Following - Leading
It took time but when I discovered this 3-stage development in my dance it facilitated the acceptance of certain difficulties. I knew it was not forever but for now!
This development chain can be activated in different situations during the dancers' life. It is the main tendency but it can also be activated when you want to learn a new skill or technique. Sometimes you maybe need to adapt your dance to a partner or pista at a different stage.
Following - Leading periodI consider that these two roles were created just for learning purposes! When we were starting up no one knew how to take the steps together in tango so the process would have been chaotic - to organize the learning the split of responsibilities was activated as well as the leader/ follower hierarchy. During this period the dancers learn to manage their own body and tango moves as well as the communication with, to and from, the partner.
I still remember how I was physically moving the follower during my first leading year. When she started to recognize my lead and we were able to complete the sequences then the lead, the physical impact could be lessened. Back then the leaders talked about moving a piece of furniture during a tanda but I am sure we were many, who acted as a moving service even when the follower was doing her part beautifully.
Later on we learn to communicate more effortless but my ability to adapt to surprises was still fragile. If the follower didn't respond by the book, if her response was not the one I expected the dance crashed, we stopped and restarted the sequence from the beginning.The same happened when another couple disturbed us!
Both groups will learn their own movements and communication. On top of that the leaders work on some additional responsibilities - they need to know the follower's steps, create the content and musicality during a tanda - making the leaders learning period longer. When the followers had learned their own part they could start to enjoy the dance with those leaders, who could offer some flow and smooth steps. Some followers will take this further and start to fully rely on the skilled leaders, who provide the musicality and more complex movements.
When we have developed our tango movements, a stable communication and we can manage surprises then we are well prepared for the next stage where we will meet more like equal partners. The leader/follower structure is changing to a dancer/dancer structure.
Partnering periodOne day we will notice that the material is enough, the movement vocabulary and rhythmic patterns are enough so we will have satisfying variation during a tanda. Our ability to adapt to partners' unexpected moves and to react on surprises from the other couples grows and we will be able to manage the most situations on the pista without losing our dance flow. This increases our freedom and we can lessen the hierarchical structure of the roles and the dance will be a more equal type of partnering. In the beginning, I led every step but later on I knew that she was able to place her steps to music so I just communicated positions and directions. I actually danced with her upper body only and she took care of her own steps according to music and how our torsos were moving.
Because both dancers are now dancing more intuitively without constant mental control so there will be free capacity to pay attention to the partner and music. After 10-15 years of leading I was blown by the diversity among followers.
I have met the active partner followers as well as the relaxed, meditating followers and it is equally fantastic to dance with them. It seems that followers (leaders ?) who have been meditating or active in yoga have easier to relax while moving. In those cases my role has been to provide a flow of steps which is not boring but not too energetic either, just leaving the follower in the relaxed state of mind. If the dancing crowd is experienced then even I can relax and trust on the other couples' navigation skills.
A partner follower can create steps without the lead but she needs to follow the navigation lead which we have to maintain on an immature pista. If she is doing a Noelia, a rhythmic drill, she should develop a skill to continue even if the leader has to navigate or starts to dance too. It is the same demand as on the leader - I need to be skilled enough to change direction, speed and so on if the pista conditions force me to but keep our dance going on.
It was a rhythmical tango tanda where I was doing a quite fast path in the song. Suddenly I felt how she softly fall into a slower path also available in the music. It was a good choice so I hang on to the same path. I could have continued and she could have followed her choice but this time we went together.
We can also melt together when the following and leading are lost and the intuitive dance takes over. The dancing is not controlled, planned by the intellect but just happening, following the music playing. You often loose the feeling of time!
We are not any more leaders and followers but two dancers and we both listen to music and choose our steps. The challenge now is how to combine these two individual dances to one dancing couple. How should the arrangement be done for these two bodies?
Mature pista periodI had been dancing for some hours without a collision. Then suddenly I bumped twice to the same couple before me. He told me later that they were beginners - to my eye quite good dancers. That moment created the idea about a pista skill the experienced dancers have.
If you are driving a car you also know how smooth (some) experienced drivers can advance together. At the moment when you have a newly licensed driver before you the situation changes - the reactions can be too fast or too slow. They react differently and you need to pay special attention to those cars. The same can happen on the pista!
Experienced dancers are doing different steps but still they share a musicality, pista rhythm, so the movements are predictable. They go when the music is driving forward and they advance slowly when music is asking for that. They feel how different crowds move on a pista or what kind of speed certain orchestra creates on the ronda.
One of the navigation skills must be about musicality but it is also about the ability to turn your figures so you are coming out and continuing in a planned direction. The ability to vary step lengths within a figure gives you also flexibility to adapt to ever varying pista situations.
All these skills are needed to get a mature pista providing you the feeling of total freedom in your dance and the feeling of dancing to the music, with your partner as well as with the total pista!
The mature pista can pulsate! You can see it on some videos, here you have one!
How long time does this main development take? I have an estimate just for the lead/follow period coming from a tango teacher. She said that the preparation to partner stage usually takes five years and if the transition has not happened by eight years it will probably never occur.
URL for the video