September 18, 2009
To simplify things, I use the word push as a general reference to indicate a lead that is slightly forceful. There may be proper reasons for the leader to use such leads, such as when he wants the follower to make a faster turn or make a larger step. There may also be improper reasons, such as when he intends to force the follower do things beyond her ability. Whatever the motivation, that lead may or may not be followed perfectly. When it is followed perfectly, we don’t have a problem. When it is not followed perfectly, from the follower’s perspective it feels like pushy or pully. When that happens, it is an indication that the relationship between the two partners needs some adjustments. In a previous post, I discussed some of the causes from both the leader and follower’s perspectives. I believe both sides have issues to be addressed. The discord can only be resolved by cooperative efforts, not by the leader alone.
In Buenos Aires I noticed that, in general, Argentine woman dancers are more adaptive to the lead than their North American counterparts. Other than skill levels, there may also be cultural reasons behind this, since Argentina is known as a macho society, whereas American culture is heavily influenced by individualism and feminism. Many American women are not used to the physical closeness and surrender required by the dance. They are more independent and less accommodating than Argentine women. In response to the same lead, an Argentine woman may turn faster or make a larger step, while her American counterpart may say, “Don’t push me!”
Some theories created by some American tango instructors reflect a cultural bias. Such as “It is always the leader’s fault.” If the follower is not stepping where the leader intends, then it is the leader's fault because his lead must not be clear. If it is clear, then it is too pushy because the lead should be suggestive and should be as subtle as if there is no physical contact, as these instructors believe. But if the follower fails to follow such a lead, then it is still the leader's fault because that lead is beyond her ability to follow. The leader should lead according to her level and then wait for her to move at her pace, even though that pace is off beat or she is doing her own thing regardless of the lead. I just don't buy the logic behind this kind of teaching. I think it is one-sided and follower-centered.
“There is NEVER a reason to push a follower” is another one. I recently attended a workshop about how to use push as a leading technique. There are many reasons to use this technique. For example, the follower is not always familiar with the music and you need to lead her rather than letting her dance off beat. When the music has different intervals, you need to hold the movement, or accelerate it, or decelerate it. Sometimes you push the follower to make a larger step to accommodate a prolonged note, or push her move faster to adapt the accelerating music, or slow her down if she is too hurry. Most women I have partnered with appreciate such lead because it helps them to dance to the music.
It is true that too often push is used improperly. The follower may interpret the music differently from the leader by accident. She may need more time to finish a step. The leader should allow her time and freedom to be an active part of the dance and accommodate her as much as possible (as the music allows). Just as the undersdanding of the follower's perspective could help the leader to adjust his lead, the understanding of the leader's perspective could help the follower to be more coordinative. I prefer a balanced view and not just blame one partner for everything, or just ask one partner to listen to the other. I believe tango is a dialogue between the two partners, who should listen to each other, adjust themselves to each other, and allow each other to make mistakes sometims. However, I also believe tango is a led dance in which the leader's role is to lead and the follower's role is to follow, not the other way around.
This post is a response to the following comment http://groups.yahoo.com/group/cu-tango-discuss/message/103
Posted by Paul Yang