Tango Topics | Exploring Your Dance


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The Second Step Problem

As Leads, there are many issues that we need to address and then redress, and then revisit several million times over and the reason is that while we may believe (operative word in the sentence) that we’re leading X, Y, or Z, the reality is far from that. Usually. It’s only when someone shows us video of what we’re doing that we actually begin to believe it. Watching ourselves in a mirror, or getting verbal feedback from a Follower that is keenly aware of these things, assuming that we’re open for feedback in the first place that we even begin to suspect that there may be an issue. In Today’s Tango Topic we visit one of those issues.

Today’s issue deals with a near constant malady for Leads. It’s one that in typical leading fashion they may not realize that they’re generating at all. This problem comes up regardless of whether or not the Lead is an intention based dancer, or a resistance based dancer. Either one, in either way of Leading will generate the problem.

Assuming for the moment that the Lead has placed their Follower on their left foot to start the dance. The typical opening first step, known as a Salida step, and then engaged in Forward Intention which in turn asks the Follower to extend their free right leg backward. This is, by the by, a huge assumption, and the problem child, because this is where the problem stated above (assuming that we’re doing X) begins. What happens on the next step is The 2nd Step Problem!

What Is The Second Step Problem ? In it’s simplest form, as a Lead gets to the end of their first forward step, they’ll tend towards standing upright, or becoming vertical. And then thinking or believing that the Follower is following them, they’ll continue forwards without engaging Forward Intention on the next step. So in effect, they’re moving forward without sending the signal for the Follower to extend their leg. As a result, they’ll slide their foot (really their leg) ‘under‘ and into their Follower’s free space on the second step.

The problem is two-fold, not just one. First and foremost, there’s a lack of Forward Intention going on. Secondly the Follower is giving the Lead a walking extension without actually being led to do so!

In it’s complex form, this problem can come up anywhere. In the video above it’s show just from a walking step. In reality it can and will come up nearly anywhere at all. This problem/issue/concern is far more widespread than you think it is. The belief is that it’s just beginner dancers that exhibit this assumption. The reality is closer to almost anyone, almost 90% of dancers generate this issue.

From a Following Perspective, you are so indoctrinated to ‘following‘ that you don’t even realize that you’re co-creating part of the problem. You know that you’re supposed to go backwards, and so from the moment the Lead steps into your space you instinctively step backwards, without really listening if there was in fact a ‘lead‘ present. Further still, your leg extension is a mixed bag response, typically with a bent knee going backwards as you pick your foot up off the floor all the while moving backwards and trying to transfer your weight going backwards. So by the time the 2nd step comes around you ‘give’ you Lead (the person, not the action) the desired response by default and keep doing it from that point forward. To be fair this is partly your issue for not being an honest Follower, and partly your dance partner’s fault, for not being clear with you. Now some of you will hear this as ‘wait for your Lead‘, which is an erroneous phrase that we hear so much of as Followers from our teachers that it becomes 2nd nature to us. As a result of this message being communicated to us repeatedly we end up becoming slow, lethargic, and non-responsive. This is not about ‘waiting‘, but is in fact about ‘listening’, and there is a radical difference between the two. At the same time if you’re thinking that this is simple word replacement you would be wrong. It’s not. It’s a mind shift from a passive form of dancing (waiting) to a very active form of dancing (listening). Listening is an active choice, because it requires mental engagement on your part. Every time that you give the Lead exactly they want, you are in fact encouraging them to continue to do X, Y, and Z which you know (from dancing with better Leads) is less-than-desirable, you’re sending the message that what that is doing is spot and should actually continue to do it. This is an error. If you want to send the right message, follow exactly what was led (for now) and nothing more. If you don’t feel it, you don’t go there. Don’t assume, listen.  At the same time, don’t believe that because I’m picking on the Follower right here, that this is a Follower problem, it’s not. It’s a co-contributed issue!

From a Leading Perspective, you have issues my friend. First and foremost, your issue is a lack of kinesthetic awareness. Secondly, you are trusting or believing that the Follower is going to give you what you want by moving backward on their own. Thirdly, your level of proprioception is way off from where it should be. That said, your primary issue, aside from the above, is that are unaware that you want to keep the forward intention going…well…forward. There is always, always, always that tiny amount of it. Every time that you back off on the forward intention it sends a message to the Follower that we’re stopping. As a result, we should stop as a couple, but we don’t. the Follower is confused a bit, and you just blindly move forward expecting that the Follower will go with you. And there’s your problem right there! The expectation that the Follower will just go with you. That’s problem number 1. Problem number 2 comes in the form, of the today’s topic – The Second Step Problem.

Let’s assume that you’re leading from intention and not resistance and that you employ a little lean forward. That lean forward is your forward intention, it’s just enough to ask the Follower to extend their leg, hence the intention part. This is not apilado though. Apilado would be the balancing of full on lean against each partner, a shared weight between the partnership. Something akin to what Carlos Gavito would have done. Similar but not the same. As we complete the first step, we become vertical again, taking out the ‘lean’ forward (or forward intention), and now on the 2nd step we rear back a bit, and then slide our leg under the Followers trying to continue forward. This is less than desirable for a variety of reasons, most notably that we have not actually sent a message to the Follower that they should continue backward. We just assume that it’s going to happen. Secondly, is that we become vertical and thereby pulling back on the reigns as it were (thereby stopping the Follower, if they were being honest, which they’re not). And Thirdly we attempt to cheat the second step by sliding it into the Follower’s free space, and then bob-and-weave the next few steps trying to work things together. The embrace becomes unwieldy, the partnership of the couple becomes unstable, we have ‘bumper car tango‘ basically. Not a pleasant experience.

The Dancing Reality is that this issue happens so often and so frequently that no one bothers to understand why it’s happening or more importantly how the hell to fix it. Or even to recognize that it’s an issue. However, the better Lead in the room knows what the problem is, and the better Follower may not be able to describe the issue but they do know that there’s an issue and it’s having them work harder than they want to, which is reason number 9843 (on a list of reasons) why a particular better Follower will say “NO” to a particular Lead’s cabeceo!

Fixing it ? The solution to this problem is actually not as simple as you might imagine, and it has everything to do with ingrained habits for both roles not just the Lead. The common thinking is that if the Lead just leads and the follow just Follows that everything should, hahahahaha, just work out. Not true. There’s a lot of assumptions going on here and there in lay the root of the problem first and foremost. Secondly there’s a lot of giving things that haven’t necessarily been asked for. So in order to solve this issue, the Lead has to be trained to feel that they’re not actually generating forward intention at all. And the Follower must be trained to stop giving Leads what they haven’t asked for. However, doing that will take longer than you might imagine due to the fact that these are ingrained habits that you’re completely unaware of. And watching a 5 minute video on the subject is only opening the doorway just a crack.

To be clear there are several solutions that this site offers to address this issue. However those solutions are not on this page. They’re actually hidden behind a paywall, sadly. They’re not free. You do actually have to subscribe to see them.


explore your dance with a subscription! 😉

Why should you subscribe instead ?  Several reasons.  1.) Probably the biggest reason is to save a boatload of money. Buying these things outright isn’t cheap. Besides when you buy you only have access to the one video. Subscribing, on the other hand, gives you access to everything else so you can see the foundational material that goes with this stuff. 2.) Even if you’re a Free User, you’ll get access to free tips that aren’t available to anyone just reading the post like this one. 3.) Sometimes there are slightly different versions of the videos, that add a bit more content for the free user vs. an unregistered user. 4.) Because the Dancing Perspectives (Lead, Follow, and Dancing) are hidden to the open user. And that’s where all the information is at, unless you actually subscribe. Until you do, those very important textual descriptions of what’s going on for both Lead and Follow you want to read. 5.) And the real reason you should subscribe ? If you’re used to YouTube videos where you’ll see a performance, those Youtube videos don’t explain or walk you through how these ideas work! That is why! What you’re seeing is a presentation, a performance. Not how things work! And what you really need to see is how things work, and more importantly why they work! This website shows you that and more! 

Remember that what you’re seeing is a couple that is performing for the 15th row for a room full of people, they’re not social dancing. Whereas this website is all about ‘Social Dancing’  or how to make things function on a social dance floor. Social Dance floor ? Your local milonga! They’re showing flashy moves as a presentation! But not stopping and talking about how this works, why you’d want to put that piece of vocabulary there, or how to make things fit. This website is all about those things and more!

You could watch those videos and thereby spend your time, trying to infer, and figure out how things may work in that particular situation. Bend your body this way or that, twist and force this position or that. Place your foot here or there and figure it out. This is known as Tango Twister.  Which can be a lot of fun, but more than likely it won’t help you, because you’re missing something: The explanation from an experienced teacher showing you how to properly excute this stuff from a Leading Perspective as well as from a Following Perspective!

The goal of YouTube videos is to get you to study with those teachers in person. The goal of Tango Topics videos allows you to work at your own pace, in the comfort of your own space, so that you can play them over and over again to improve your understanding of the vocabulary or technique being described to therefore better your dancing experience. The goal of classes and workshops is to get you to come back over and over and over again, thereby spending more money with that teacher. This website and the videos under it are here to act as a resource for you to help you to improve your dance. Pay once and you’re done.

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 of how and why things work, so you can easily reference those things in the corresponding articles that go with the material, and or any language in the Tango Topics Dictionary. 

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