“Understanding the Structure
of Argentine Tango Dance”

Leading and Following: How Does It Work?

Leading and following is a dialogue that allows for the leader to navigate the couple. It consists of three phases, every step the same story:

1. La Marca

The leader indicates something (la marca). This is an invitation, or even a bargaining for a step of the lady. This is communicated by the torso (not the shoulders, almost no force in the arms).

It is actually as much he can do of the step without really committing to it, meaning he will always remain in balance on one leg, even if the planned step is to be abandoned. Since our feet have width and length, we can actually make tiny but sufficient horizontal movements without committing to (or worse: falling into) any step yet.

More correctly: the leader should not be concerned too much with his own step at all: it is all about caring for the smooth and natural movement of the follower. I know that for a beginning leader this sounds as pretty impossible advice ;-). But your own step will be decided on later on (see below).

Yet, trying to feel and being slow as to not lose her should be a more important focus than taking any step at all. It is absolutely OK to take ample time before taking any step, even in a live performance. One might even take the time to become fully aware of his and her breathing. The connection (also the technical one) may need time to grow.

That is why step patterns in a beginner's class are often the wrong thing to focus on, and actually even rhythmical music is often a hindrance in some kinds of beginner's classes: the follower might detach to perform the step pattern on her own: nothing learned except for a useless step pattern. And the leader might be trying so hard to get the common step on the beat of his planning that he ends up forcing the lady, not inviting her.

2. The Follower Moves

The follower moves or takes a step. It is nice if this step is consistent with what the leader tried to indicate/invite (mainly because of navigational issues, which in any case are the responsibility of the leader).

It is also part of the deal with tango. However, this will not always happen. This can be due to lack of technique (mostly the leader's), or it simply might have been a different interpretation by the follower.

The follower should do what feels natural to her and not worry too much. It really is not even about “doing” something. It is supposed to be more like surfing on a wave. The “doing” should be mainly: keeping your balance, posture and focus in a relaxed way. And being in the present, not caring about the future (including the next step). So that all attention can be given to enjoying the ride, and to expression and communication, and to influencing the process in any subtle way possible.

3. The Leader Follows

The leader follows the follower (period). Now the leader may step. He does something that accompanies the movement of the follower. Since he still was in balance when leading the beginning of the step, he can go any distance in any direction without problem.

This is not just corteous talk. This is reality. I know it seems like almost an impossible task to a beginning leader. It doesn't have to be if you allow for slow moving. Maybe forget about rhythm for a while in the beginning.

About “Undoing” Your Steps as a Follower

Followers: one could actually hide a small step for the leader by using the hips: the center of mass does move, but the upper body remains in place. It is something that happens in many latin dances. Since the leader cannot know you've taken that step, it is no tango! Even if you think your previous step was wrong (as if such a thing would exist :-)), don't try to “undo” it this way! A good leader is supposed to handle the last one gracefully, even if it came unexpected.


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