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Random Thoughts

Navigational Code for Leaders.........by Polly McBride


Re-printed with the permission of Polly McBride, Portland, OR   See her website www.tangoquest.net   

Men who are new to tango have no way of knowing the depth and breadth of adventure they are about to experience.  And if they knew, would they step even one foot in the door and willingly subject themselves to the mystic depths of tango culture, traditions, codes,  social idiosyncrasies and miscellaneous forms of ego torture that accompany this phenomenon?  Ha.  Tango is a dance of determination and survival.  (You won't find that statement on promotional flyers, but it's the real deal.)  Magic is the real deal too, but it'll never happen without knowing some of the secrets of the underlying system.

Here are a few clues that will hopefully help prevent (or reduce) sudden rises in blood pressure, gnashing of teeth and feelings of, well, there's no nice way of saying it, idiocy.  If you are an experienced leader, you probably know these.  However, knowing them and following them are quite different, and we all know men who know them, who probably know them but who keep their knowledge well concealed.  These are men who other men avoid dancing behind or near on the dance floor.  They cut across lanes, back up suddenly, whirlygig in place forever, and/or charge in front of couples when entering the floor.

Leaders are responsible for maintaining safety on the floor and following line of dance.  On a crowded floor there should be two distinct lanes of traffic (three if needed) and an open space in the middle.  The outside lane is for continued forward travel, with momentary pauses for musicality or traffic adjustment.  For an occasional larger move, it's ok to move outside to a corner or open spot on the floor and return to the line of dance, without disrupting others.

The inside lane is for slightly slower traffic and more intricate or complex moves depending on the amount of space available.  Moving directly to your right, men, without checking first, is a sure sign of a beginner or being irresponsible.  That is your blind spot, just like in your car, and you are putting your partner and neighbors in harm's way with that maneuver.  Cutting from one lane to another is just as annoying, dangerous and distracting on the floor as it is when a driver darts between the lines on the highway.

The center of the floor is typically occupied by the completely clueless, those who teach, (a more serious form of cluelessness), and those doing larger moves.  Some Center Area couples dance very carefully and continually watch traffic on all sides.  Others are there to show off.  (You know who you are.)

Respected leaders make eye contact with oncoming leaders and receive visual permission to enter the floor.  They carefully place their partner in position and begin dancing without disrupting traffic.  Leaders depend on each other for maintaining safety for their partners and floor mates and they should enter the floor with the same care and consideration as when entering a freeway.  If/when there is a collision, leaders should make eye contact with each other and accept responsibility, no matter whose at fault.  (That is a fundamental code of ethics.)

Do not lead high boleos or ganchos on a crowded floor.  Ever.  Do not lead figures that will disrupt travel of the couples behind you; do not take large back steps that endanger the follower behind you, and never move into your blind spot before checking traffic on all sides.  Safety measures assist in making the woman in your arms feel safe.  She will never connect with you on that magical level unless she trusts you.

Desirable leaders can dance in place with interesting rhythmic weight changes and small turns.  They create space to move in to that does not invade the space of fellow dancers.  They dance with musicality while maintaining a comfortable embrace.  Men who "get it" have found that dancing in a tight space is as pleasurable as traveling, and that simple steps done with finesse are more pleasurable to their partner than fancy steps that are uncomfortable or downright painful.    Women will remember how it feels to be in your arms for longer than whatever step or fancy schmancy stuff you do.

The most desirable leaders receive pleasure from pleasing their partner.  Most (possible all) women will say that their favorite thing about tango is connection.  The rest just haven't danced with a man who is thinking about her pleasure rather than his.

Floor Craft for Followers........by Polly McBride


Reprinted with the permission of Polly McBride, Portland, OR        see her website  www.tangoquest.net

Newsflash !  Film at 11:00 and any day or night at any practica or milonga:  Women share the responsibility for maintaining safe conditions on the floor.  Irresponsible and/or unsafe movements by followers can create dangerous situations for our partners and neighboring dancers.  "How can that be?"  a lady new to tango might query.  "Men do the leading, we only follow."  Naivete' ....how sweet.   (Remember when we were there?)

Although men make decisions regarding choreography, we determine HOW we step and skilled followers take steps in a safe manner.  The clueless or irresponsible step with abandon and sometimes create dangerous conditions.  They often make as if there were no one else on the  floor and throw in embellishments that extend beyond their space.  They seem totally unaware that they may be putting some unsuspecting neighbor in peril.  

A fact of life that men may or may not understand and most women don't really care whether or not they "get it."  We are, therefore we love tango shoes.   The higher and slimmer the heel, the more elegant we feel, and the more "tango" we look.  But, here's the deal:  Our shoes can become absolutely wicked when used improperly.  The slicing capability of  a three inch spike heel when connecting with flesh can be quite spectacular.  Have you seen or experienced a wound caused by an errant gancho, boleo, kick or other motion involving high energy and low precautions?  It ain't pretty and the pain caused is often second only to childbirth or passing a kidney stone.   On every milonga floor there are likely women with scars who slightly misjudged the distance between the bottom of their left heel and the top of their right foot when moving to the cross.  And there's probably a guy who would love to show us his scar from being whacked by some ditso's "lovely tango shoe" aka, "Lethal Weapon."

All instruction should include training and practice walking with our feet low to the ground, extending our reaching foot while maintaining contact with the floor.  Brushing the floor with the inside of the ball of our foot, and gradually taking weight onto the extended leg.  A sure sign of a beginner, no matter how long she's been dancing, is lifting the back foot from the floor and clunking down on it when changing weight.  Lifting the foot breaks the connection with our partner and the floor, two of the five connections in tango including: Oneself, the music, our partner, the floor, our floor mates.  (It's not as catchy as "It Takes Two...", but it's the real deal.)

When we walk backward, especially on a crowded floor, the man directly behind us is in harm's way if we pick up our foot and step back with our heel in the air.  As we move our weight on to it, there is the chance that our heel and his leg will connect with highly undesirable results.  (Not all collisions are the fault of leaders.  Women can be culpable too.   Most followers' accidents can be prevented by paying close attention to our floorcraft.)

Men who lead high boleos or ganchos on a crowded floor will have a special place in tango purgatory; however women who add their own high-flung flings will be right there beside them.  Women who dance with care and caution never kick up a leg without being 100% sure there is no one within a reasonable, safe distance.  On a crowded floor, it's impossible to tell when a couple is going to pop up out of the blue into the space that gorgeous three inch heel may suddenly come flying through.  (Skilled followers do not complete high boleos that are led in dangerous situations.  They resist and by reducing the energy they can keep their leg close to the floor.)

When dancing with our eyes closed, we completely, we completely entrust our safety to our partner.  In that case, we are usually in close embrace, taking small steps and our leader (dancing with safety in mind) will take good care of us.  On the other hand, if we are in salon frame and dancing with our eyes open, we can see behind our partner and can let him know if someone is about to step into his space and/or collide with him/us.  A small squeeze on the arm, a facial expression, increased pressure if  your hand is on his shoulder blade or other area of his back, or a word of warning are in order and quite appropriate.  (This is quite different from "back-seat driving" where the follower is continually directing her partner.)

Our side of the frame is not about being at the mercy of our leader.  We contribute rather than just participate.  And the more skilled we become in musicality, embellishments, and safe floorcraft, the more we can enhance our own pleasure.  And the men we really want to dance with are those whose pleasure comes through ours.