Tango is not only a fascinating dance but also a fascinating philosophy, culture and lifestyle. The search of tango is the search of humanity, connection, love, unity, harmony and beauty, 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 team, 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, accommodation, reconciliation and compromise. It is a dance that teaches the world to love.

October 8, 2012

Three Theories on Leading

The traditional theory on leading is the drive theory, which defines the lead as a driving force. According to this theory the man is the driver who activates the woman with his body as if it were the vehicle that carries her. This theory reflects the macho culture and traditional gender roles in Argentina. The man holds the woman tenderly like holding a baby in his arms. The woman settles into his embrace, leaning comfortably on him with her breasts gently press against his chest and her arm around his shoulder. She doesn’t need to think, plan and initiate the steps. She simply surrenders herself and lets him drive her. With the torso-to-torso connection the man can easily activate 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 to bring her leg to swing, or kneel down a bit and use his torso to swivel her torso to lead a planeo, or interrupt and reverse the swivel to lead a boleo, etc. The drive method is popular among the feeling-oriented dancers who incline to the comfort of the embrace, the intimate physical contact that facilitates the exchange of feelings, and the sensation of the two connected bodies moving in sync with music. For them, tango is synchronization. The word follow is not exactly a right notion because it implies delay. What makes a good leader is his ability to use his body to effect the movement of the woman's body. What makes a good follower is her ability to synchronize her movement to his. We need to know the steps to dance tango, but the purpose of the steps is to facilitate the embrace, so the two partners may move as one coherent body. The feeling-oriented dancers use simple steps to avoid distractions. They focus on the music, embrace, connection, communication, synchronization and feelings. This theory is the foundation of the milonguero style of tango.
Another theory younger than the drive theory is the la marca theory, which defines the lead as a mark or signal. The mark could be a push on her palm with his palm, a pull on her back with his forearm, a tap on her armpit or side with his fingers, a squeezing of her hand with his fingers, a drag of her hand with his hand, a sideways use of strength with his arms, a press on her thigh with his thigh, a touch of her foot with his foot, 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. According to this theory, “Mastering tango is mastering the making of signals.” (Tango, the Art History of Love, by Robert Farris Thompson.) The shortage of this method is the lack of standardization. Every man marks the steps in his own way different from others. Without learning his personalized signals, it's difficult for the woman to follow correctly. Because this method is not well defined, it could cause inconsistancy, misunderstanding, misinterpretation, incoherence, coerce and discomfort. Nevertheless, the theory has a significant impact on the development of tango. Using signals to lead makes it necessary for the woman to interpret the signals, and the man has to adapt to her subjectivity. This changed the way tango is danced. The Villa Urquiza style of tango danced in a loose embrace in favor of fancy footwork, hence relies more on the arms and hands to lead, is associated with this theory.

A more recent theory on leading is the invitation theory advocated by some Western dancers who, under the influence of Western individualism and feminism, oppose the traditional gender roles and prefer to dance tango in an open dance hold that allows the woman more independence and individuality. (See Tango and Gender Equality.) This theory defines the lead as an invitation. According to this theory, the man should not compel the woman but should present suggestions or invitations and respect the woman's decision on how to take them. The sequence is being described 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.) This theory caused some trouble. First, it changed the tango frame from an A-shaped frame to an H-shaped fram. Second, by avoiding direct torso contact, the woman cannot feel the lead with her chest and has to rely on her arms and hands to receive the lead. Third, it only works when she is an experienced dancer who knows how to follow his torso, otherwise the man has to make her with his arms and hands. Fourth, it sends confusing signals when his arms and hands act inconsistently with his torso. Finally, even if the woman knows how to follow his torso, since there is no direct torso contact, the lead that comes from his torso becomes less assertive, leaving room for her to act on her own, and he in turn has to follow her. As a result, gender roles reverse, movements supersede feelings, personal performance replaces synchronization, fanciness supplants elegance, and tango becomes tango Nuevo. (See The Elegance of the Milonguero Style.)