Leading women

Dancing with my instructor,
learning apilado...

"bend your knees
lower . . .
lean on me,
lean, lean, lean
. . .even more.
That's it.

I have you."

A perfect "A" frame.
Balanced, connected.
The embrace soothes my always wary,
and untrusting lizard brain.

I wrote this shortly after my apilado class. My teacher was a woman.

This topic came up in the comments on another post about women leaders. There are many fantastic female tango instructors who lead very well. There seem to be fewer that are able to create a feeling of connection, safety and comfort, however. (I say that knowing only too well that I am an absolutely terrible leader. I would dread following me. )

That said I never imagined what it would feel like to dance with a woman who was so comfortable in her skin, so grounded. It's rare enough for any of us to achieve that state I think. Relaxed into every inch of our bodies. How can you not be comfortable dancing with someone in that state? Male of female? Leader or follower?

I have no intention of learning to lead at this time. But I have a criteria for the time I do consider it. I will learn to lead when I'm comfortable enough in my own body, in my own dance, that I can focus on the experience of my partner. When I can internalize Ampster's very excellent advice - it's all about her (or him if I'm leading a man.)

Right now I can hardly extend my leg correctly, so it may be awhile.


Robert Withers said...

My male teacher is so comfortable with his body and his spirit we can practice milonguero moves. And I'm not very gay.

Frances R said...

"I will learn to lead when I'm comfortable enough in my own body, in my own dance, that I can focus on the experience of my partner."
Learning the leading role may help you achieve that much sooner.

Mari said...

Withersr - thx for your comment. I forgot to speak to the other side - of men following men. We have several men in our community who are excellent followers. They contribute so much to the advancement of new leaders.

Frances R - it's one of those things that's a bit of a paradox for me. I know you're right. If I learned to lead, it would most certainly help me get comfortable - except that right now I'm so self-conscious, it seems like it would be impossible for me to be confident enough to lead. But I guess that's every new leader's dilemma. How do you lead from a space of confidence and self-assuredness, when you're neither confident nor self-assured, since you only just started leading?

Anonymous said...

As a woman, there is no hurry to learn to lead, unless you want to teach. There is a lot to becoming a good follower and frankly a lot less pressure for us in the dance.
A leader has a lot to think about. He has to be a few steps ahead in his mind about the music, he must navigate the floor successfully, he must make his partner look and feel good (and safe), he must interpret the music and allow his partner to do the same.
In this day and age where men do not know where they are in the world of women, at least in the dance they can be the man and make decisions. It is the only time I really let go and listen as I make decisions for myself all of the time!
I think men can make themselves better leaders by learning to follow, but I don't really see how learning to lead is an asset for a woman as very few women leaders develop a real connection (or dance close embrace) with their partner. One might learn a lot of technique but can you really give what is inside of you to another no matter what the gender? I am not so sure.

Sophie Tango said...

I disagree with London Tango, learning to lead or even just "grabbing another follower and giving it a go" can make the pieces of the puzzle fall in place... in reverse. I've had "ah, that's what he's trying to do" moments when leading a move. I rarely lead because that's not what I wish to develop, but I value leading, it complements my practice as a follower, and also feels like a different dance, as the role is not the reverse of that of the follower, but completely different.

Mari said...

londontango - if I had not recently had the experience of dancing with a female teacher in apilado embrace - feeling that safe, comfortable connection (and being beyond surprised by that connection) I would have totally agreed with you. Most women who have led me have done so in open embrace, with great connection to the music - but no connection to me. It's tricky - and it's awkward. But I've seen some of the other followers in our community learning to lead, and the leaders saying that they're following has improved. *shrug* I won't know until I try - and it may be quite awhile before I work up the nerve.

Sophietango - I agree that it seems to give a better understanding of what leaders are trying to do - especially those very "soft", subtle leaders. It also, I think, helps followers get a sense of the true difference, as you said, between a follower simply mirroring a leader's movements - and a follower actually following the lead.

Anonymous said...

@ Mari,
I believe that in order to lead well, a man should know what it is like to follow, only so that he can know what he is really asking his follower to do. So many men haven't got a clue as to how uncomfortable their lead can be or unclear.
I still stand by what I said earlier about following. I don't believe that it is that important to know how to lead in order to know how to follow well as every lead has (or should have) their own unique style. I never said that it wouldn't be helpful, only that I don't think it is necessary. After all, there really aren't that many moves in Tango; forward, backward (if one must), ocho, hiro, sideways, and whatever variations there are of those. Not rocket science. It is a walking dance after all.
You haven't been dancing that long, so it makes sense to me to perfect and be comfortable and confident in you dance before you start leading. Like putting the cart before the horse. Just my own opinion, of course.
@ Sophie
For you, taking a lead helped clarify something for you. We are so different in the way we learn. I learn by looking, doing and feeling. I don't care what the man is doing as it doesn't stick in my brain. If I can't feel it from him, I can't do it and so to me it means that he isn't doing something right as I can only do what I am asked to do and I know that because I most always do it when the teacher asks me.
A good leader will dance to the level of his follower and he has to know how far he can take her by starting out simply and building things up. I am a big fan of less is more.

happyseaurchin said...

i am generally stressed by teaching women
since they have embraced the leading side
and it is often...
how can i say it...?
not what i do

a rather dramatic event happened around this time:
a woman had heard of me from her friend
and wanted to dance with me
and we had come close to it but not yet met on the floor...

on the night i danced with her
i heard that she was a good teacher
and i asked if she led too
to which they replied

and so it came to pass
that we found one another on the floor
and the tango had begun
from the moment she left her seat

and how sweet it was!

she said it was the best segue into the embrace she had had

there are a few women who are so good
so good
they can even invite men to lead consciously
without becoming leaders themselves

but it is rare

i'll recommend her
in fact
i'd recommend that she goes travelling and teaching