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The Follower's Rescue Plan

The Follower’s Rescue Plan. The first thing you’re going to ask yourself is why does the Follower need a rescue plan ? Good question! As you’ll soon see there’s a very good reason why any Follower needs this or something like it. What is below is an idea that has sprung up through lots of trial and error, through a/b testing over a 10 year period with all levels of dancers, while adhering to two simple principles so as to continue to have a pleasant experience dancing, and most of all not to be in pain if not to avoid it at all costs while dancing.

The Follower’s Rescue Plan is first and foremost a way for the Follower to extricate themselves from a Lead that is compressive, restrictive, and painful to dance with. Secondarily it’s a way for the Follower deal with leads that are being somewhat ‘challenging’ on multiple levels which include socially, as well as those Leads that are are talking too much, instructing them while dancing with them, and or the odd one with bad breath, sweaty clothing, or the reeks to high heaven. To be fair, most Leads won’t read this rescue plan, and that’s to their detriment because if they’re paying attention they can save themselves from the “Nuclear” option that can and will occur if the Follower pursues what’s laid out below.

To be present a full and balanced point of view, what follows is a somewhat controversial topic. Why ? Because there are lots of people that think or believe that you shouldn’t need a rescue plan. The Follower doesn’t need rescuing at all. Everyone should be nice to everyone, not judge anyone for their dancing abilities, not everyone is perfect and they shouldn’t be punished for their behaviors or skillsets. This is typically seen as ‘perfectionism‘. This topic has nothing to do with being a perfect Lead, or discarding people. It has everything to do with a four step process that the Follower might want to impliment so that they can continue dancing through out the night if they want to engage in The Follower’s Rescue Plan.

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The Scene: You are cabeceo’d. You’ve been watching a particular Lead dance all night long, and finally, the stars align, and their cabeceo comes. You accept, and the Lead walks around the circumference of the dance floor to collect you from your seat. You wait in your seat, and not jump up  (tsk, tsk, tsk) to make certain that you were the intended recipient. The Lead comes directly to you and they proffer their hand to you. You smile. You Accept. And then rise. They guide you to the opening on the floor. They invite you into their embrace, and you try to remember everything your teachers have taught you.

It’s right about this point you notice something. It’s actually hard to miss. So much tension in their embrace. It’s stiff, rigid, hard. Their left arm is like a steel cable! Their right arm around your back is beyond ‘firm’, it’s restrictive. You’re not going anywhere. You feel like you can barely breathe. Your mind reels a bit from the compression across your back. Dancing ensues. You try to absorb and manage, and to find some place to exist. You’ve dealt with Leads before that are a little too ‘man-handle-y’…but this is a whole different layer of … JESUS H. CHRIST!!!! WHAT IN THE HELL WAS THAT?!?!?!?!?!?!…OW!!!!! You’re pretty certain that particular vertebrae doesn’t twist in that direction!!!! Another twist, another compression, another push, shove, pull, ….another, and then another, and another. Watching them dance was one thing, they looked so nice to dance with, but the reality of dancing with them is nothing short of painful. The only thing that’s running through your mind at this point is when is this going to stop ?

The Realities. Every Follower in the world has had to deal with some measure of this type of Lead at some point in their Tango lives and some on more than one occasion. This Lead is not fictional, they exist. And they look like perfectly lovely leads to dance with until you get them in the embrace, and then the reality of the situation hits you.


There is still another one that happens with greater frequency than anyone would like to admit, is the Lead that well…there’s no nice way to talk about this, ‘Grinds’ on their Followers. Meaning to seemingly (or actually) rub their engorged genitals on their ‘partners’ so that they can “Dance”. This one can’t be overstated that it happens, and we must as a community address this one, but that’s a topic for another day in another post. It’s here as the other major prominent issue that gets commingled with today’s topic because the solution (the nuclear option) is the only viable option left.

The Lead that Talks. Uuuuugh. There’s already an entire Practical Tango Advice on this one, so we won’t duplicate the effort here except to say that there’s a really simple method for dealing with the Lead that talks in the Follower’s ear while their dancing with them: “I’d love to talk with you after the tanda is over, but right now I’m trying to focus on your embrace and the music…” or “Perhaps we can chat afterwards…“. Sadly, sometimes Male Leads don’t hear this at all, so the Follower quite literally has to say it a few times because 4 steps later, the Male Lead will start yapping again!

The Lead that Teaches. More Uuuuugh. It’s not desirable. Just “NOOOOOO”. The Lead that is teaching the Follower is creating more problems than it’s worth, furthermore the Follower that’s asking for feedback while dancing at a Milonga, not a practica or a class where it is appropriate to ask for feedback, is breaking protocol while at the same time setting up a precident that’s not desirable. Let’s nip this in the bud. Giving unsolicited feedback to anyone while they’re dancing with you, even if you know them, is unacceptable on any level. There are rare exceptions to this, but even if you are a local teacher, you shouldn’t be teaching anyone, anything, ever at Milonga. Ever. Practicas ? Yes. Class ? Possibly (depending on whether or not it’s your class). Milongas ? Never. All it does is create a stressful situation where no one is focusing on the dancing component but rather the perfectionism component. This is a time for dancing, not teaching. If you want to learn something take it outside, off the floor, and into a private lesson or a class. This also applies to “advice”, “help”, “gifts”, or whatever you want to call it. These things have no place at a Milonga. Ever.  Below is a common event that happens with enough frequency. It’s an example:


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The Need For A Plan. In either of the situations above, and a whole lot more that happen that aren’t detailed above, one could easily say, “I would have left after…”. The reality is that a good portion of Followers don’t know how to handle this stuff. It’s easy to say what you would have done when it happens to someone else, but when it’s you, and you’re in the moment, and you can’t believe this is actually happening to you, most people freeze, they don’t react with aplomb or in way that is constructive or helpful. They RE-act in a way that is akin to someone pulling their hand away from a hot stove. 

One could easily say “I’d have said ‘No’ at the beginning when they Cabeceo’d me because I was watching them”. To be fair, that may be true, but the reality is that most Followers really don’t know what they’re looking at. A Lead may LOOK ‘nice’ by some standard they have in their head, but what are the telltale signs of a ‘good’ lead ? 1.) Their Followers smile a lot. 2.) They’re on the beat. 3.) They have nice lines. Generally most people can’t answer that simple question. Or their answer comes down to tried and untrue “they have nice connection”. What the frak is that about ? Connection is a myth. This page has detailed this Tango Myth in exhaustive detail, go read it if you’re curious. All that stuff aside, we watch people dance, we decide if we want to dance with them for one reason or another, and then the reality of dancing with that person sets in and the expectation isn’t what we though it would be, and truthfully it’s far more discomforting than that. The whole reason why there is a need for a plan in the first place is so that when you find yourself in a situation that you can’t fathom, that you know there’s a way out. Rather than stumbling through a nasty social situation without one.

So a plan was devised to salvage a situation where under certain circumstances, like those laid out above, a Follower had a plan to extricate themselves from an unsavory experience with the minimal amount of pain while at the same time, saving face.

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Have you seen some of our Popular Posts ? On the topics of Asking A Woman To Dance ? Asking a Man To Dance ? The Follower’s Rescue Plan ? La MarcaTango RigidityI Move MeResistance ? Connection ? The Active Follower ? The Seven Basic Moves of Tango ? These topics and more are some of our more popular items, go look. You won’t be disappointed! 

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The Rules. In Tango there are always rules for things. Believe it or not. Follow the Line of Dance. Try not to hit anyone. Dance on the Beat. Be respectful to your partners. Some of these rules are based on Codigos, some of them are based on the construct of the dance itself. These are rules that serve as a way to orchestrate a social dancing experience that works for everyone.

One rule that we try to adhere to in Tango is: Try to be as polite with people as is humanly possible. This is a social dancing experience and we all to have to peacefully co-exist at the milonga together without strife. There may be people there one doesn’t particularly like, there may be friends in the room, and somehow you have to fit those things together so that a social experience is not unpleasant. So you do whatever is humanly possible to maintain order and decorum, and that means engaging social niceties wherever and however possible. But sometimes, it’s important to recognize when social graces (as they’re sometimes called) need to be superseded like in the instances above. Because the reality is that you as a dancer are being pushed, pulled, compressed and quite honestly it’s unpleasant, if not downright painful. You have to take care of you at some point so that you can dance with other people later on. However, we need a method that adheres to the social graces in some way, shape, or form, while at the same time creates an out for us if necessary as in the case where someone is acting outside of the social graces that we all accept and abide by.

Another important rule is: We do not discuss someone’s technique while dancing with them, ever! At no point along the curve do we engage in a conversation of how someone is dancing, what they’re doing, or how they’re doing it. It’s supposed to be a social dance. Meaning it’s about the dancing part, not a class, or a workshop. What goes part and parcel with that is also no teaching someone while you’re dancing with them either. There is a time and a place for that stuff which is a Class and/or a Practica, not at a Milonga! And most certainly not while you are dancing with someone! And that’s even more so true if you are a teacher. Just because you teach, does not give you the right to critique someone’s dance. They’re not your student, they haven’t paid you for your time. It’s not your solemn duty to correct their form. That’s what classes are for, not the Milonga. Milonga = Social Dance Time. Class = Instruction. Practica = Feedback. Got it ? Aside from that the last thing that you want to do is invite a conversation while dancing with someone, that you don’t know all that well, about their execution of X, Y, or Z (their technique). Because the moment that you do, the dance usually devolves into a socially awkward situation of people defending what they’ve been taught. The exchange goes something like this:

Dancer 1: “My embrace is too tight ?”
Dancer 2: “Yes.”
Dancer 1: “My teacher said….”

This is no longer dancing at that point, it’s a discussion involving technique. And usually, one person walks away from the experience with a bad taste in their mouth, if not both.

Also remember that the Milonga is no place to discuss one’s dancing while you are dancing with them. It’s a ‘SOCIAL’ dance, remember? Emphasis on the ‘social’ part. It’s rude to do so. 

Where The Plan Comes From. Not that this stuff really matters, because you just want a way to make the situation above stop! But it may help you to understand that the plan comes from about 5 years of teaching in an A/B environment with 3 different levels of students. Where group ‘A’ gets X and group ‘B’ gets Y, and then recording their responses to X and Y. It comes from lots and lots of crowdsourced feedback. It comes from personal experience, it comes from the rules above, it comes from lots and trial and error (more error than you can imagine). And it also comes from lots of successes employing the right sequence of events when things don’t go as planned.

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The Plan. (Finally) The plan comes in 4 phases.

Phase 1: “Something Can Be Done About This ?”. This phase is all about arm and body adjustment. When you’re in an comfortable position and you need to send the message that you’re uncomfortable, you physically reposition yourself as much as is possible within the construct of the embrace. Now to be fair, if the Lead is squeezing the living daylights out of you, and you’re in their armpit, moving within that is going to be quite challenging, so you may have to apply more than a little bit of muscled force to this to make it work. The reality is that most male leads don’t realize their own strength, their own physicality. So what’s easy for them, is 2 or 3 times harder for you.

This means taking your arms away from them, moving your arms constantly, trying to reposition yourself back in front of them as often as is possible. The reality is that that this tactic may not work for the reasons stated above. It’s at this point, we engage phase 2.

Phase 2: The Little White Lie. You whisper in their ear for them alone to hear, “Love muffin, you know I love dancing with you, but I have a sunburn on my back, if you would be so kind as to loosen up your embrace a little bit…”. You don’t have a sunburn. You just don’t want to visit the Chiropractor the next morning and pay 125 dollars! So why not just say “Would you mind loosening up your embrace” ? Why not be direct about it ? Because the direct approach will backfire on you. Every. Single. Time. The Lead hears that statement not as quality control, but as  “What’s wrong with my embrace ?”. However if you create a situation where it’s about a sunburn or a physical ailment that you have no control over then they’re more likely to hear the quality control. If you make them question their own inadequacies it is less likely to get you the desired response that you’re looking for. So we invoke a Little White Lie! The Sunburn, The Back Injury….making it about those thing, they can hear that and then adjust accordingly. While it’s true that a direct approach has its benefits of asking for what you want immediately. The fact is that the direct approach will only invite the conversation you want to avoid having with that person…remember, the rules above ? Politeness and Technique ??? Remember ?

Invariably the fact is that 4 steps later (if that) this Lead will go back to doing what they’re comfortable doing. Why ? Because it’s familiar to them. They can’t do anything else. And without intervention they’re not going to change what they’re doing. They’re going to continue to do it because that’s all they know. And you teaching them on a social dance floor to stop squeezing you to death is not going to help. It’s just not. So it’s at this point rather than lose your patience with this simple request, we must, sadly and unfortunately progress to Phase 3. While it would be nice if it stopped there…it’s not going to. Sadly.

Phase 3: Wash, Rinse, Repeat!  Meaning ? You’ll have to repeat Phases 1 and 2 a few more times. How many more times depends on a few factors. 1.) How far into the Tanda you are. 2.) How much pain you can handle. 3.) How ‘open’ this particular Lead is as a person. This one is understandably a little vague on the detail of how many times, but it really is up to you and you have to gauge what and who are you are dealing with. So you may have to repeat yourself a few times to remind them. And remember reposition first, and whispering second. The whisper part is kind of important. They should be the only one that hears you. “Remember ? I have a sunburn ?”….or “Just a reminder, nothing too compressive right now.” You may have to say this a few more times or something like it. And then add the “I’m sorry….”, they’ll understand and move on from there.

This should be the end of it, right there. You shouldn’t have to go any further. However, there are times, when said Lead isn’t paying attention, or they just want to perform 57 types of Sacadas that they’ve just learned in a class or watched on youtube, and want to show off to you that they’re the most amazing dancer ever! Or for whatever reason they’re just not listening.

Phase 4: The Nuclear Option. Assuming that phases 1 thru 3 have failed. Assuming that you have put up with all that you can handle from this Lead. Assuming that you’d like to be able to walk tomorrow. 🙂 You can engage the Nuclear Option. What’s that ? It’s where you unhand yourself from the embrace and walk off the floor. You do not stop. You do not engage in a conversation about X, Y, or Z. You make a bee-line for your table or more importantly the rest room and hang out for about 5 or 10 minutes. This is the extreme option, to be certain and is used in extreme cases where the Lead isn’t going to listen to you period. It’s also used in that 2nd situation above where the Lead is using you for their own ‘pleasure’.

If it is the case where they’re pleasuring themselves, there is absolutely nothing wrong with showing this creep the door because to be honest with you they aren’t there for dancing, they’re there to get their ya-yas! And so that we’re absolutely clear about this, the sooner that you invoke this option, the better. So skip right to this option the moment they cross the socially acceptable line of behavior that is acceptable to you. To be fair this last piece of advice is a bit tricky to dole out because your idea of ‘socially acceptable’ and someone else’s almost never line up with each other. Which is to say that if they’re rubbing themselves on you, do a mental check list first. Like for instance, if this is a male Lead, are they in a state of arousal. If so, are they deliberately trying to rub that arousal point ? Several times ? Usually a man will try to avoid that area as much as is possible while not trying to draw attention to it. The polar opposite is true of the creep. If these things check out, then walk. If not, and you’re not sure, wait till the end of the song, and then invoke the Gentle Nuclear Option.

The Gentle Nuclear Option. If you can stand it until the end of the song, wait until then, and simply state the following: “Hmmm I don’t think this is going to work. I need to sit down right now.” No one will argue with what’s just happened, and quite honestly they may actually walk you back to your table. You just can’t stand it. Nothing needs to be discussed at this point. You sit. They leave. You may have to do a little small talk but thankfully the tanda is over and you can go back to your dancing life at the next available opportunity.

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The Pink Elephant In The Room. Given today’s political climate around a woman’s place in society, we have to address a few things before we go any further. 1.) Why should a woman subjugate herself and apologize to a man for what he’s clearly doing wrong ? She shouldn’t. 2.) Why do we, as woman, have to go through all this bullshit just to get his majesty to lighten up so that we can have a nice time ? You don’t, and you shouldn’t. Ever. And 3.) Isn’t this just saving a man’s ego ? No. Not by a long shot. 

The first question is a good one if and only if the article contained gender bias. It doesn’t. There isn’t any. Go back and re-read it. There is only one place where gender is implied, there’s only one place where gender is visually stated, and there’s only one place where gender is overtly supported. The rest of the time, the language is clearly Lead, and or, Follower. Not ‘he’, ‘him’, or ‘she’. Note the specifics of how you’re perceiving this stuff. It’s written from a gender-neutral perspective!

The second question, again, assumes gender bias. However, let’s assume for a moment, that we remove the gender bias from it and re-ask the question without gender bias. “Why do we have to go through all this bullshit just get the lead to lighten up so that we can have a nice time ?“. See ? No gender bias. Now we can address the question. This has already been addressed in the section above of in the ‘Rules’ section, which boils down to Being Polite, and Not Discussing Technique. However, again, let’s assume you’re in earnest here and aren’t coming from a gender biased position. Why the hoop jumping? Can’t we just get right to it ? Yup. You can. Go right ahead. See how far that gets you. Like it or not Tango is still a very gender biased dance. It’s changing, ever so slowly, but it’s changing. This is one of those places where it’s not going to change anytime soon. And because of that we still have to jump through a hoop or two. However, to be fair there are some Leads (not Lead/er, see the link to understand the difference), that do pay attention, that ARE open to feedback, that DO want to know if they’re squeezing the living daylights out of their Followers. (see ? no gender bias in that statement) Those Leads, on the other hand, are few, and far between the more prominent ego based Lead that believes or thinks that they’re sh*t doesn’t stink. So rather than engage in an argument with their ego, we circumvent that entire process and make it about an ailment instead of the fact that they’re being less than desirable right now. They can hear that. If they’re hurting someone, they hear that. If it’s about their faltering technique, they more than likely will reject the possibilities and implications. Think about it, if it were you, wouldn’t your first question be “what’s wrong with what I’m doing?”. So we bypass all of that noise of basic human desire not to take responsibility and instead make it about a reality that it’s about a lower backpain. Mind you it’s a lowerback pain that they’re causing you but we just omit that little tiny factoid. Problem solved.

Truthfully you can go the direct route, and see how far that gets you. Really. Go ahead. You’ll see what this article is saying is true. Do your own A/B test and see which one works. Don’t just take this stuff at face value, go do your own test. Yes everyone is a little different, but when you get right down to it this A/B test will result in the same things articulated above. But please, go do your own research. 

Lastly, isn’t this just saving the man’s ego ? Well if we remove the gender bias from the question, “Isn’t this just saving someone’s ego ?”. No. It’s not. If you proceed to stage 4, the Nuclear Option, then it most certainly is not. All that you’re stating up until that point is that things aren’t going so well and rather than jump down someone’s throat over the fact that they’re being rough with you, or they’re squeezing you, we err on the side of caution and try to work with them, instead of giving them the full throat response….”HEY PINHEAD, STOP F*CKING UP!!! OW THAT F*CKING HURTS!!! LIGHTEN UP!”. That response, by the way, will only cause more harm than good. It will only cause them to blame the victim instead of actually hearing the victim. Once you’ve got them to hearing the victim, now we can move them, ever so gently towards a practica where we can suggest through feedback (see the feedback link on how to do this) on how they might change what they’re doing. 

It’s “NO” until phase 3 because we’re really just stating a preference at that juncture. There’s no ego to save. If and only if we’re proceeding from an assumption that they’re doing something out of ignorance. Which, truthfully, they are. If, on the other hand, you know for a fact that they’re doing what they’re doing out of arrogance, then proceed to the Nuclear Option.

Hopefully this addresses The Pink Elephant in the Room.

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The Wrap Up. The fact is that this is a process to make the milonga a more functional environment. You can modify this methodology to taste as to what works best for you. Use this as a framework and create your own, but it’s good to have a plan for when these things happen, for when there’s a mismatch of skills and abilities that are uncomfortable. And also for when there is the creepy guy that isn’t there to dance but for something else.

This article is not a finished product. Contrary to what you might believe, it’s still a work in progress. While the author has gone to great lengths to ensure that the plan works, has done their requisite homework in extensive testing, and lots of crowdsourcing feedback, the fact is that it can still be further refined and tweaked. Hopefully, there will come a day in the not too distant Tango future where this process isn’t needed at all and we can all just say, “Ow that’s a bit uncomfortable for me, can lighten your embrace a bit ?” and then they do and we move on to far more important things.

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