Follower Technique – Part 1

Follower Technique

The very words for most Followers boils down to 5 things, minus adornments and embellishments. 1.) Posture. 2.) Embrace. 3. ) Forward Steps. 4.) Side Steps. 5.) Back Steps. A good portion of the time this training also covers Body Position and Body Placement within the construct of the embrace (e.g. how to stay in front of and then with your Lead). The training usually stops there and does NOT include a physical dissertation on Disassociation or Applied Disassociation...but rather perpetuates the fallacy that a 'pivot' is Disassociation and that they're the same things – they're not. All of this in service to do several things all that same time: a.) To improve the Follower's kinesthetic capabilities with regards to the 5 things listed above. b.) To create a deeper awareness of the 5 things. c.) To give the Follower a slightly better toolset than they had previously. Usually this is done in a single 2 or 3 hour session whereby afterwards the Follower is supposed to have magically improved by leaps and bounds. Ummmmm...ahem....not bloodly likely, not today, not tomorrow, and not next week. Follower technique does not magically happen after 2 or 3 hours of 'class'. It is a diligent study that happens over a long period of time of patient study, correction, influence, building skills, and most importantly – time, and lots of it.

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From a Leading Perspective most Leads (the person) don't have the skill set, or the language for that matter, to describe, be aware of, or to witness whether or not a Follower is executing proper technique. This is mostly because they don't dance the role of the Follower themselves. Isn't it odd that a good portion of them dole out advice to Follower's in attempt to 'help' as to what the Follower should be doing though ? ('s not 'odd', it's down right rude and wrong) The only thing that they're truly aware of is whether or not the Follower is in the right place, at the right time, when they asked (or in a lot of cases told, and shoved) them to be. They can sort of tell when it feels good, and they can tell when it's not. Which mostly boils down to when the Follower isn't 'following' what they believe they were leading (the action). This comprises the Lead's understanding of 'good' Follower Technique. Honestly the lot of them could give a damn if the Follower does X, Y, or Z just as long as they do what what was led. If they add anything, just make damned certain that it doesn't get in the way of what the almighty Lead is leading, and for good christ's sake don't screw it up! And whatever is done, don't miss anything!!! Or heaven's forbid engage in an actual conversation or have a thought as to what should happen. That would be....tantamount to sacrilege! Pahhhh-leeease.

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From a Following Perspective a good portion of Followers DO know Follower Technique when they see it. They're not able to describe what they're looking at (mostly because they don't have the language descriptors). However, they are able to witness and recognize it. Unfortunately that recognition is limited to the awareness of what they've been exposed to, which boils down to the prettier Followers that get all the dances and emulating their 'habits' which masquerades as 'technique' that those Followers learned from watching YouTube videos of a performance of someone else's and then doing their own version of it! Ding! Instant 'technique'. 

From a Dancing Perspective as long as the dance is served, and everything comes out alright, quite honestly seemingly no one gives a damn. As long as there is no blood lost, no limbs injured, and there are smiles, giggles and laughter at the end of the tanda, quite one cares whether or not 'proper' technique was executed or not. Until someone comes onto the floor, that is executing proper technique, and then the whole room is talking about nothing BUT that, and then all of a sudden everyone cares!

The Dancing Fact is that the 'Technique' actually matters a whole lot on multiple levels. It matters because the correct execution of that technique actually improves, not only the quality of the experience as a whole, but it improves each and every single step, which in turn improves the quality of the vocabulary being executed, which in turn improves the quality of the dance on the whole! It quite literally changes a dance from 'meh' to 'omg'. However that 'omg' has a lot of gradations built into it for one simple reason: It depends on the amount of study and practice time, the amount of detailed information that they possess and are able to access at any one time, and more importantly the level of corrective self behavior the Follower has employed previously to change or correct their abilities. So that 'omg' is very subjective. However you do recognize the 'skillz' when you see it and more importantly when you dance with it. The skillz are the difference between 'omg' and "oh my f*cking GOD!!!" Execute them properly and you're on to something that separates you from the run-of-the-mill Follower. Execute them poorly and you're going to end up sitting more often than not. 

Quite honestly good follower technique rocks! The operative word in the sentence ? 'Good'. There's lots of less-than-desirable technique out there, and there's also a lot of desirable technique. And there's a lot of technique out there for Export. ie: Show Tango masquerading as Social Tango. Stop and think about it, when you're on a social dance floor do you need your legs flying all over the place or adorning and/or embellishing every 3rd step ? Seriously ? You would only do that if you were performing for the 15th row to Pugliese or Piazzolla based music when you have an entire stage to yourself and aren't in the line of dance. In other words – stage tango. Proper Follower Technique executed within the embrace does not need to interrupt the lead (the action) at all, it only enhances the overall experience of the dance, the embrace, the walk, the desired vocabulary, and to a limited degree - the musical interpretation....or basically everything you do. 🙂

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Learning proper technique ? Really that's the question. Do you want to learn ? And then when you're done learning it, are you going to practice it ? Because learning it is one thing. Practicing the frak out of it is another. Truthfully you can learn proper technique but you absolutely MUST spend a fair amount of time actually practicing what you learned. Failure to do that, and you're just putting money in someone's pocket for an hour or two, and it was a complete waste of time because you're not practicing it – daily! The fact of the matter is that if you don't practice it, daily, then it's not going to happen on a social dance floor when you need it the most. If you have to stop and think about it, you're screwed. Hence the reason you practice the frak out of it. And yes, sadly, this does require repetition...but not mindless repetition but rather mindful, conscious repetition of watching yourself in a mirror, spending a few hours every week in front of it, going over what you can remember. 

Memory. Your memory is fickle. You're going to forget key aspects of what you've been taught. So that means that either you spend a few hours a week with a private teacher which can get rather pricey over time or you invest in a few well produced videos from a few reputable sources. 

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Who to work with ? The question comes up, can you learn proper technique in person ? Yes. Can you learn less than desirable technique in person ? YUP! And the same is true of video work. What matters is the source of the information and goes right back to picking a good teacher or a knowledgeable source of the skill set. Which brings up another question, does that source have to be a woman ? Answer...No, it does not. It can be anyone that has spent a good amount of time studying the form of either role, gender doesn't matter. What matters most is how deeply involved that person has immersed themselves in the form. Quite frankly, most men that invest in being a 'good' Follower want to be better than the women around them because they've recognized that they don't want to be that 'girl' that sits. Further still they want to get it 'right', so they'll invest hours...weeks...months in learning the intricate in's-and-out's of Following. Their goal is not to perform, nor is it necessarily to teach, it's to understand the form as a whole. Truth be told there are more than a few really amazing male Followers in the world and to be quite honest with you, they blow the doors off your run-of-the-mill Followers and more than a few 'performing' teacher Followers IMHO.

Fortunately for you, dear reader, you have access to a teacher that has spent a considerable amount of time learning, relearning, exploring, pulling apart, putting back together, figuring out, asking questions, dancing, studying, more dancing, more studying, investigating, and then a lot more dancing (in heels), discovering every aspect of the role of the Follower from the Embrace to the Walk and back again. Now to be fair, while this teacher does spend a fair amount of time in either role, in class and on a social dance floor it does not necessarily make him all knowing - all seeing but it does make him...shall we say...'aware', and we'll leave it at that.  That being said you may wish to take advantage of that resource by clicking that green button below, just a thought...nudge, nudge, nudge... 😉 ©Tango Topics. 

Picking Your Teacher

Picking Your Teacher

At different stages of your Tango life you're going to be faced with the task (and it is a task) of picking the 'Right' Tango teacher. Sometimes because of where you live you may only have one or two people that are teaching. Sometimes if you live in a city like New York, Berlin, Moscow (etc), you are blessed with a plethora of teachers. As a beginner this is an easy question to answer because you don't know any better, so you're going to pick the first one that comes along that has any information. If you've been dancing for a while you're seemingly going to be more selective by picking classes and topics that interest you, and more often than not, the personality of the teacher, believing that this is the right teacher for you. Neither of these methods will help you.

From a Leading perspective, you're going to be impressed by flashy footwork, steps, patterns, & figures. You'll be turned on by the moves, and not necessarily 'how' they're done. This, you believe, will help you to pick a 'good' teacher and ultimately become a better dancer. Ummm...not.

From a Following perspective, you'll be impressed by Followers that you're exposed to, how they extend their legs, how they embrace, and you'll want to emulate that and find someone that can show you that. This rationale doesn't go far enough, it's missing a few things. 😉

The Dancing Reality is that dancing and teaching are NOT the same things. Choosing a teacher based on whether or not they dance well as the sole criteria for whether or not the can teach you to dance is not a good idea. These are two very different skills. Far too often people make the mistake (followers) of being impressed by this the skill to dance thinking that equates to the skill to teach. You see it's not about steps, patterns, and figures (leads) regardless of role, its about the technique of moving well, and more importantly their ability to explain the underlaying principles of HOW X, Y, and Z is done, and in every use case of it failing, where it fails, how it fails, and how to correct for it as well as the variations on a theme or an idea.

Put another way – watching a teacher dance, or dancing with that teacher just shows you that they know how to do X, Y, and Z. What it doesn't tell you is how they can communicate those ideas to you and more importantly to the way in which you learn! The reality is that people learn at different speeds, and in vastly different ways. One size does not fit all. And that's exactly what group classes are, one size fits all - cookie cutter tango!

Look At Their Students!

It is assumed that once someone takes on the teaching mantle that they have rightfully assumed the role of grand maestro (maestra) and are king (or queen) of all they survey. Ummmm not. The fact is that a good portion of people that hang up their shingles as call themselves 'teachers' realistically know a little more than you do. This is not true of all of them, so as not to disparage anyone, but there are a fair number of those folks out there. So how do you separate the ones that just started from the one's that know what they're talking about ? Look at their students! Look at the long line of their students. Not the line to get into their classes. No. The line of dancers that have studied with them. If you like what you see...then that may be a good place for you to start your investigation of whether or not this is a good teacher for you. However, understand that what you see, you may not understand, yet. A good portion of the time you really do have to be educated in what you're seeing. Just like you had to be educated in watching a tango performance to see the nuances. The same is true here. Furthermore you have, by now, more than a few preconceived notions of what you think is 'good', 'bad', 'desirable', 'undesirable' Tango. And that notion, believe it or not, will get in your way in your ability to pick teachers. You must be educated about what real technique is, and why it's important to build a good foundation and what specifically a good foundation is and is not. A good teacher will explain this to you and reinforce it in every single session! 

What are you looking for ?

Taking a class with a particular teacher is a good way of trying out a teacher. It shows you a small slice of how that person understands and engages X, Y, and Z.

Pay close attention to 4 parts of a class:

1.) Beginning of classes.
2.) The Topic itself.
3.) How the information is disbursed and to whom ?
4.) The End of class.

These 4 things are the arbiters of 'good' or the 'right' teacher. How they manage their teaching experience for all to see and glean what they can from it. 

Beginning of class – What does this teacher start with ? Do they have you walking around behind them in a circle to a piece of music, stomping out the beat of the music ? Dancing with a partner through a 'mock' tanda to warm you up ? Do they start class with a technique exercise ? Or do they start with an exercise while they call out things to focus on, and demonstrate while you are doing it with them ? Hint: You want the last one

Introducing a topic – Are their topics based on what you're hearing in the music ? Or is a topic born from the exercise that you started with ? Again, you want the latter of the two. 

Gender Roles – Do they split up the women and men ? Meaning the Men do one thing only, and women do one thing only and you're supposed to do your part and nothing more. Or are you invited, and encouraged to swap roles and engage in a discovery of what and how X, Y, and Z functions ? Again, you want the latter of these processes. 🙂 

(Notation: Role swapping is a good thing because not only does it give you a well rounded perspective of the dance, it also creates empathy for the other side of the embrace, and furthermore (believe it or not) you actually develop much faster as a dancer and you understand the vocabulary in far greater depth and detail than if you had focused solely on your 'gendered' role.)

End of class – Do they end class with a demonstration of X, Y, and Z to a piece of music ? Or do they end class with a list of where all the 'gotchas' are at and their possible resolutions –> where things don't work, why they fail, further and more importantly do they show you all the possible variations of an idea in parallel, cross, open or close embrace, and how it fits into tango, milonga, and vals ? Again, you want the latter!

Critical Feedback.  Teaching you to do something is one thing. Giving you prompt, clear, consistent feedback of how you do X, Y, and Z (assuming they give any), how you feel, how you look, your embrace, your walk, your disassociation, your collections is absolutely critical to your ability to progress beyond your current skillset. Put another way, when they give you feedback is it critical or effusive ? Do they tell you the truth ? Or do they blow smoke up your ass with effusive complimentary commentary that tells you absolutely nothing about what you're doing. "Yes dear, you're doing just fine, fabulous .... keep up the good work!".  Ideally you want a teacher that says in clear, constructive language, sometimes harsh or hard to hear, "Look bub, you're screwing up here, here, and here...oh and while we're at, here, here, here and here! And this is how you fix it..." then goes on to show you the how to! Critical feedback is hard to hear, but one of the most crucial parts to your development as a dancer. You can't see your own errors, and you can't see how to fix them. Hopefully your teacher can and does have a solution for them. "Hopefully" ? Truthfully just because said 'teacher' wears the teacher hat does not mean that they are the sole of all wisdom. 

Homework. Do they send you on your way with a pat on the back and/or a hug while they're counting your money ? Or when you're done with class/private lessons, do they provide you with a study plan of what you need to work on before you're next meeting. Do they give you exercises to work on ? Do they have exercise videos for you to watch or to remind you of all the things you should be doing ? Do they give you a series of daily regimes that you must accomplish between now and your next session ?  Again, you want the latter. 

Progress. Do they acknowledge your presence outside of classes or instruction time with a kiss and a hug and that's it ? OR do they a.) actively keep track of you when you're out dancing at a practica or a milonga. b.) watching whether or not you're doing what they've shown you to do. c.) comment on your dancing after a milonga or during your next private lesson and d.) engaging you outside of lesson time with reminders and support to get you to your next level of dancing ? Again, you want a - d. 😉  

A good teacher is not there to blow smoke up your ass. Nor are they there to collect the cash. They are there to educate you. You on the other hand are there to make mistakes, lots of them. It is only through those mistakes that you will learn, grow, and change. Further still you absolutely require their feedback, and that means that you must, must, must be willing to ask questions, engage, take control of your own education, invest in doing the necessary research about how you look, how you feel, and more importantly to hear that feedback from them, and be willing to ask for it.

If you think class is about getting it right, that's a mistake. It's better that you make the mistakes in class vs. out on a social dance floor. Why ? Because like it or not the Tango world can be very judgmental. So you would rather have a teacher that will tell you truth about how you feel and look, and then to show you the realities of your dance than blowing smoke up your ass for an hour and you leave with a happy smile on your face, and then at milongas sit all night long or not get the dances you desire. A good teacher, and really the 'right' teacher, does that for you. 

Look, the classroom is a crucible, in it we burn away all the irrelevancies that do not matter, and in it's place we seek to inform, educate, illuminate, and ultimately get down to truth of how to do X, Y, and Z.

Which Teacher Do You Want to Have ? 

a.) The 'show & copy' teacher. Meaning they show you, and you're expected to copy what they're doing exactly and when you don't copy it exactly, they move on to the next 'show & copy' to repeat the cycle.

b.) The 'show, copy, add music' teacher. Meaning at the end they add a piece of music to make it all seemingly fit together.

c.) The 'show, build, copy, and then add music' teacher. Meaning that yes they show you a piece at a time, building the elements that create X, Y, and Z and then add music at the end.

d.) The 'explain, build, explain, build more, explain, discover, build, discover, explain, discover, build, test, try, build more, add music, build more, explore more, discover...oops, class is over' teacher.

You decide which of these teachers you want to have teaching you about what Tango is and is not. ©Tango Topics.