Tango is not only a fascinating dance but also a fascinating philosophy, culture and lifestyle. The search of tango is the search of connection, love, unity, beauty, harmony and humanity, i.e., an idealism that is not consistent with the dehumanizing reality of the modern world. The world divides us as individuals, but tango unites us as a community and people. In tango we are not individualists, feminists, nationalists, liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, etc., but interconnected and interdependent members of the human family. Tango calls us to tear down the walls, to build bridges, and to regain humanity through connection, cooperation, reconciliation and compromise. It is a dance that teaches the world to love.

October 8, 2012

How Tango Is Led

The traditional theory on how tango is led is the driving theory. According to this theory the man drives the woman with his body, like it is the vehicle that carries her, or like holding a baby in his arms and gently swaying her to dream. This theory reflects the macho culture of tango's home country. The man tenderly embraces the woman with his arm encircles her body. The woman settles into his embrace, resting comfortably on him with her chest intimately touches his chest. She doesn’t need to think, plan and initiate the movement. She simply surrenders herself and lets him drive her. With the torso-to-torso connection the man can easily actuate the woman. He can use his torso to gently propel her, or turn his torso to make her turn with him, or use his torso to tilt her until she makes a step, or let her walk on his side by twirling his torso and moving his torso in that direction, or use his torso to swing her torso, which will bring the swing of her leg to form a step, or increase the momentum that, after her leg lands on the floor, will carry her body pass over the center of gravity and lead to the next step, etc. The driving method is used by the feeling-oriented dancers who incline to the comfort of the embrace, the intimate body connection between the partners, and the rhythmic motion of the two intimately connected bodies moving together in sync to the music. For them, tango is synchronization. The word “follow” is an incorrect notion because it implies separation and delay. What makes a good leader is his ability to use his body to affect the movement of the woman's body. What makes a good follower is her ability to synchronize her movement to his, so that unity, oneness and harmony can be achieved. One needs to know the steps to dance tango, but the purpose of the steps is to facilitate the embrace and allow the two to remain one in the dance. The feeling-oriented dancers use simple steps to avoid distractions. They concentrate on the music, embrace, connection, communication, synchronization and feelings. This theory is the foundation of the milonguero style of tango.

Another theory is the la marca theory, which defines the lead as a mark or signal. The mark can be a push on her palm with his palm, a pull on her back with his hand, a tap on the side of her body with his fingers, a squeezing in her palm with his fingers, a drag of her hand with his hand, a press on her thigh with his thigh, a body posturing, or any combination of such. It is a secret code used by the man to tell the woman how he wants her to move. “Mastering tango is mastering the making of signals.” (Tango, the Art History of Love, by Robert Farris Thompson.) However, this method has serious flaws. Every leader marks the steps in his own way, without learning his set of signals, the woman would have difficulties to follow. Because the method is not well defined and standardized, it tends to cause coerce, incoherence and discomfort. Nevertheless, the theory has a significant impact on the development of tango. Using the signal to lead makes it necessary for the woman to interpret it, and the man has to adapt to her subjectivity. That changes how tango is danced. The Villa Urquiza style danced in a loose embrace, hence relying more on the hands to lead, is associated with this theory.

The theory dominating Europe and North America is the invitation theory influenced by the "politically correct" ideologies in these societies. According to this theory, what the man gives the woman is not a command but a suggestion or invitation. The man who has made the suggestion needs to wait for the woman to initiate her step at the pace of her choice and then follow her. The process is like this: “The leader ‘invites’ the lady to enter a room. She accepts the invitation and, in her own time, enters, and he then follows. In a sense, therefore, the leader has become the follower.” (A Passion for Tango, by David Turner.) The invitation theory breaks away from the traditional tango. It suits the movement and impression oriented dancers who prefer to dance tango in an open dance hold that allows more individuality and independence. Without the torso-to-torso contact, the drive, which comes from the man’s torso, becomes less direct and assertive, hence depends to a large degree on the woman’s choice of when, how and whether to accept the “invitation”. The man must wait and adapt to her choice. As a result, gender roles reverse, movements triumph over intimacy and feelings, personal performance replaces synchronization, fanciness supersedes simplicity, and tango becomes tango Nuevo.