I have always been a bit obsessed with the desire to be clear and to be understood. Maybe it was my upbringing in a bilingual household with an emphasis on reading and writing skills that imbued me with this desire. Whatever the origins, it is funny that now I teach, and am always seeking more clarity and ways to create understanding for my students.
For me language gets in the way of dance. How do we possibly describe what goes on in our bodies to another person? How it moves? And will your experience be anything like mine even if you can describe it to me?
And here is another example where this is true. In Spanish there are no words for lead / follow. What they do say is the man / the woman. And in teaching when they speak of the lead they use the word marcar which literally translates as to mark. For example: El hombre marca el boleo. Which translates literally as The man marks the boleo.
So where does this leave us?
For me, the American cultural implications of the words lead / follow aren’t enough to describe what these 2 roles are in the dance. I find that the word follow implies a passivity. Follow is defined by my online dictionary as – go or come after (a person or thing proceeding ahead); move or travel behind. I don’t think there is such passivity as is implied by the word when dancing tango. And the word lead reminds me of what you do to a horse on a lead.
Regardless of gender (see Queertango) and the role you choose to dance they each need to imbibe certain qualities and characteristics. Each role is important and Argentine Tango doesn’t exist without them. Some qualities without getting into describing movement, might be viewed the same as for any leadership role: assertive, open, creative, humble, just to name a few. And I have taken on the word compañera or companion to replace the word follower, for now. Honestly, the dictionary definition still doesn’t do the word justice! But how ironic that in looking for some pictures to post with this blog, I came across signs that say Follow ME, with the implication that the one with the sign is a leader. For those who have danced long enough know that these 2 words begin to change their meaning in the dance too. Often times we hear teachers say, The leader needs to follow the follower. Which will confuse any beginner.
I try experiments with my university class. I explain to them what I have posted here. I have found that semesters where I try to change the word for follow to something else or even raise the awareness, that the outcome tends to be different for the compañeras in the class. I don’t have any hard statistics on this but those compañeras seem to enjoy the dance and stay dancing through the club on campus or through my classes more so than in other semesters.
What are some words you might use to describe the roles of leading and following as you are understanding them in the dance?