Smaller Follower/Taller Lead

Height differences are issues in any social dance, but never so prominent than within Argentine Tango. Why ? The most popular one is that rather nebulous and oft over used word that doesn’t mean a whole lot (you just haven’t bothered to think about it all that much, and instead accept the definitions that you are given): “Connection”. In this case the word does not mean what you think it means. There are at last count about 9 different meanings for that word in relationship to Argentine Tango (and you thought of just the 1). “Connection” refers to the physiological contact between the partnership, and in specific where those contact points occur. Typically in Open Embrace variations of the dance your Hands, Arms, and in Close Embrace – Torso, are the common contact points. If you’ve been dancing for a while then you have a certain expectation of where someone will ‘line up’ with you in the embrace. And after a while, it just becomes 2nd nature of where most people will line up with you, and that forms the basis for your understanding of the dance for either role. A question that comes up for many people, and it’s a fearful prospect for some, of what happens when you have a smaller dance partner or a taller one ? Today’s PTA deals with the more common extreme of the Smaller Follower and the much Taller Lead.

From a Following Perspective, you have 2 primary areas of concern: 1.) Arms (not hands). 2.) Torso. With a Taller Lead (the person, not the action). The fact is that with a much taller lead, your arm is not going to be able to go around your Lead, their right arm is going to get in the way. So in reality what ends up happening is that you end up contorting your body to compensate, to get around them. Further still the physiological contact point for you will be to further to the Lead’s right side, into their armpit to get around them with your arm. You won’t realize that you’re doing it, and the really wild part is that it will feel ok, for about 10 seconds UNTIL the Lead turns. Once they turn, now we have a problem. You’re going to essentially run behind them to catch up with them, the dreaded “Lazy Man’s Turn”. Uuuuuugh. The easiest thing in the world that you can do here to avoid these issues is to stay in the Lead’s ‘Gig Line” or Buttons-To-Buttons (sometimes referred to as a ‘square’ embrace). The fact is that each and every time you end up in the Lead’s armpit, all of your responding vocabulary (ochos, turns, crosses, etc) will become oblong and linear. Crosses will become elongated and turned away from your lead (the crossing step of the cross itself will become a ‘dirty’ cross). Turns will become oblong, more oval shaped than circular, where your back step will become this monster sized step (almost impossible). Ochos will become linear and elongated. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. All told this is a ton of work for you.

Now add to the fact that we have a height differential and the task is just right off the charts. So how do YOU solve for X, when Y is this crazy ? The simplest thing in the world, which given the compounded circumstances is to stay in front of your lead. Seriously. That’s the answer. Stay in front of your lead.

Truth be told, this is an almost impossible task given the size of the Lead’s legs and you. Now we add in the propensity for most Leads to just willy-nilly go from vocabulary choice to vocabulary choice (that’s the compounded circumstance above) without really listening (another circumstance) for the response from the Follower, you’ve got your work cut out for you.


From a Leading Perspective, you Cabeceo’d the Follower. You knew what you were getting yourself into here friend. They’re clearly much smaller than you are, so you have to accommodate them. The physiological contact points are not going to be where you’d like them to be. Everything will be way off for you, arms and torso just completely out of whack. So let’s cut to the chase and give you the toy that you absolutely need to hear: This dance is doable with a much smaller Follower if and only if you do 3 things, and you have to do them, all of them, at the same time, really well.

1.) Smaller Steps. That means half the size of the step (forward, side, or back) that you’re used to. They’re smaller than you are, which means the distance that they can cover is dramatically less. Otherwise they’re hopping from step to step just to keep up with you. And this is just walking! Now we add in vocabulary (ochos, turns, crosses, etc) and it just gets crazy!

2.) Half Speed. Yup. You need to slow down, at first. You think you’re going along just fine, when from their perspective you’re racing. So the best thing that you can do here is ramp up slowly, like as in about a full minute or so of the first song of the tanda. If you have to (and you will), drop every other beat.  if you have to (and you will), drop the beat before and after a musical pause! This will slow things down a bit, and give the Follower the time to adjust to you.

3.) Maintain Your Posture! You can not watch their feet. You can not collapse your posture. You can not hunch over them. Head up! Elongate your postural lines. And whatever you do, engage proprioception! Do not watch the Follower’s feet under any circumstances. You must FEEL where they are in space and time. You must feel where their feet land. You should be doing this with every Follower anyway, but when you have a smaller Follower, you’re going to want collapse everywhere and you can’t. Of these 3 pieces of advice this one is the one that everyone will see. The other two are more for the Follower’s condition and less so for you, which in turn (no pun intended) makes them feel like you are with them, instead of not. This last one is the one that makes the Follower look amazing, and in turn that makes you look like you actually know what you’re doing!

Dinosaur Arm. One thing that comes up for most Leads when working with the Smaller Follower is what is referred to as ’T-Rex’ or ‘Dinosaur’ Arm. That little tiny T-Rex arm that seemed pointless to begin with ? Like half or quarter arms at all ? That same state exists here in the embrace. As a Lead, you have to really drop your right arm back. You can’t go all the way around the Follower to create a ‘full’ embrace. You’re trying to prevent the Follower’s left arm from going above their shoulder line and thereby contorting their bodies, and the embrace to ‘meet’ you. So ‘Dino’ Arm it is for you!

There is one more thing that you as a Lead have to do in order to make the dance work. It’s not easy to do, and quite honestly will ‘feel’ like it’s nearly impossible. The one more thing has to do with a change in perception. Now at the risk of losing you here, this is a piece of information that only a paying subscriber can see. There’s a story below that you can’t see, but only paying subscribers can see that will help them to make the dance successful.

From a Dancing Perspective, the thing that everyone will see instantly is the height differential. Do this poorly (execution of vocabulary, hunching over each other, watching feet) and it just looks like a disaster itchin’ to happen. However, with a little judicious planning (picking the right orchestra - Calo, D’Angelis, D’Agostino, late 40’s and early 50’s DiSarli are always good choices because they force a slower beat structure, they’re much more melodic than anything else), and a setting up in the line of dance behind the right partners, meaning partners who actually understand that there needs to be distance between the couples and can manage that. Then all of the above becomes really about staying with your partner and enjoying the dance. What this topic doesn’t talk about is the bodily contortions that you’re currently doing that will get in your way from making a dance like this work. But that’s a topic for another time. 

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