... On the technique of following in tango.

From Tango-l (MIT)

Date: Mon, 26 May 2008 22:30:02 GMT
From: "larrynla@juno.com" <larrynla@juno.com>
Subject: Re: [Tango-L] Tips for Followers? prt 1
To: tango-L@mit.edu
Message-ID: <20080526.153002.14813.0@webmail11.dca.untd.com>
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This sent to me by someone who occasionally reads TANGO-L but is not a member. Posted with her approval. -- Larry de Los Angeles

Do whatever you have to do (special exercises, pilates, ballet, yoga, practices with women only) to develop your core strength and your flexibility. It may appear that the follower is leaning against the leader, but what is actually happening is that she is supporting her own weight with her core and using the touch points of her right hand, the left (upper) portion of her torso and the palm of her left hand to maintain her connection to her partner. At times, you must be able to swivel your hips while simultaneously maintaining a connection, reorienting your axis and executing a long, curving step around your partner. This is what gives the dance its characteristic sinuous quality. You should be doing molinetes in practice embrace by the hour, because it helps you build those disassociated back steps. Since the leader also executes moves that require this disassociation between the upper and lower bodies, your practice will be valuable to you when you resume the leader’s role. In terms of posture in the close embrace connection, nothing is more important than keeping your core from sinking. I know this may sound vulgar, Larry, but remember it’s tits up at all times.

Place an emotional pause/neutral place at every gather, and gather every time. The neutral spot will be invisible to an observer and in time with the music and will not interrupt the flow of your steps, but it is critical to your partner because it allows him to amuse you by breaking apart rote figures. At any time a leader may want to use pauses, syncopations, checked moves and reversals in direction to interpret the music or manage a busy dance floor. If you aren’t in a neutral position you will miss this exquisite moment of connection and rob your partner of his opportunity to join you with the music.

Always walk on a straight line, stepping behind yourself on an imaginary line extending from the heel of the weighted foot. This creates a pleasing visual line and avoids an ungainly open-legged stance for the follower, while keeping you in a narrow channel on a busy dance floor. I think it adds subtlety to back ochos (particularly when only one is executed by navigational purposes) because you are starting from a fine line, not a block of space. I know not everyone loves the single track idea, but I think women who do this look better than women who don’t. [IMHO, there are also considerable technical advantages to walking in a straight line: it accentuates the extension, simplifies the impulse of pushing away from the axis, and it helps to affirm the connection with ones partner. What I don’t believe, therefore, is that this is something to strive for simply for the sake of appearances; one needs to search for the feeling of a technical advantage, the sensation that it is more comfortable than not, to walk in a single line. Rather than a cosmetic or stylistic consideration, imho, this is a natrual development or consequence of dancing as easily as possible with good connection. -- GM]

When walking, learn how to extend your unweighted leg in a long, clean, straight line without disrupting your axis or your connection or increasing the sensation of your weight on your partner. There is a difference between getting more extension by bending the supporting knee and getting more extension by lengthening the musculature that supports the hip. Practice extending your leg without allowing your head and chest to become closer to the ground. The most elegant leaders step into the open space (even beyond your supporting foot), and the visual line created by the alignment of the two legs reaching into the open space (especially in a contra-body position) is especially beautiful. By stepping in a single line, you leave him as much open space as he can use. That long, hungry forward step on an elegantly extended leg (enhanced by the tenderness of the embrace that joins the upper bodies) is the hallmark of the best leaders. Don’t rob him of the chance to show it if he has it. Much is made of the obligation of the man to make the woman look beautiful, but you must remember that you owe him the same in exchange.

Concentrate on the beauty of your feet and legs while stepping. Maintain a slight edge in your unweighted foot, with the ankle slightly broken to allow the ball of the foot to edge the floor. Keep your feet on the floor in every step in ochos, in molinetes, in giros, when walking.

Listen with your body. Many followers manifest concentration through a terrified expression: What is he going to do next? Will I know how to follow him?? Learn to express the raptness of your attention externally in a way that makes your partner glad to have you in his arms. It is more pleasing if your outer appearance says I hear the music and I am waiting for you to join us in an expression of this music and this moment. This is going to be wonderful. Since your partner can’t see your face, strive to manifest your attention through the aliveness of your connection in the places where you are touching him - your right hand, your upper torso and your left hand.

Don’t adorn every step. Although adornments are your opportunity to express your own joy they should also be an appreciation of the leader, an expression of your delight in what he is making of this moment. If he gives you a beat or two, use the adornment to enhance the lead that he has offered for this particular music. That could mean a staccato beat on your ankle if he has been dancing to the rhythm or a languid caress of the floor if he has been dancing to the melody. As you know from your attendance at US Milongas, it is can be pretty much all adornos, all the time, but in my view, they give a rote, auto-pilot look to the dance that isn’t pleasing. If you are lucky enough to dance with a particular partner often enough to understand his style, it is possible to engage in a sweet little call and response or point-counter-point in adornos, but this will be the exception, not the rule. Save it for the guy who really knows how to lead a boleo (that would be one in 50, in my experience; maybe the ratio is better in LA).

The most exquisite adornment I ever saw was during a vals at El Beso. The leader (older, paunchier) had just executed an amazing single-pivot turn that lasted for at least ten seconds. They were in a milonguero embrace, never broken, with her arm over his shoulder and her hand low on his back, between his shoulder blades. At the end of the turn, just as they stepped out of it, she smiled and lifted her hand to the back of his neck for two seconds and then slid it down to the center of his back, not in an icky, cloying way, but in a “man, you are amazing” way. She knew he couldn’t see her smile, and the lovely flutter of her hand and touch on his neck was her tribute to what he had created.

And yes, the shoes help, because your foot is already articulated and when you put your weight down on a 3 inch heel it only has a tiny distance to travel and you avoid that bumpedty-bump that you probably experienced when trying to step onto your toes and then roll onto your heel. I expect you aren’t planning to make a career of following so I imagine it won’t be worth it to invest in a size whatever-you-are Comme il Fauts, but if you ever get a chance you should try it.

I think open embrace (hand on bicep) is good for learning a step, and in my experience newer leaders like it because they aren’t having to deal with all of the anxiety of finding a place for their feet that comes in close embrace. It can teach a leader to lead with his chest (but mostly only if the follower continues to say, stop steering me with your hands) but it completely changes the way the follower manages her weight and axis.

If you really want to know what it is like to follow, you should be dancing with men. In my experience, women leads have a lot of difficulty with the chest lead. It takes a long time for them to learn how to bring the weight of the upper body forward before extending the leg. Of course, this could be complicated by the fact that there are too many peaks and not enough valleys when women dance together in milonguero-style close embrace. It’s better if the woman is bigger and heavier than you are. Don’t know what you have in LA, but if you are ever in Portland, Alex Krebs has a men’s technique class in which the men trade off lead and follow.