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