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.

December 17, 2017

Partner-Centered Leading vs. Self-Centered Leading

A leader is either partner-centered or self-centered. A partner-centered leader dances for his partner; therefore, he leads her in a thoughtful, patient, gentle and attentive way. A self-centered leader, on the contrary, focuses on his own performance and tends to compel the woman do things beyond her comfortable zone. For example, he leads her take very big steps, which a partner-centered leader would break into smaller steps; or leads her chase the beats, whereas a partner-centered leader would allow her time to finish her steps; or leads her do arbitrary figures, whereas a partner-centered leader would use simple steps to display her natural beauty; or shows off his skills and uses her as a foil to his own exhibition, whereas a partner-centered leader would accommodate her, pamper her, shine her and let her be the center of attention.

Here is an example of self-centered leading.

In this example, the man did not try to display the woman's beauty but only focused on his own performance. He neglected his duty to make her feel good but only concentrated on the choreography. He hastily chased the beats and rushed the woman to do awkward steps and drastic turns regardless of the lamentable mood of the music. As a result, his self-exhibition overshadowed her performance.

In contrast, a partner-centered leader dances for the woman. Here is an example of partner-centered leading.

In this example the man did not force the woman to take awkward steps, as being the case in the first clip, but led her dance in simple and natural steps. He did not focus only on the routines and forget the music, as being the case in the first clip, but let her enjoy, resonate with and dance to the music. He did not coerce her with the arms and hands, as being the case in the first clip, but kept her in the comfort of his embrace and led her very gently with the torso. He did not lead her without thinking, as being the case in the first clip, but carefully maintained her axis and led her by inertia to make the movement easy for her. He did not force her to rotate on a tilted axis, as being the case in the first clip, but adjusted his position to accommodate her turns on her own axis. He did not lead her do drastic actions, as being the case in the first clip, but danced slower and used more pauses to reflect the melancholy mood of the song. He did not rush her to chase the beats, as being the case in the first clip, but allowed her time to finish each step before he took the next lead.

These made it possible for her to concentrate inwardly on the feelings and the quality of her dance. Because the woman dances around the man, she needs to swivel her hips and pivot on one leg in order to step to his side with the other leg; after each step she needs to turn back her hips to get ready for the next step in a different direction. This technique, known as dissociation, complicates her movement and takes more time for her to complete the step. The man must understand that and allow her time to finish each step before taking the next lead, as exemplified by this man in the video. We can tell her appreciation from the way she looked at him at the end.

Please watch the video again in playback speed 0.75 in full screen to see how beautiful a woman's dance can be when she has a good leader. I recommend using this video as a teaching tool. Every tanguero, novice and veteran alike, can learn a lot about how to lead from this man. (See The Elegance of the Mionguero Style.)


  1. Yes, well put, Paul. The connection between the partner-centred couple is palpable.

    I find it very hard to enjoy dancing with a self-centred leader. It feels like he's trying to make me perform HIS set of tricks, rather than really dancing WITH me. However, I suspect that some ladies may enjoy being put to the test - perhaps to show they are able to keep up with him.

    Of course, there are also ladies who dance in a self-centred way. I'm referring to ladies who feel the need to embellish, regardless of whether it fits the lead and the music; or those who move ahead of their partner in anticipation of what he might be leading.

    Could this 'self-centredness' (of men and women) be a result of inexperience? Perhaps a result of teaching which focusses on performance rather than social dancing?

  2. These are two really good examples, thank you for putting them on show!

    It reminds me what to work on myself. The more experienced I become, the slower and more patient I am dancing. I agree with Patricia that it is a result of inexperience (and insecurity). The same applies to the ladies for embellishments and show moves.

  3. Well I would say the big difference is the fact that the first couple does e more show dance and the second just salon dance... thus it depends whether you expect to see show or salon.....to be really precize you would have to compare 2 salon-dances......;-)

  4. Here is another example of self-centered dance. I cannot even watch it for more than 20 seconds. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_YdCVwQ0lcc