Tango is not only a fascinating dance, but also a fascinating culture, idea, lifestyle, and philosophy. In many ways, tango is a metaphor of life. The pursuit of tango is the pursuit of connection, love, 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 species. In tango we are not individualists, feminists, nationalists, liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, etc., but interconnected and interdependent members of the human family. We are humanists. Tango calls us to tear down the walls, to build bridges, and to regain humanity through connection, cooperation and compromise. If you share this conviction, please join the conversation and let your voice be heard, which is urgently needed and long overdue.

Together we can awaken the world.




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 is the driver of the dance, who leads the woman in much the same way as holding a baby in his arms and tenderly sways her to dream. This theory reflects the macho culture of Argentina where tango was born. The man embraces the woman with his arm encircles her body. The woman settles into his embrace, rests comfortably in his arms with her breasts 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 has to make a step, or let her walk on his side by twirling and moving his torso to one side, or swing her torso, which will bring along 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 feeling of the embrace, the intimate torso-to-torso connection between the partners, and the rhythmic motion of the two 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 effect the movement of her 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 steps is to facilitate the embrace so that the two may remain one in motion. The feeling-oriented dancers use simple steps to avoid distractions. They concentrate on the music, embrace, 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 or pull with his hand, a pressure on her back, a tapping on her side, a squeezing in her palm, a press with his thigh against her 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.) The problem of this method, however, is the lack of standardization. Every man marks the steps in his own way. Without learning his set of signals, the woman would have difficulties to follow the marks. Due to such ambiguity this method remains not well defined. Nevertheless, it had a significant impact on the development of tango. Using signal to lead makes it necessary for the woman to interpret it. The man then has to adapt to her subjectivity. This changes how tango is danced. The Villa Urquiza style danced in a loose embrace and 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 their individualistic, feminist and "politically correct" cultures. According to this theory, what the gentleman sends to the lady is not a drive but a suggestion or invitation. The gentleman who has given the suggestion needs to wait for the lady to initiate her movement at the pace of her choice, and then follow her. The sequence 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.) This theory breaks away from the traditional tango. It suits the movement-oriented dancers who prefer to dance in an open dance hold that allows more individuality. Without the torso-to-torso contact, the drive, which comes from the man’s torso, becomes less direct and assertive, and hence depends to a large degree on the woman’s choice of whether, when, and how to accept the “invitation”. The man has to wait and adapt to her choice. As a result, gender roles reverse, movement triumphs over feelings, individual performance replaces synchronization, fanciness supersedes simplicity, and tango becomes tango Nuevo.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. I do a mixture of the first and last. I may be doing something wrong, because I find many women can not maintain the chest contact, it gets lost too easily, and when I flip to following while in the close embrace, women end up leading, which is tedious because there is the danger of banging in to people. Nice distinction though.

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