Tango Topics | Social Dancing Tools

Lead Exercises

Most Leads come to the dance floor with the idea in their head of what they’re going to do from the moment they come into the Embrace. This is not always true, but a good portion of the Salon, Marathon, and Encuentro Leads will already have the first few bars of music mapped out. While their dance is not entirely mapped out (tsk, tsk, tsk), the first few measures are, and this is based on the Neurology of Leading that they’ve trained themselves to do over time with experience. And from there they choreograph a dance on the fly that fits the music within the available space (again the Neurology of Leading). To the casual observer, they’re dancing fluidly. Seemingly effortlessly putting one idea behind another.  However, in order to get to this stage of dancing seemingly takes a long time to do.

There is the traditional method of trial and error to achieve this way of dancing: Which is lots of endless classes/workshops on vocabulary that they’ll almost never use, to pieces of music that they’ll never hear again (thankfully), and then spending lots and lots and lots of time social dancing, and ‘practicing’ (ahem), and throwing in a few private lessons here and there for good measure, and hopefully coming out the other side a slightly improved competent social dancer, which speaks nothing to their embrace, interpretation the music, their ability to execute vocabulary, or attention to detail, or leaving their ego at the door. This is the norm of how things are done. This is ‘trial and error’ because the Lead tries things out and the results are pretty hit or miss most of the time for a variety of reasons that are nuanced to detail here (that’s another topic for another day). Also during this time period, the experience can be long, usually painful, ego-bruising process (if they’re lucky), that can take upwards of two to three years at minimum assuming travel, number of partners, distance to larger and multiple cities, level of diligence and attention to detail in multiple disciplines: Technique, Vocabulary, Musical Interpretation, Codigos, Marathon vs. Encuentro vs. Salon styles of dancing, and a host of other things with the end goal being not just a competent social dancer, but rather a competent social dancer that can freely and fluidly interpret the music with their partners, e.g. dancing fluidly. 

What if we could shave off (to reduce by) a few months, maybe a year, this process, possibly cut it back to about 6 months entirely ? What if there were a series of stepping stones that could quite rightfully change how a Lead responds to the music, changes how they interpret the music, that reduces their inhibitions, their hesitations, and removes all repetition from their vocabulary choices, and removes any and all excessive usages vocabulary ? That’s where Today’s Tango Topic comes in. 

There is another method that creates this series of stepping stones (no pun intended) to getting the Lead to a place where they can freely interpret the music, and freely choreograph their ideas that map their vocabulary onto the music so that it fits perfectly. These are Lead Exercises.

The full video is not for sale. It can only be seen in its entirety with a Gold level subscription or better. 

What is a Lead Exercise ? This is a series of linked vocabulary choices that are practiced with some frequency on a weekly basis within the construct of 2 different embrace ideas, as well as with a metronome and NOT a piece of music. The reason ? A piece of music has lots and lots of nuances that can and do throw most people off, it confuses the hell out of them. So rather than work with a specific piece of music, we work with a time signature independent of the musical nuances, or in this case…the beat and ONLY the beat with pauses every 4 or 8 notes. So put simply a Lead Exercise is not about technique in this case, but rather a series of exercises designed specifically to retrain your Leading mind to respond to the changing conditions of the floor, the changing or challenges of Leading someone, what to do next, and most importantly to fix that tiny little problem of the hesitation described below. At the same time, this series of exercise also solves two latter problems of repetition and too much vocabulary by pairing things back to simple constructs to start with, instead of complex vocabulary sequences. Which is all designed to force you to work on the transitional elements rather than remembering steps, patterns, and figures that often fail and don’t necessarily help you all that much.

Difficulty Rating:  (3 / 5)

Following Perspective. Let’s get this out of the way immediately. When dealing with Lead Exercises, there’s quite literally nothing new here for you, no new technique, no vocabulary, nothing musically (because we’re dealing with a metronome), nada. However you’d be really remise to miss this opportunity in your own practice regime! Which is to say, that you should take the opportunity to practice your own technique and it’s execution within the construct of a metronome, AND within the construct of a Lead’s vocabulary ideas, while at the same time, working on your extensions, your stability, how your landing your foot on the floor, where it’s landing and practicing the repetition of these ideas, as well as staying in the embrace and staying ‘buttons to buttons’ with your lead, while at the same time not hanging, pulling, or pushing, not compressing, nothing but the lightest touch. While this video showcases 3 important beginning vocabulary choices, this same methodology of practicing what you already know and drilling down deeper into your own technique execution can and should be applied elsewhere in every practice situation. That said, there’s nothing new here for you except a golden opportunity to practice what you already know and making it second nature to you! 😉 At the same time while all of that is going on, this is also a really good time for you take apart what you’re doing and to not just do the same thing over and over again, but to analyze it and deconstruct how you’re executing X, Y, and Z. To slowly and mindfully practice what you’re doing, and to make minute changes to try things out, and to ask for feedback (in the appropriate places – AT A PRACTICA).

Leading Perspective. Assuming that you’ve gone through your first trial by fire, the “Oh my god, I am an idiot” experience, and your ego has survived intact only to come to the 2nd Trial by Fire of “What do I do next ?”. Assuming that you’ve landed here, understand something – Every Lead that you’ve ever seen, or will see in the world has gone through, or will go through this same stage. It is a very common experience for most leads.

Let’s create a scenario which happens quite frequently: You cabeceo a Follower, and they accept, you walk around the floor (not across … tsk, tsk, tsk) to get to them. As you try to enter the line of dance, you perform a male Cabeceo in the line of dance BEFORE you step onto the floor, because you heard that that’s the right thing to do (It is by the way). The oncoming lead accepts and creates space for you to enter the floor. You step onto the floor with your partner. You embrace. They embrace. You do your standard opening, which you don’t realize is your standard opening, and then it hits you….what do you do next ? You don’t have time to sit there and dither about it, you have to keep the Follower moving, right ? 

In that moment, one of 3 things can and do occur based on where you are at along the spectrum of your dance, well actually 4, but the 4th is the one we want and are trying to get to. So really there are 3 in this instance:

1.) The Hesitation State. At the beginning, for most Leads, you will quite literally hesitate between one vocabulary choice and the next. It’s a freeze really, you’re stuck as to what choice to make next. If learning to Lead Tango is like learning a new Language then you’ll know that learning to put two sentences together so that they flow from one idea to the next takes time and patience and practice. And for a while you’re going to sound like a blathering idiot. The same is true of Tango. So putting simple Tango sentences together to form complex ideas is challenging, there will be gaps. Those gaps ? That is the Hesitation State. Focusing on the hesitations, creates stress in you, and you don’t know what to do next or how to resolve it. It continues to happen, as the dance progresses. Add to that the stress to make the dance interesting, and to keep the Follower interested. It’s enough to make you blow a gasket! Mind you this is all your head. It’s not real. The Follower has enough going on to keep them busy, but in your mind it’s a complete disaster!

2.) The Repetition State. In this state you default to the same piece of vocabulary over and over and over again for one of two reasons:
       a.) Because you’re too nervous to do anything else due 2 reasons which will freak you right out, and create a state of mental anxiety based on:
              i.) The available space you have to ‘do’ anything. and/or
             ii.) The quality of the Follower you’re dancing with.
      You can not even conceive of doing anything else in that moment, so as a result you end up doing the same things over and over again. Think the ‘Rock Step’ Lead! and/or…
       b.) Because it’s familiar to you. It’s your go to move. Most of the time you don’t even realize that you’re doing it, unless someone points it out to you. And even then you’ll default to it because it’s easy, simple, and comfortable. Whether or not you execute is a different story all together.

3.) The Vocabulary State. In this state the Lead has attended one too many workshops, watched one too many youtube videos, and spent just a little too much time in every vocabulary class within a hundred kilometer radius. When you step on the floor, you generate vocabulary choice after vocabulary choice after vocabulary choice. Every 3 steps it’s a completely different idea. This is usually done without an eye towards creating structure to map what’s happening in the music, or a care that the Follower is actually Following them but usually being rushed (see Rushing the Follower) through their vocabulary executions. Generally, you dance like this because you don’t want to bore the Follower with all that ‘walking business’. Sacada, Volcada, Colgada, Gancho, Gancho, Gancho, Gancho, Rock Step, Rock Step, Rock Step, Volcada is more exciting and fun or so you believe.

To be fair, all 3 of these states are quite common among a certain class of Lead, and while you may not self identify with this stuff, trust that you’re doing these things on a regular basis, you just don’t know it. 

The Fundamental Stepping Stone! In all three of these states, while they are seemingly natural outgrowths of each other in succession, there is a something that is missing in your dancing abilities that can and does prevent all 3 states from occurring > A Fundamental Stepping Stone. Which is that no one, not a single teacher, has drilled into you a necessary series of vocabulary exercises while at the same time removing all the nuances, all the ‘stuff’ that can confuse you, which in the end actually helps you to plan out how you can and should respond as a Lead.

To be fair, this video series of exercises starts out with something insanely simple -> Parallel Walking > Milonguero (‘Lazy’) Ochos and Parallel Walking > Traveling Ochos. And while this is seemingy insanely simple vocabulary, doing it is a whole other kettle of fish! This is the foundation of what you will spend most of your time doing anyway, so why not practice it religiously ? What tends to end up happening for most Leads is  wandering all over the floor, aimlessly executing whatever strikes their fancy, and can fit. However the result is that the dance, from the outside looking in is haphazard at best, and a hot-mess at its worst! So why not replace those three experiences above with a practiced exercise that you can quite literally execute everywhere in all 3 dances (tango, vals, and milonga) ? This idea works because the execution is not arbitrary, but specifically built off the musical pauses, there is an actual structure there that quite literally fits EVERYWHERE in the dance! 

The primary goal is to drill into your body and mind two transition points Walking INTO Something. Where the ‘Something’ can be but is not limited to Ochos, Turns, Crosses, etc, and then back to Walking. The transition points ? Walking INTO Something, and Something INTO Walking or Turning, Or Crossing, Or…. It’s the transitions that you’re practicing, not the vocabulary itself! 

While we ideally want to be facile with our walk, which is another reason why we study the 6 Ways of Walking, we can just as easily employ just Parallel System walking as our starting point. It should be noted that the reason why we study the 6 Ways of Walking, and even though the link to the 6 Ways is a product link, you still need to study them, religiously. Why ? Because doing so will create even more options and opportunities for you so that you do not continually default to the same solution set over and over again. Put simply, repetition has its place, but not every 3 steps. 🙂

This particular series of exercises is a necessary stepping stone towards Choreographing a dance on the fly. It builds the necessary tools and The Neurology of Leading that we ideally want, further, it alleviates all the stress of what to do next because now you have a series of tools to do just that. While you could loosely call it a pattern, it is anything but that. It’s an exercise that quite factually translates to the dance floor immediately.

The reality is that choreographing on the fly doesn’t happen overnight. But the way it’s presented sometimes, not always, but sometimes, you would think erroneously that you should just be able to dance effortless and employ whatever vocabulary choices you want as you see fit. And that’s not the case. No one can effortlessly do this without extensive practice, extensive study, and extensive musical knowledge. Unless you have an ace in the hole: Lead Exercises! Which is helping you to step into dancing fluidly or dancing where you can choose your vocabulary choices on the fly and make them fit to the music takes time and patience just like any language, and that’s what this series of exercises helps you to do.


dancing in a small space ? watch these videos!


About The Video. This video comes in at 21m:40s in length in 9 Sections. Lead Technique is explained here in the video. No Follower technique is explored. 

Section 1 – Introduction – 00:03:04
Section 2 – Walking Into Lazy Ochos – 00:01:35
Section 3 – Walking Into Lazy Ocho – The Other Side – 00:02:05
Section 4 – Walking Into Traveling Ochos – 00:00:48
Section 5 – The ‘Dropped’ Traveling Ocho – 00:01:03
Section 6 – The Close Embrace Variations – 00:02:59
Section 7 – The ‘Practiced’ Weight Change – 00:00:38
Section 8 – The 3rd Cross System Entry – Lead Cross Behind – 00:04:05
Section 9 – The Frequencies/Closure – 00:04:42

Video pre-requisites: 1.) 6 Ways of Walking. 2.) Milonguero Ochos. 3.) Traveling Ochos. 4.) The 5 Pause Types! 

Watch It On Youtube ? Why should you pay for this video, or subscribe to this website when stuff like this is available on Youtube ? Because this topic doesn’t exist on YouTube, that’s why. Not to this level of detail with examples of each idea, plus the subsequent and underlying technique videos that you’ll need to make this stuff work. This video is unique because it comprises most of the technique stuff and then divorces it from it. It shows the musical, it shows the vocabulary, and it shows a few exercises. You’d be foolish to look elsewhere for this stuff but go ahead. Look for it on YouTube.

Eventually, one way or another you’re going to pay for this lesson, either here and now, or with them. TANSTAAFL! The difference between that lesson and this ? Is that you get to play this lesson over and over and over again. Further still, there are supporting materials (other videos) that help to explain the language and the underlying technique. In a class or a workshop, you’ll spend weeks on this stuff and you’ll miss a ton of information that you actually need to work in a small space! 

In an hour long class, with the blind leading the blind through rotation of partners (uuuggggh!), you may glean a piece of the information you need and not get the whole thing, and you’ll miss important pieces that you’ll end up having to take a private lesson for to get the finer points. This way, you can watch over and over again, and get all the supplementary materials, and if you want you can still go take the class, only you’ll be better prepared to do so!

The Last Word. Tango Topics is little reminders and snippets of information that your teachers would have told you about but didn’t have time to or didn’t care to remind you for the umpteenth millionth time. Do you need videos like these ? Yes. Why ? Simple…you need as many reminders as possible in as many forms as you can get. In today’s Tango world it does take a village to raise a dancer. And that means having as many voices, reminders, ideas, concepts, perspectives as possible. This video and the rest of the ones that are sitting behind the Tango Topics paywall are that. While what you’re seeing above is only the smallest hint of what’s contained in the actual video. It should be enough for you to make a reasoned and intelligent choice that perhaps there’s something of value in this site and the videos that are here. Considering becoming a Gold, Gold Plus, or Diamond level subscriber today.

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