Leading Technique

Leading. Often the first thing we see when looking at Argentine Tango is the Tango Lead. It’s that sharp, clear, clean visual that strikes us almost immediately. We see the the visual of someone leading, and it’s this confusion, appreciation, amusement, bewilderment and just down right awe (in some cases) of a ‘wow’. Next the thing that we pay attention to is what they’re doing, not how they’re doing it, but what specifically they’re doing. You’re waiting, with anticipation, for that next cool, flashy move that screams - ‘Good Lead’. And the last thing that you start to become aware of is the musical expression, meaning how they’re placing the what they’re doing in time to the music, not necessarily how specifically it relates (that’s called interpreting the music by the way) to the music but really the execution in time to the music.

Truthfully depending on where we are in/at in the spectrum of leading (the activity), then this explanation of the dynamic of leading can be an eye opening experience on multiple levels for a variety of reasons (again, depending on where you are on the spectrum). At the same time, that experience is what usually shapes us, defines us, and ultimately it will inspire us to want to study toward being like that which we see…to emulate it. 🙂 Or it may turn us off entirely for a variety of reasons, perhaps because it looks too complex, too difficult, or it's too much, or not 'us' at all. Again, this all depends on where you are on the spectrum of leading. If you're just starting out then literally everything you see everyone else is doing is nothing short of magical. The further you go towards the 'advanced' dancer and closer towards the teacher class dancer (those who could teach but don’t) realm the less magical things are and the more technical things become, and the more you want to figure out why X, Y, and Z happens. That's exactly where this topic comes into play. 

This topic assumes that you've gotten beyond the "Wow!!! That's Amazing!!" phase and have just started to get down to the actual business of leading. And to be clear, this topic also assumes that you've gotten beyond the rudimentary foundation of walking, embrace, turning, crossing, and leading ochos, and are looking for a change towards something that looks a bit more elegant than the random, haphazard thing you have witnessed at your local milongas that's loosely called 'dancing'.

Perhaps you've started to pay attention to how someone is doing X, Y, and Z, and found it to be lacking or amazing and wondered….’how do they do that ?’. Or more than likely you have caught a glimpse of yourself in the mirror as you turn a corner and are either impressed with what you see and want more, or generally you try to avert your eyes as you pass by a mirror or someone's facebook picture of you. You generally try to avoid it because you know it's just going to be awful to look at. The mere thought of you leading, or watching yourself lead, is an exercise in excruciating visual pain. You know where all the problems are at, you know what you have forgotten in the multiple private lessons that you've taken, you know that you should be practicing this stuff on a daily if not weekly basis but you don't. You know all of this stuff...you've just forgotten it, and there it is in the mirror, staring back at you, unapologetic, and very truthful that you could do better than you are right now.  

If all of that is true, then this topic of Leading Technique is all for you. 

The Reason Why. There is a very simple reason why we study the topic of Leading Technique. It's because we want to look better in the role of the lead. It doesn't get any more simple than that. The fact is that anyone, regardless of gender, can lead. However, to look elegant, and to do it effortlessly and with ease ? That's technique!

The open secret is that leading technique is somewhat of an open book black art. Meaning ? That it does not take a Rocket Scientist to figure this stuff out and say, "I think I know what that is". Quite honestly there's no special magic to it, there's no secret sauce, no hidden agenda, nothing like that. In it's simplest form good leading technique is best defined in the execution of 3 simple things – forward, side, and back. In much the same way that Follower technique comprises these same things, lead technique does as well at it's core. At the same time it also comprises the embrace components, posture, walking continuously – not just a single step, turning, crossing, ochos, and so on. Viewed from this perspective, leading technique takes on a whole different layer of madness that will drive you over the edge of sanity into the realm of minutiae and maddening subtlety. And that's where having access to a good, clean, clear materials and resources is absolutely crucial towards you looking elegant and feeling elegant. The reality is that any idiot can 'look' elegant, however feeling elegant to dance with ? That is a whole other layer of OMG! And that's essentially what you're after when you think of why you would want and need to study Leading Technique.

So the reason of ‘why’ boils down to – you are looking for a way to generate not just the visual representation of being a good lead that you associate with the "OMG" Leads (the person not the activity) in the room with but more important, the elegance of their lead, and the effortless by which they do those things that uniquely qualify them as a ‘Good Lead’.

First things First. When building a good Lead, you have to deconstruct a few basic things in that lead in order to change them from ‘yawn’ to ‘omg’. So what’s the first thing towards the transformation ? You would think that the thing to start with is the Lead’s walk. And you’d be wrong. No. The very first thing is their foundation of how they’re standing, their posture! Change their posture, and you change 70% of how they’ll move. Mind you, they’ll instantly revert back towards less than desirable ways of moving because they don’t know any better or different but that’s a horse of a different color. No, the very first thing you must deconstruct and then reconstruct in a Lead, is their posture and their relationship to the floor. How they hold themselves, and how they place their feet on the floor is absolutely crucial to changing them.

What’s next ? Again, you would think that this is about their walk. No. Again, it’s about the component elements of that walk, not the walk itself. And those component elements break down into two areas: The Extension and then Foot Placement! Meaning ? How they extend their legs, walking forwards (usually) and how they place their foot on the floor after that extension. Is this walking yet ? No. It’s redefining how to move while dancing. Re-writing the base code of movement and replacing it with something that, at the beginning, is going to seem insanely difficult, and later on will (with time and practice) become second nature. The walking part ? That comes later. Right now this is changing their posture, and their extensions.

Next is the foot placement and weight transfers. Probably the single most important thing you can do for a Lead is change how they place their foot on the floor and then resulting weight transfers that go with it. Truthfully this stuff is not sexy at all but boy does it ever define sexy when executed nicely. By itself, there’s not much to this, and you’d think that there’s really no point in how you place your foot on the floor but that foot placement is pretty much everything. Execute it right and the elegance that you seek is accessible. Execute it poorly and your ass is going to end up staring at a the ceiling and wondering WTF happened! Foot placement is everything! It’s not sexy but boy is it ever the core of the whole ball of wax!

What’s Next ? It’s at this point where we have to talk about Intention and Intention Based Dancing. The fact is that at this juncture a lead can easily go right off the rails, as it were, by thinking one thing and then doing another (read that as becoming a Resistance Based Dancer). All too easily. And it’s important to reinforce the ideals of Intention. Which are to suggest, invite, propose, engage, cajole, tease, intimate, and yes, intend to do something and then create space for the Follower execute what was intended. Failure to reinforce this stuff early on, and you’ll easily devolve into resistance, force, compression, rigidity and all sorts of undesirable ways of dancing. Which is basically what you’re doing right now, and no one is telling you that for fear of hurting your feelings, including your teachers!

The reality is that the effortlessness that one seeks can only be achieved through two means that are seemingly counter intuitive with each other. The first is through controlled, conscious, and contained kinesthetic and physiological movements. Precision based movement. And the second ? Honesty with oneself. All the technique in the world, no matter how much you execute it will not change you. You have to recognize that you need to improve and want to improve. And that starts with a frank, honest conversation with yourself. It’s the realization, and you’ll pardon the vulgarity of this statement – that you suck today, you’re going to suck tomorrow, and you will continue to to suck for a very long time going forward. And that as time goes forward, assuming the first is moving along at a nice pace, you’ll suck a little less than you did the day before, but not by much. At the same time you’ll need constant reminders to do X, Y, and Z. Because like it or not you are going to drift from what you saw once in a workshop, you’re going to veer from the path towards what is comfortable for you and what you can do versus what you need to do. You’ll misremember something, you’ll invent whole new ways or methodologies to excuse yourself from doing the work that needs to be done. And on top of that, you’ll abdicate your responsibility of doing X, Y, and Z, placing that in the Follower instead of yourself.

So effortlessness ? This is only one piece of the work on the road towards good, clean Leading Technique. Still another is being honest with oneself!

Achieving effortlessness ? Foundational exercises. Ballet rises (yes, even for a Lead) are a good place to start. Next are back cross twists, forward cross twists, enrosque twists, opposition and disassociation exercises, and finally arm/torso/head controlled movement exercises. Rewire that, replace it with contained, controlled movements and you’re onto something!

The Embrace. Once you have all of that checked off your list. You have to put things in their rightful context.  And that means working with the embrace. Because all of the above is absolutely pointless if your embrace is compressive and restrictive. So it’s at this juncture that we now employ the execution of intention based dancing within the confines of a skin-to-skin or fabric-to-skin or fabric-to-fabric haptic dancing. Better known as Tango Haptics, Meaning tactile compression information as it relates to Argentine Tango. Duh! 🙂

The reality is that a good portion of you reading this stuff have embrace issues that are quite literally standing in your way of being a desirable lead. Compression, Restriction, Force, Tension, Rigidity, Pressure, good lord, it’s a wonder that half of the Followers that you dance with don’t stop after the first 2 seconds and a.) slap you for squeezing the living daylights out of them. and/or b.) walk off the floor because you’re pushing and pulling and paddling them with your right hand and forearm. Seriously dude, if you had this happen to you, you’d probably drop the embrace with whatever idiot lead you’re dancing with and look him squarely in the eye and say “SERIOUSLY WITH THE SQUEEZING ?”. Not so much with that! That’s the reality. So if you wouldn’t want it done to you, why on earth are you doing it to your Followers ?

Now comes the hard part, a good portion of the Followers that you’re dancing with are not going to tell you any of this stuff because they have a.) A hard time speaking truth to power. b.) Don’t want to hurt your feelings because you’ll never dance with them again. and c.) They don’t have the language to describe to you X, Y, and Z and they don’t lead (a good portion of them don’t, but more and more are thankfully!).

Truthfully your embrace is absolutely key to containing all the work that you did above with your posture, extensions, foot placement, and intention. And an embrace that doesn’t need to restrict the movement of the Follower is an absolutely crucial step towards being a desirable Lead to dance with.

Talking About The Walk! Finally, we talk about walking, or more importantly how one executes all of the above within the construct of a walk and within the construct of the embrace and within the confines of simple movements like leading a traveling or milonguero ocho, or leading a molinete, or leading an argentine cross. Because each one of these movements require you to walk well, to walk cleanly, to walk with stability and equilibrium!

If we’ve done our job above, then the walk should become an extension of those ideals. It quite literally happens all by its lonesome. The walk is built above good posture, clean extensions, precise foot placement, and entry points to walking and everything else. Make those contiguous and constant and you’re on to something. The elegance that you seek is not in the walk itself but rather the stuff contained within that walk. The things already mentioned. 🙂

The Bridge To Better Dancing ? As leads, a good portion of what we’re going to be leading are Ochos (Traveling & Milonguero), Turns (Open Embrace, Close Embrace, or Milonguero), and Crosses (Argentine & Back), and the foundations of those leads are going to come from the things listed above - e.g. how the Lead moves in relation to what is intended or led. If that base  movement is clean, clear, controlled, and consistent, then the resulting leads for Ochos, Turns, and Crosses will be so crystal clear, you’ll wonder why you hadn’t done this work to begin with. And there’s a good reason why this work isn’t done at the start, because it’s minutiae, it’s much harder than the steps, patterns, and figures. This is precision kinesthetic control of your body to reflect a very specific visual representation of how you want to be seen doing something. Now we add the next component – how it feels! Each component by themselves is maddening, together if you don’t have the foundation for this stuff, if you don’t have a clear idea of what the end result is going to be will drive you right off the deep end!

The Leap of Faith. A good portion of the time when it comes to this stuff, you really do have to take a leap of faith that the person you’re getting this stuff from knows what they’re talking about (assuming that there’s any talking going on about leading technique to begin with), and can describe it in a way that works for you, while at the same time you can see the end results and are pleased with them. The caveat here is that a good portion of the time ‘technique’ is often masked inside the vocabulary and infrequently is it separated from the vocabulary. They go hand in hand, or so you would think. That’s not entirely true. You can take someone’s technique of how X, Y, and Z is done and marry it to the execution of different vocabulary with surprising results. But that’s a horse of a different color for another time. It’s only mentioned here as a factor in the separation of technique from vocabulary that it is possible to do.

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The Ultimate Arbiter. The last word on this subject is not your teacher, it’s not this website, nor is it you. There’s really only one arbiter of good taste in this case, and it’s the Follower. If the class of follower that you’re used to dancing with approves of what you’re doing, you’re on to something. Truthfully they are the final word on whether or not you’re doing good things or less than desirable things. That assumes that a.) You have the fortitude to ask (at a practica) about how you look and feel to them. b.) That their response is honest. (Frequently they’re not for the reasons already stated above) and c.) There’s some kind of meaningful feedback that you can pull from the most basic of frequent replies “That was nice”. Which is the extent of what you’ll get most of the time, unless you ask a series of leading questions of what in specific was ‘nice’ about it.

You know you’re on to something when other people that you don’t dance with acknowledge the change in you and start to compliment you on the difference in you.

The Last Word - Change. Change isn’t going to happen by itself. It requires a few thing. First, a willingness to make these kinds of changes. Secondly, a good, reliable source for this kind of information. And thirdly demonstratable, repeatable information that you can play with, over and over again.

Fortunately you have one, and that’s this website and resulting videos contained with in. This site exists for this sole purpose. And in specific this topic of Leading Technique has a video series that you can either download (purchase), or subscribe to see it and the 150+ videos on the topics of Foundation, Walking, Ochos, Turns, Crosses, Sacadas, Colgadas, Volcadas, Barridas, Paradas, and a host of other things. All here for you to watch, over and over again. And that all starts with hitting that little green button that says “SUBSCRIBE”.