David

Queer tango milonga

Same sex couple dancing tango

Gay Tango in San Telmo

The Tango Queer milonga in the San Telmo neighborhood of Buenos Aires gave me food for thought, and I enjoyed my dances there. The composition of the dancing couples seemed to include every combination of gay, straight, male, female, lead, follow, young and old. I saw seemingly committed same-sex couples that appeared to have defined roles whenever they were dancing together, but when asked or asking to dance outside their couple, they danced both roles.

Here the traditional Argentine cabeceo — asking from a distance with a head nod — didn’t seem to be observed. So I went right up to the person who looked to me to be the best lead dancer, and coincidentally and helpfully, the tallest dancer in the room, and was pleased when he accepted my invitation without hesitation. It was my hope to find good leaders (regardless of sex) who could teach me something about the dance and musicality by feeling it from the other side.

Tangos are danced in tandas or sets of three songs for vals and milonga rhythms and four songs for tangos. We followed the formula that seemed to prevail throughout the room, where the person asking for the dance leads on the first song, then they alternate the lead with each song.

The thing that made the biggest impression on me was that everyone danced both lead and follow. Some of the dancers in nontraditional-according-to-sex roles were exceedingly good.

The experience gave strong support to my thesis that: a) Anybody, regardless of sex, should be free to pursue whatever roles they desire — of course! And b) Everyone can benefit, not only in understanding of their primary role choice, but also in understanding of others, by learning and dancing both roles.

Tango queer

Andrea leading David

Andrea leads David at the Argentine Tango USA 2013 Festival & USA Championship

Mi nuera (daughter-in-law) Andrea prefers to lead, and for the opportunity to dance with her it suits me just fine to follow. Indeed, I enjoy following occasionally as an interesting counterpoint to the role of leading.

By personality and traditional gender role, I dance as a leader and find it challenging and rewarding (notwithstanding occasional bouts of doubt about rising to the level of what I’d like to see in my dancing). But I also enjoy the role of following to experience the dance and the compañero in a different way. It means that I can observe the music and my partner in a more relaxed manner with fewer responsibilities. It even helps my leading to observe as a follower what feels good or not.

When I first came to Argentine tango (I’d not experienced this phenomenon in my earlier dance history), I developed the chauvinistic attitude of what does the follower get out of it? Nearly all the attention seems to be paid to the leader, and to listen to some teachers you’d think the leader controls everything the follower does down to the nth degree. But when you see gifted dancing by followers such as Daniela Arcuri and Noelia Hurtado you realize how naive it is to not appreciate how much the follower independently contributes to the dance, and how they support and make their leader look good.

But I don’t get many opportunities to follow. Teachers use it as a way to show what the lead should feel like. In classes where there are too few followers, I’ll follow, but that’s not really the same experience as a dance at a milonga. There are a handful of women I know in Austin who sometimes or full time lead, and only one who sometimes leads men (and more often follows beautifully).

When I mentioned as a comment to the Facebook blog of Terpsichoral Tangoaddict about the utility and interesting experience of following, they suggested going to queer milongas. So when I saw a Tango Queer Buenos Aires blog in the latest issue of the Tango Weekly email newspaper I went to check it out.

Tango Queer logo with female couple

Tango Queer Buenos Aires blog

Their What is Tango Queer? page made an impression for its common sense, broad coverage, and deeply thought out expression of ideals. No simplistic guys-dance-with-guys and gals-dance-with-gals and sexual shenanigans. Not only does it go beyond role stereotypes and advocate role versatility — something I, too, have been advocating, but it also covers origins use of the word queer, queer as a symbol, tango as a symbol, communications, women in society, tango in society, and artistic expression.

Felices caminar!
–David