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The two most essential skills for both leaders and followers

posted Nov 26, 2014, 6:29 PM by Sophia de Lautour   [ updated Jun 12, 2017, 8:38 PM ]
Sydney tango lessons
Deborah Bowman

Sharing this excellent post from Deborah Bowman (shared via tango blogger teacher Terpsichoral Tangoaddict) about what she considers to be the essential skills for leaders and followers. 

Her first paragraph says it all. I also agree with her dislike of the 'icing on the cake' analogy when referred to adornos. 

"I would class the ability to express yourself musically to a partner as the essential skill for both leaders and followers, together with the ability to listen sympathetically to your partner's expression, and adapt your dance to it. (Technique is only useful insofar as it lets you do those things as easily as possible.)

If both partners practise that from the beginning they will be more responsive to each other, to the music, and to the other couples on the dancefloor. Plus, they won't end up thinking of musicality as an advanced technique to be added on later, because it's actually at the root of everything we do. . . .
it seems to me that people who aren't able to understand follower decorations as anything other than things tacked on to the dance, like icing put on a cake, added after the structure, and having a lesser importance, are doing this because they are conceptualising things from a particular standpoint: the point of view of a leader who has already decided what to lead (or a follower unable to communicate with a leader).

Such a leader can imagine his step, as he planned it, occurring either modified or unmodified by a follower's actions (and such a follower would think of her contribution as absolutely separate from what has been led). Because he planned the step earlier, and his perspective is firmly rooted in his perceptual world, the follower's decoration is genuinely experienced as an external intrusion which is definitely 'added on' (or, because she doesn't know how to tell him she has something to say, she would experience her own decoration as something that has to be 'stuck on' unobtrusively).

This process of thinking of what step to do and then doing it is obviously something that happens when leaders are first learning - but it is equally obviously something that they should be encouraged to grow out of as soon as possible. After all, we all agree that the best tango dancers are ones who are 'in the moment' - this means reacting to the music, the dancers around them, and their partners.

These dancers don't experience active following as something 'added on', because they are shaping every step with the follower, as a joint enterprise - they are sensitive enough to incorporate what she is suggesting as they go along, with no 'I thought I was doing this but then she put that on top of it'. (And a follower who is able to communicate will be communicating with the leader all the time, as things happen.)

Because of this, these dancers have a perspective which reaches out towards the perceptual world of the couple, and again, while a beginner can't do this at the beginning, s/he needs to know that this is one of the goals in tango, to become 'an animal with four feet and one heart'.

Beginner leaders who get this are, while they might struggle technically, excellent listeners and sensitive partners. But leaders who continue to push the cake/icing analogy might never get there, because it's out of their reach not technically but conceptually."