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What do leadership communication and Argentine tango have in common ?

posted Mar 16, 2015, 4:24 PM by Sophia de Lautour   [ updated Jun 20, 2017, 3:19 PM ]
Sharing this post by Jacqueline Heere, an international executive coach who describes herself as a passionate Argentine tango dancer and declares 'My Argentine tango proficiency serves me in having a strong business acumen.' These quotes particularly held my attention:

"The tango leader needs to be clear and determined when leading the dance, but should be at the same time a very good “listener”."

"...you build a short-time trusted relationship with your dancer. And isn’t leadership, apart from authenticity and empathy, also about creating trust ? You cannot be a great dancer, or leader, without bridging the gap by creating trust."

What do leadership communication and Argentine tango have in 
by Jacqueline E.H. Heere  - originally posted on 4/9/2013

My first encounter with the Argentine tango was during my 3 year posting at the Dutch Embassy in Buenos Aires. During my regular visits to the authentic - working-class - “barrios” (neighborhood) in Buenos Aires where the Argentine tango was originated, I fell - I may add - head over heels in love with that elegant and seductive dance.

In the early 20th century Argentina became a melting pot of cultures because of its massive immigration, and all those different nationalities that arrived in Buenos Aires (mostly men in search of a better economic future) had one thing in common - apart from seducing a woman -: to communicate with one another.

When I arrived in Buenos Aires from Geneva I hardly spoke the Spanish language. After a little while I understood the basics of the tango better than I understood Argentine Spanish. Albeit when I left the country three years later, I spoke “slang” like a “porteña”, but my tango skills were hardly progressing.

It takes two to tango !

The Argentine tango is entirely improvisational, hence the difficulty of the dance. So it demands a very clear communication between the two dancers. A clear non-verbal communication, that is. But what do I mean by saying that tango requires a clear communication when the only language being used is body language ?

The tango leader needs to be clear and determined when leading the dance, but should be at the same time a very good “listener”. Because, first of all, not all dancers dance the same, they have different styles or have different levels of proficiency. But the leader should also listen to the music because a valse is not the same as a milonga.

And I don’t mean to scare you, but in the Argentine tango the dancers can alternate; the follower can - during the same dance - take over the lead!

It also requires a great deal of trust between the two, not only because the tango embrace could be experienced as ‘claustrophobic’, called ‘un abrazo cerrado’. 

In fact, to be a good communicator, even if you speak 6 languages, you need to be ‘audience focused’, you need to listen to and engage with your audience. Like in leadership communication the Argentine tango is, and should be, an ongoing learning process and therefore, should be practiced often in order to remain a certain level of proficiency or to make progress. In my 11 years of Argentine tango career I have restarted level 4 at least 4 times now.

So, the story “danced” between the two dancers is a fascinating one and a challenging one: No-one knows how the dance evolves and how it ends.

But one thing is clear: it takes two to tango!

Tango is about the journey, not about the destination!