Today’s Tango Thought 117: The Female Lead
This post isn’t about the benefits of learning to lead for the woman that dances, of which there are many. No. Nor is it about the hyper awareness of all the things you do not want to do as a Follower, which is going to happen by default. Nor is this post about the supposition that women of a certain age swap shoes and end up leading because no one wants to lead them anymore. Not. Nor is it about the fact the simple fact that some women do enjoy leading quite a bit and are actually (contrary to what you might believe) pretty good at it. No. Today’s Tango Thought is all about Women that WANT to Lead! (Just as a side note, most of this stuff also applies to the male lead too, you need the reminders).
Let’s be clear about something before we dive in, there are some people that may see this post as absolute, pure, unadulterated heresy. There are some that may see it as a breath of needed fresh air. And there are some that may see it as “who gives a damn”. In all cases, you should at the very least read it before you pass judgement.
So you’d like to Lead but you and have some trepidation about it ? So here are some helpful tips going down the leading pathway:
1.) Looking The Part. There is an iconic look to Tango, and in specific, the asymmetry of the Embrace! The ‘prow’ of the ship methodology that doesn’t get talked about enough (it’s a lengthy post on the topic, for later). Accept that for now there is an asymmetry of the embrace. And the embrace is what gives Tango its iconic structure. So as a woman stepping into the role of a man, you must in every way possible (minus the pants and the hair) ‘present’ as if you were man stepping onto the floor. One way to do this is to present as though you were as antiseptic as possible, meaning no laughing or giggling about what you’re about to do. Clean, quiet, and right down to business. Further still, no Tango Noise. Still another is to dance ‘small’, think ‘milonguero’ and not big steps or lots of vocabulary, but less, a lot less. Think simple, clean, clear. Try not taking up a lot of space in the line and lane of dance. This is a piece of ‘looking the part’. Start there.
2.) No Rock Steps. Please. One of the very first things that a beginner lead learns is the Rock Step. They use it everywhere. When they get in a jam, when they want to turn. When they want to start a move. The venerable Rock Step. The problem with it ? You, as a Follower, have forgotten what every Lead has done with a Rock Step to you! Meaning you’ve forgotten that when executing the Rock Step, it was done in a very stop and jerk fashion! AND/OR too many of them, everywhere. Instead of the Rock Step Everywhere Problem -> try these simple things Walking. Milonguero/Lazy Ochos. Walking Turns. Trust the author on this one…less is more!
3.) The Outer Track. Stay in the outer track of dance. Do not under any circumstances wander into the inner tracks. The inner tracks are the kiss of death for a Lead. You must learn to walk, navigate, and dance in the outer track, that’s where the real game is at. How’s that ? Usually working in this space means working in the minimal, with minimal resources. It’s about a.) Keeping The Following Moving. b.) Executing Within The Existing Space (see item 5). and c.) Executing within the Musical Structure. All done without 27 million rock steps! Staying in the outer track will hone your abilities to work in tight, close quarter dancing which you will need later on. So eschew the middle of the room and the 2nd tracks….but instead go right for the deep end of the pool, the outer track!
4.) The Existing Space. There is a certain amount of trepidation that happens when you are needing to execute something within your lane of dance at a very specific time (music). However, eventually you’re going to have to learn to execute X, Y, and Z within the existing space that you have and not wander all over the line, and more importantly the lane of dance! You must learn to use the space that you have to do X, Y, and Z within the time that you have.
5.) The Obstacle Course. You’re going to reach an obstacle, and then you’re going a.) Freak out. b.) Immediately draw a blank as to what to do next. and then c.) You realize the the obstacle isn’t moving. As a matter of fact that obstacle is going to stand there, in your way, showing off more than likely. And you some how have to manage to do several things all that the same time like keep the Follower moving, within the space that you have. How do you do that ? Fortunately this site has a few tricks up its sleeve for just that purpose -> Walking Turns for one. The Golden Nugget Extension series for another. And still one more -> Patter! There are other options aside from the ubiquitous rock step everywhere issue! Ahem. Explore them. Play with them. They’ll come in handy in ways you can’t even begin to imagine. You must learn to navigate within the obstacle course that is line and lane of dance!
6.) The Freak Out Fear. You’re going to have fears. Fear of screwing up. Fear of hitting someone. Fears of running your Follower into someone else. Fear of a thousand things. You must learn to manage your fears. We all have them. The fact is that your fear does get transmitted to the Follower in very real and palpable ways. Trepidation for one. The trepidation of uncertainty of a movement or step and it’s execution. Lack of clarity for another. If you’re not clear about something, then you know what ? You shouldn’t be trying it out on a social dance floor. So it’s a really good idea that you practice the frak out of X, Y, and Z often with as many partners as possible at a Practica, not a Milonga. This is all done to minimize your fears!
7.) Body Parts In Unfamiliar Places. The fact is that when the same genders dance together, the same physiological sensations that you’re used to feeling aren’t there (unless that’s your baseline). The fact is that when 2 women dance together there’s what do you do with the breasts ? There are several options, but probably the best of the bunch is pay no attention to it. The reality is that some people have gender issues, and tend to believe or think that just because two same gendered people are dancing together then that must ‘mean’ something. It means exactly what it means, dancing. Nothing more than that. Two bodies will find a way to manage in a space of comfort. Treat a close embrace as though you would with a Male Lead, you’re going to put your torso against theirs. Yes ? Do the same.
8.) When In Doubt, Ask The Organizer. In today’s Tango world it is far more accepted that a woman can learn and dance the role of a lead than it used to be. This wasn’t always the case, and there are still places where you just do not even engage the thought. Certain Milongas in Buenos Aires where you do not even entertain the thought. There are even a few Milongas in Europe, the United States, and Asia where that option is ‘frowned’ upon. Which is to say that just because you want to Lead doesn’t mean that the organizer of the event is cool with it. Some organizers believe that it destroys the fabric of the visual of what they want their event to look like. The message that it sends is not respectful of the form. And if you’re thinking that this is just a guy thing, think again. There are a fair number of women organizers that feel the same way: A Woman Should Follow. It’s not their place to lead. So when in doubt of wanting to lead and you’re not seeing other women leading, ask the organizer just so that you’re not pissing anyone off.
9.) The Mirror Tells No Lies! You are about to walk into a world where you’re going to come face to face with yourself, lots and lots of yourselves in every possible way you haven’t even thought of yet. This is probably one of the single greatest tools to helping us to dance better on either side of the gender gap. The real education of what happens when we lead someone very similar to ourselves. No teacher, no class, no workshop, or partner, or video will ever tell you what this simple action can and will do for you. Put simply you are going to be leading a whole bunch of partners who for one reason or multiple reasons are mirrors of yourself. How’s that ? From a Following Perspective: The thudding when you walk. The pulling with the right arm. The pushing with the right arm. The compression with the right hand. The hanging/hitching post with the left arm in close embrace. The head tilt. The wobbling everywhere. And that’s not including a backstep of a molinete that steps away from the lead, nor the ochos that require ‘resistance’ (fallacy)…just to name a few. All of these things and more not mentioned are present and will be present in the Followers that you’re going to dance with and it will a.) drive you batty. and b.) make you realize that you don’t want to do those things either! Talk about an education!
10.) The Arrogance and The Ego. There is one more reality, you’re going to be faced with an arrogance that now that you’re leading, socially, that you know what the Follower should be doing. Well yes. There is some truth to that. However, the reality is that has it occurred to you that how you’re leading X is what’s causing Y ? Probably not. As a result as a Lead you’re going to build up some arrogance and some ego about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. Yes you’ll have some empathy for the Follower but like all leads that have walked this path before you, you will tend to get a bit, egotistical that if X was led, then Y should have happened and clearly it was the Follower’s fault for not executing it. Clearly! Ahem. Not. Most leads don’t ever consider that they’re generating the issue, that how they’re leading something is what’s generating how something is being followed. That if a few simple changes were made, then leading X and following Y would be sooooo much better. So here’s some simple advice: Less ego and arrogance, and more empathy. 😉 .
All that said, and that’s a lot, there are a few intangibles that need to be addressed.
There Will Be Judgement. You will be judged whether you realize it or not by the room and by perspective partners. And if you’re in an unfamiliar place and you’re wanting to lead other Followers (irrespective of the male variety) there will be a certain amount of trepidation and judgement, there’s no getting around this one. Sadly. Tango dancers are a judgment-based lot by happenstance. But even more so when the roles reverse like this. So be prepared for some attitude. It’s going to happen. The best thing that you can rightfully do is pay attention to the local social mores and try not to ruffle anyone’s feathers. If you do, that’s there problem. Do your thing girl and do it well!
The Wrong Chromosomes. Girl, there’s literally nothing you can do about this one. You’ve got the wrong chromosomes for the job that you’re wanting to do. The body parts are all wrong in some people’s minds, and in the wrong places. Get over it and don’t concern yourself with that stuff. Trust this, that if you’ve done the things above, this won’t be a problem. You’ll have another problem, learning to say ‘no’.
One More Thing. Becoming a good Lead isn’t about the vocabulary. It’s not about the steps, patterns, and figures. It’s not. Contrary to what you may have heard from every other Lead that you’ve talked to about this stuff. This is known as the ‘Fallacy of Leading’. The reasoning is that if you know enough steps, patterns, and figures, that you’ll have enough to keep a Follower occupied, to keep them ‘entertained’, so that you don’t ‘bore’ them. Extending this out a bit: think back to all those dances where a Lead tried out every Sacada known to man and Follower in under 3 minutes! Or kept you in a constant state of any one of the 27 variations of your Molinete (and yes there are 27 variations in close or open embrace). Was that a desirable experience for you ? Probably not. No. Now think back to the most desirable experiences that you’ve had as a Follower. They were simple dances like the one depicted above, simple walking in time to the music. They were clean dances. Meaning they were devoid of pushing, pulling, compression, tension, and force. They were clear dances. Meaning that your lead felt as though they had a command of what they were asking of you and knew every aspect of what you were going to do before you did it and then managed every possibility afterwards. It was playful. It was interpretative of the music. And most of all the Embrace was delish and delightful.
The thing that will continually set you apart from every single Lead that has come before you and the reason why you will be more successful Lead, more so than the male lead, is one simple truth: You know what it’s like to be in the role of the Follower. You know how you do not want to be led! That simple truth puts you in a far better position to lead someone else. Truth be told you’re already a better lead than most simply because of this of the fact that you already know what it feels like to be led by a less than desirable lead, an unclear lead, a lead that pushes and pulls, a lead that talks to you while you’re dancing with them, a lead that corrects you verbally while you’re dancing with them, a lead that does all of that and more, and since you know what all of that is like, do you want to do those things ? Probably not. So don’t.
So here’s some simple advice. These points above are just the tip of a very large iceberg, but following them (no pun intended) can help you to achieve your goals of becoming a desirable Female Lead.
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