Teaching Tango

About Leading and Following

Tango LegsI 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?


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So much tango again this week!

Saturday I am conducting 2 workshops. These will be the last for this year. I would love to hear what you would like for the New Year.

12 – 1:30pm is an Intermediate workshop around Dancing to Rhythmic Orchestras. Then at 1:30pm I will be doing a concept class on La Cruzada. I will cater this class to all levels. We will clean up technique and look at variations. $15 per class or $20 for both.
These Saturday workshops are at SNAP Scottsdale Neighborhood Arts Place 4425 N Granite Reef Road, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

PLEASE RSVP so that I can balance these classes.


Saturday night Rommel and I will be teaching the class prior to the Masquerade T Milonga in Tucson.
https://www.facebook.com/events/208701122595968/  5200 E. Speedway Blvd in Tucson . See you at 8pm.


Sunday Beginner’s Milonga
6:30 – 7:30pm Basics Class
7:30 – 9:30pm Beginner’s Milonga
$12 class + milonga
$6 milonga
$10 class
Rhythmic Expressions 617 S. McClintock Dr. Ste 3, Tempe, AZ (Just north of University on the East side of McClintock)



Rommel and I will be teaching class on Tuesday at SNAP.
7pm – 8:30pm Technique and Paso class
8:30pm – 11:00pm PRACTICA
$15 class+ practica
$10 class
$10 practica
SNAP 4425 N Granite Reef Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85251





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So Inspired

It was chilly this last weekend in Flagstaff but refreshingly so. ASU Tango Club hosted their fall retreat with teachers Korey and Adeline Ireland. The crowd consisted mostly of tango students who had been dancing at least one semester +. There were a small group of tango newbies diving into the tango pond and they managed magnificently without too much splashing about and only sore feet! I was so happy with the presence in the classes on Saturday – I think I counted over 70 people in the room. WOW! There were community members from Flagstaff and Sedona. Some people from Phoenix came and Prescott.

Korey and Adeline jointly guided us through techniques for walking and connection and then later on pivoting and boleos. Korey graciously played his bandoneon for us to dance to or listen to on Korey playing bandoSaturday night. (The bandoneon is the signature instrument of the sound of Argentine Tango.) The atmosphere was fun and light. I was so happy to see so many young people enjoying tango and each others company, making new friends and visiting with tango club members from previous years.

I am reminded that tango is about connection – connecting to another person, to yourself, to your community or a new community, and to music. Korey and Adeline spoke about really listening to each person to hear with our bodies what is needed in the connection. The result of all that listening is where all the fancy moves come from.

I wish you a week of happy connections! Where are you connecting in your life this week?

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To Push or Not to Push – The Floor

I have been catching up on my Tango reading. I have a pile of books that are about Argentine Tango journeys and stories and I am slowly paving my way through them.

Last night something caught my attention in a footnote, this author used the phrase pushing the floor.

I started to ponder this idea of what I say when I teach and to whom and why.

How many times have you heard a teacher say:
Push the floor
Caress the floor
Receive the floor
Use the floor

Could it be all of these things?
I reflect on my wide student body and think that all these are possibly true at different times in our tango lives. A concrete way to get a student to feel the floor or become more grounded is often to tell them to push the floor. In doing this they appear to become more aware of their relationship with it.

I remember when I was first learning, one of my teachers would say, caress the floor. And at that time it made me think of being very light and in retrospect I was either praised or criticized for that lightness. “Oh, you’re so light!” a dancer would say seemingly enthusiastically. I also remember a guest teacher pushing on my shoulders saying, “you’re too light, get heavy” as he continued to push down on my shoulders in a dramatic effort to make me heavier.  This obviously did not help me!

In an effort to make dancers out of most non-dancers in Argentine Tango, I think teachers try to find a fast route to groundedness. What the heck is that?

As a modern dancer, who also spent many hours taking ballet classes, I trained my body to use gravity in creative ways: to jump, to dart, to fall, to roll, to pound and all these actions made me very aware of my relationship to the floor. In order to fall to the floor or collapse into the floor without hurting myself several actions or reactions had to take place: my joints had to be mobile, my core active, and I had to have an awareness of the soft parts of my body. (In a nutshell!) As I would allow my body to “succumb to gravity” there would be an opposite reaction in another part of my body to support it.

The same thing happens in tango. It is as if the body is divided top and bottom half – the lower half is the legs working with gravity (and against it!) and the upper half is projecting upwards to support the lower half. Graciela (Gonzalez) has been using the phrase 50% up and 50% down, which makes sense to some and not to others. But if you can imagine that your body is naturally designed to support itself from its center you are 1/2 way there!

How ever you decide or have been taught to use the floor just ponder on what is supporting that action. If you are focusing on only 1 direction, down, your energy and intention will send that message to your partner. This could be a heavy ride for either party. If there is an equal and opposing reaction the body, both as a lead or a follow, is already a better conduit for information. And of course, don’t forget your embrace is part of that 50% up and towards your partner.Where's the support?

I leave you with this cartoon. If you can imagine realigning this poor fellow by stacking his mid section on top of his legs and then his head on top of that. It’s his TORSO or the middle of his body where his support would be coming from. I know we don’t look like this, maybe feel this way sometimes, but hoping that the image helps to support my point…His legs and his feet will bring all of his body through the lead.

Happy Reflections and Happy Dancing!



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2 Exciting Pieces of News: TedX and “For Beginners”

Save the Date!
And buy tickets… On Sunday November 11, 2012 at 4pm I will be 1 of several presenters for a local TEDx. What is a TEDx you ask? Well, TED.com is all about making available via the internet remarkable talks from remarkable people and TEDx follows in this same vein but TEDxon a local scale. They are fully planned and coordinated independently within a community.
Paradise Valley TedX is curated by sculptor, teacher, artist extraordinaire, David Bradley. Only 100 tickets will be sold at $6.00ish. ($5.00 + a service fee).
Get yours at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/273503
The event will be held at
Arizona Artists Guild, 18411 N 7th Ave. Phx. AZ 85023

starting at 4pm and will also include: a stimulating program of artists and creatives of all types, including Chriztobal Martinez, Greg Esser, Lisa Taylor, Brett Seymoure, Douglas Proce, Michel Zajac, Dennis McClung, Joy Kockerbeck, Tony Desylvester and Crossing 32nd Street.
What will I possibly be speaking about? You probably guessed, The Transformative Nature of Argentine Tango, this is the working title for now… as the spell check tells me that Transformative isn’t a word or is spelled incorrectly, I am already off to a creative start! Spread the word!

SECOND bit of news!

I am starting a BEGINNER’S MILONGA on Sunday, September 30th.
At 6:30pm there will be a Basics Tango Class  and then the Milonga begins at 7:30pm – 9:30pm.

I am excited for this opportunity to continue to share Argentine Tango with new faces. There will be traditional music played in tandas with cortinas in a friendly atmosphere.

Free ButtonBring a newbie to the Basics Tango Class on Sunday, September 30th and your evening is FREE!
The fun will be at Rhythmic Expressions 617 S. McClintock Dr. Ste 3, Tempe, AZ

$12 class + milonga
$6 milonga
$10 class


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