When our emotion is stirred by a beautiful song, often our body reacts to the music with a rhythmic motion, whether it's nod, shrug, tap, or swing. A similar reaction occurs when a man dances tango. The rhythmic motion of his body contains an energy with dynamics and direction perceptible by his partner, who is connected to him in the embrace, telling her how and where he is moving.
His partner, too, is listening to and stirred by the same music, although she does not initiate the movement. She now is not on her own but in unity with him in the embrace. As follower she restrains her own reaction to the music, surrenders herself to him and lets him lead her.
He leads her by sending her a signal with a little impulse through his torso against hers. The signal is quite subtle, almost unobservable by others, but she can feel it. Using torso to lead is a characteristic that distinguishes Argentine tango from other partner dances. It is a very intimate and comfortable way to lead.
A common mistake of a tall man is trying to use his chest to lead a short women. To do so he has to bend his knees and waist, resulting in a bad posture. Man who is much taller than his partner needs to use his stomach to lead in order to maintain a straight posture. Another common mistake is using hands to drag or push the follower instead of using torso to lead, or sending mixed signals by torso and hands not moving in the same direction. Experienced leader keeps the signal from his torso and hands consistent so the follower would not get confused.
On receiving the signal the follower should act in an “exaggerated” fashion. That is, she moves farther than what the leader proposes. Since she is usually shorter than him, and is usually in the periphery dancing around him who is in the center, she needs to make bigger steps around him. Some women take the signal too literally and do not amplify their steps, leaving the leader little choice but pushing harder. Experienced follower knows that a signal is just a hint or invitation, and it's up to her to make the big leap forward. The more experienced the follower, the subtler the signal, and the smoother the dance.
After the signal, the motion of his torso does not stop, but the leader holds his leg just slightly to allow the follower step first, and then follows her. If he does not wait, she will feel being pushed. For her to enjoy dancing with him, her movement should be her own action and not a forced one. Waiting and stepping after her also give the leader an opportunity to adjust his step to match hers, thus make the dance coherent. A common mistake of the leader is to lead the next step without completing his weight change from one leg to the other. As a result, the follower, who is connected to him, has not completed her weight change either, but is rushed to make the next step before she is ready. On the other hand, a common mistake of the follower is to initiate a step that conflicts the lead. The follower should not anticipate the next move, but should wait and follow the lead.
The follower must keep her one balance. Failing to do so may cause the leader to lose his balance. A good follower is neither heavy nor too light. It's strenuous to dance with a heavy woman, but if she is too light he can’t feel her. A good follower is neither stiff nor too soft. It's not pleasant to dance with a rigid woman, but if she is like spaghetti he can’t enjoy her either. A good follower is relaxed, comfortable to hold in the arms, surrendered with slight resistance, self-balanced, and remaining in control of herself. Inexperienced dancers often release their tension onto their partner through the grab of the hand or crown of the head, which causes heaviness. Everyone has his/her own way to release tension. It is preferable to release tension through feet to the ground.
A good follower follows by intuition so she can concentrate on the music rather than the lead. The leader does his part to lead her dance to the music, but he can only do so by estimating the beat. If the beat is already on, then it is too late to signal her. The problem with estimating is that he can't be one hundred percent accurate at all time, especially when a song has irregular rhythms, and many do. Very often, his signal is slightly too early or late. For this reason, the follower should listen to the music and be responsible for keeping her own beat. If she only concentrates on the lead, she will miss the beat more often than she thinks.
Tine Herreman wrote: “For the follower, the music is an added lead, which is additional to the leader's lead. The more experienced the leader, the more his lead and music lead will converge to form a harmonious message. This is one of the things that make a good leader easy to dance with. Familiarity with the music helps the follower anticipate the rhythmic structure of the lead. The leader can rely on the follower's knowledge of the music to interpret his hints. Also, the follower can use the embrace to alert the leader that she wants to interject some musical interpretation of her own, for example, slowing something down to go with a wall of violins, or a freeze when the follower knows a break is coming. Followers are well aware of the opposite situation where the leader leads one thing and the music another, where the timing is off either by being out of sync, or out of phase with the rhythmic structure of the music, phrases pass by like they don't exist, breaks/suspensions are ignored and walked over, and ganchos/boleos are led without the least bit provocation from the music. In such situations the follower has to choose to commit to one lead and tune out the other lead.”