Contrary to what you might believe, and it may be really hard for you to accept this but, Argentine Tango is not a dance of pushing and pulling. You will continually hear L/leads use the phrase, “Give me Resistance!” to indicate that they need physiological pressure (and compression) into their Left hand in order to ‘feel’ that X, Y, or Z is occurring. X, Y, or Z, in this case, can be, but is not limited to, walking, weight changes, ochos, turns, crosses, sacadas, musical interpretations, etc.
Today’s Tango Topic deals with a type of an indication, a specificity really, in how to initiate a step backward with our partner. And by ‘initiate’, we mean to lead, as in the action to intend to do something. It should be noted that Followers reading this Tango Topic that may erroneously think that they can tune out and need not listen to this stuff. Which in the Tango Topics opinion would be a mistake. 🙂 This stuff isn’t just for Leads, but for both roles, as you’ll soon see.
It should be noted that for some of you reading this, the topic will be an eye opener that this stuff exists, for some they’ll pay no attention that it doesn’t apply to them, and for some it will almost seem like a ‘duh! of course’! In all of those cases there is something here beyond the video above. Read on.
Let’s be clear about something: This isn’t rocket science, but it is about awareness and lots of it. And while this article may sound like ‘blah-blah-blah Tango’ to some of you reading it, trust that there is something here for you to grok and try to put into your dance. Or at the very least to stop and to think about, and that’s primarily the purpose why Tango Topics exists. To create a little awareness in your dance, instead of you doing the same thing over and over and over again. This particular topic is one of those areas that continually creates a problem for most L/leads, which they don’t realize is a problem area, and as a result, most Followers become the recipients of this problem. As it is the Follower that has to put up with the unaware Lead. As a result, the Follower grumbles when they get a Lead that hasn’t learned how not to push and pull with their embrace but rather to engage Intention Based Dancing in their dance. So without further yappment, Tango Topics presents the Importance of Backward Intention!
What Is Backward Intention ? First, we have to create a little bit of clarity as to what is a.) Intention. and then b.) Forward Intention and how it relates to your dance. and finally, c.) Today’s Tango Topic: Backward Intention!
a.) Intention is like starting to do something but isn’t completed. But, unlike an abrupt interrupt to stop and do something else, which happens frequently with a lot of Tango’s Leads (tsk, tsk, tsk), this is done on purpose but without any jarring motion of countermanding and instead a very gentle and kinesthetically, and not to mention but we will anyway, physiological dissipation of the intended motion’s intent. This would be Intention, in it’s simplest textual descriptive. It should be noted that this word has been defined by Tango Topics, and is used quite liberally throughout this site. Further, it is in our article database and our site dictionary. Please, follow the links (see: IBD or Definition), and watch the corresponding videos. We believe it will help you to understand what we’re yapping about. Further still, in the video above, it talks about the idea of Intention, but its focus is on Forward Intention and not on the root of the topic.
b.) Forward Intention has also been defined but by inference only, and demonstrated visually on this site in 3 different places: Intention Based Dancing, The Second Step Problem, Leading Technique), not to mention being discussed ad-nauseam in nearly every single Tango Topic in some way, shape, or form. However, again for the sake of argument and necessity to our ultimate goal, it can best be defined as a “little lean forward“. To be more precise: Where the Lead, engages their toes. Spreading them out inside their shoe/sock, and then pressing them into the floor as the phalanges (the toe bones) begin to take weight. There is a softening the knees with a little bit of downward compression, as well as a tightening of the quads to hold a stabilizing position. At this point, the Tibia & Fibula bones are allowed to float forward over the Talus bone (Ankle joint) resulting in about 2 to 4 degrees of forward tilt against a vertical line. This is a “a little lean forward”. How does this relate to your dance ? This is what generates the Follower’s back step! This is Forward Intention. 😉
c.) Backward Intention. So if Intention, is the intent to do something but is stopped, gently. And Forward Intention is a little lean forward. Backward Intention must be a lean backward with the intent to do something!
Phew! That was a long build up. Sorry. 🙁
Difficulty Rating: (1.5 / 5)
From A Following Perspective, for you Backward Intention will feel like, if initiated and executed properly, a slight ‘whoosh’ forward. Because it’s the Lead’s motion we’re talking about here. So while they’re going backward, you’ll feel this as your lead is going away from you, and as a result, you’ll go with them. It will feel as if you are falling, almost. It’s a ‘Wheeeeeeee…this is fun!‘ moment. But it only lasts for a moment. That is, assuming, again, that it is done properly. Typically, however, it’s not. 🙁 What takes its place, unfortunately, you have experienced time and time again: Pulling. Uuuugh. The Lead pulls you into them to take you somewhere. If they want you to step with them, backward, they pull you. If they want you to step next to them or into them (as in a Sacada or step backward), they pull you with their embrace. Stop and think about this sensation for a moment – Each and every time you have been asked, ahem….ummm… ‘led’, you’ll see that this is pulling you. Now to be fair, you honestly may not remember the sensation. You honestly may not be that aware. But after reading this you may start to notice the physiological compression of the Lead’s right forearm around you in Close Embrace, compressing you, and squeezing you, and/or their hand creating compression into them engaging in La Marca type events. It’s uncomfortable for someone that has been trained in Intention Based Dancing.
At the same time you are being asked to deliberately lag behind your L/lead (to ‘wait for your lead‘), and then, at the same time, to create resistance with your embrace so that the Lead can ‘feel‘ you. And you’re told that this is normal and it’s supposed to happen. Ummmm….dearest Follower, that would be a ‘not’. Sooooo not! Just NOT! Did we mention that there was a ‘not’ in there ? Hmmm yes,…. ummm…NOT!!!! Ahem. We digress. Apologies for the textual attitude, and apologies to the non-native English speakers that will read those last two…umm…sentences…and think “WTF is that ?“. What ‘it‘ is, is the reality is that for a lot of Followers there’s a lot of pulling (and pushing) going on. And you, as a Follower, have been told repeatedly that “this is how it’s supposed to be done“. So much so that you have come to accept that it is because it keeps happening with nearly every L/lead you have danced with. Nearly. Not all…nearly.
This experience is akin to hearing that drinking the sand is the most refreshing thing in the world for you, and then wondering why you’re continually parched in your throat and never seem to quench your thirst! Not so much with that. There is another way of dancing that does not include being pushed and pulled around the room, which is called Intention Based Dancing. And really, you do want to investigate this idea. A lot. However, this way of dancing does not come without its caveats. One of them is a physiological hyper-awareness of touch and pressure, which can be honed, and sharpened into physiological movement precision! Still, another is Arm Compression from your L/lead. Another is the ‘Resistance‘ idea discussed above. This stuff must be mentioned in order to talk about our ultimate goal here: Backward Intention.
To be clear, sans attitude: The Follower’s perspective is that the Lead’s invocation of Backward Intention results, mostly, in the Follower taking a forward step. And as such that forward step will feel as though your lead (the action, not the person) is falling away from you. It’s important that we stop here and state that you have a built-in (due to how you were trained) deliberate ‘lag’ or hesitation because you were told to ‘wait’ (grrrrrr) for your L/lead. Thirdly, your reaction is absolutely important here. It’s not one of ‘waiting’ but rather to step into it…quite literally as if your life depended on it. In this instance, we, as Followers, really do want to move with alacrity here. You’re deliberately being led to step into or next to your lead (as the video above shows in one instance) and you can not lag or hesitate here. And the reason is a simple one: Music. The music is demanding that you do X on the spot. Fail to do it on the spot and you’re going to miss something and then you’ll end up apologizing for X and for missing it. We don’t want that. So to prevent the dreaded Follower’s Apology, we must take ownership over what we’re being led to do and instead of haphazardly stepping willy-nilly, but rather stepping with energy, power, and most of all control! The moment at which we feel the sensation of the lead going away from us we must be the follower-on-the-spot, as it were. With no lag, no hesitation, no waiting…go, go, go!
The Follower’s Gotcha. Your Fear. Uuuugh. The reality is that 9 times out of 10 that backward intention (except in Milonga Scissor Steps) that you will be led to stepping into your Lead, and in specific your Right foot/leg into their Left foot/leg space. The ‘gotcha’ here is that you’re going to have a fear of hitting your Lead’s foot. Especially because this Topic is telling you in no uncertain terms to do just that and with gusto! So here’s the piece of advice you need to hear: DO IT! Hit them. Or try to. You won’t. The goal is not to hit them, but with the advice to try it and don’t miss, what you’re doing is building up a response habit to step into someone’s space or next to someone’s space in a forward step with energy, power, and control instead of lagging behind which is typically what happens. You may not realize this because you’ve been told to do it so often, but that lag is actually forcing the Lead to push and pull you even more. The more that you step with energy, power, and control the less the Lead has to use force to accomplish their goals.
From a Leading Perspective, you really do want to start to invoke Intention Based Dancing. It will make your Followers very, very happy campers. They won’t know what’s changed about your leading. They won’t be able to identify specifically what’s different, but they will notice something is a bit more gentle and easier to do. Part of the reason they won’t know what’s different is that something is missing: You pulling them around the floor, in a myriad of ways, everywhere! 🙂
Let’s be clear about something, this is not something you’re going to learn overnight. It’s just not going to happen. Secondly, this is not something that you’re going to get on your own either. You do need a fully trained Intention Based Teacher (see: Tango Topics Teacher Training 2019) to clarify what’s going on here. Thirdly, this is going to take a bit of neurological rewiring on your part to get this right. And by re-wiring, we mean lots and lots and lots and lots and did we mention ‘lots’ of reminders. Right now you have ingrained ways of doing things, that’s not going to change unless you have an intervention of sorts. Training with an Intention-Based Teacher is that intervention!
The reality of this stuff is that it’s subtle. It’s quiet. And in fact, it’s much quicker to just pull your follower along with you. And by ‘pull’ we mean to use your arms and your hands to grip your Follower and use physiological force to do your bidding for you. No doubt about it. It is quicker than this pathway of Intention Based Dancing. And seemingly it is easier because it seems faster. However, when executed properly, and that’s the key right there, the results are nothing short of magical, almost effortless, dancing. Without the need to push, or pull your Followers to do anything with. There’s a reason why when dancing with more advanced Followers that everything seemingly works, and is effortless. This is one reason why that is true. It’s because they have developed a physiological response time and hyper-awareness that supersedes your own abilities, where they can read what’s about to happen, prepare for it, and then react so quickly that it makes it appear as if nothing could possibly go wrong even though you know you hesitated. They immediately corrected and came out in the right place that it appeared that everything just ‘worked’.
The Hard Part. You don’t believe that you use your arms to accomplish your goals. Nope. Never happens. You’re as gentle as a house cat. Right ? Ok, then here’s a test. It’s a simple test really. If you can pass this test, then you’re good. If not…then you need the help we’re giving you here.
The Test: Place your hands behind your back or behind your head. Either one will do. And then lead your follower. The Follower may place their hands on top of your shoulders only. Now dance. We’ll wait while you do this.
It is very possible that you failed the test above. The Follower missed a lot of your ‘leads‘. And as a result, they ended up being behind. 🙁 Further, your dancing became limited more than you would have liked. You chose to dance in linear straight steps (forward, side, and back) more than likely. Mostly to keep things simple, and to prove that you could do the test. You dared not to turn, and/or cross! And forget about a Traveling Ocho! So not going to happen. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! Is that dancing ? No. It’s not. But more than likely you became hyper-aware of just how much you wanted to use your arms for these things. If that’s the case then Intention Based Dancing may elude you for a while longer until you begin to study with someone that knows what they’re talking about.
The Backward Intent. The reality is that this is not that difficult. It really isn’t. It’s a little lean backward. That’s it. That’s all. It’s not that hard. It’s not that difficult. It is, however, a clear and distinct way of moving. A clear and distinct awareness of your body’s tilt backward at a higher than normal awareness level that your proprioception and well as equilibrium senses the change in tilt. This is minute. Small. But that smallness is the thing that you’re after. It’s a whole different layer of dancing that you may not have been aware of. To be fair, you may not want to dance like this at all. Because for a lot of people it feels like a lot of work for very little gain. However, the gains are in fact monstrous. Put simply: This is doing more with a lot less! A lot less. One clear benefit to this way of dancing is a lot less sweating going on. Less physiological movement meaning that there is less physiological exertion, which results in less sweat being produced. Thereby meaning you don’t have to change your shirts so often! Still another is that you’re able to dance longer and longer without the need to rest so much because you’re not racing around the room anymore because you don’t need to do so. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The Lead’s Gotcha! This stuff doesn’t appear to be subtle. It’s just not. It is difficult to change your habit to squeeze, to compress, to hold on to your Follower, to pull them into you. It’s hard to change this aspect about your dance. And you’re not even aware that you’re doing it. However, changing it ? That’s the bees-knees right there! It’s the veritable glue that can and will change your dance from being a compressive nightmare embrace that Followers hate, to one that is far more delish! And we want delish. However, the road to getting to this stuff is not easy and it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s hard. It’s challenging. And most of all it’s confusing. Hence the need for a trained Intention Based Teacher that teaches this way of dancing.
What Can You Do With Backward Intention ? A lot actually. There are three common places where we can use this idea of Backward Intention in our dance. The first is in the Linear Ocho Cortado. The second is in Milonga Scissor Steps. And the third is in a Useful 8 Count Basic. Its practical application is nearly anywhere where the Lead wants to step backward and, as in the case of the Useful 8 Count and Milonga Scissor Step, wants to curve those steps or angle them away from the lane and line of dance. Basically Anywhere. However, its true purpose has everything to do with learning to lead in a very small way or incremental way! That’s the crux of this. It’s also why this article spent more time setting you up to hear this word, intention, over and over and over again. It’s the smallness factor that we’re after. This is the place where backward intention takes on its true brilliance. How’s that ? The reality is that the human body can only go ‘backward’ so far before it has to fall. The only other way it can do that is a break at the waist and at some point, the human body has to step to avoid an actual fall. And at that point we’re unstable and we will more than likely fall or topple over. Backward Intention sets you up so that you don’t have to do that at all. You don’t have to reach that point of instability or ever come close to it. Further, it also sets you up to never needing to use your hands or your arms at all to initiate this stuff. From a Following perspective, while you won’t notice that it’s been invoked until you’ve been trained to be aware of it, you will notice that something that isn’t missing. And that’s the $125.00 from visiting your local chiropractor the next day after a particularly rough night of dancing after your feet stop screaming at you!
These are just some of the places and ways where invoking the idea of Backward Intention can change your tango life and improve it for the better.
Thanks for reading.
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