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 people and species. 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 is the driver of the dance who leads the woman in the same way as carrying a baby in his arms and gently swaying her to dream. This theory reflects the macho culture of tango's home country Argentina. The man tenderly 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 to him 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 lead her to walk on his side by twirling and moving his torso to one side, 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 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 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 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, 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 or pull with his hand, a pressure on her back with his hand, a tapping on her side with his hand, a squeezing in her palm with his hand, 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, the theory 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. That 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 the individualistic, feminist and "politically correct" ideologies in these societies. According to the invitation theory, what the man sends to the woman is not a drive but a suggestion or invitation. The gentleman who has made 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.