Leading, following, whinging

I admire women who can lead. And I am in absolute awe of women who really own the lead. They're not just going through the sequence, performing all of the right moves in the right places in the music. They're not leading the way they imagine they should lead. They're leading - from the heart, from the music, and from the core of their bodies. There is joy in their lead. Love for the music and for the dance. I know two such leaders who have such emotion and connectedness in their lead that I can fully and completely relax into the dance. I can feel the music through them. One of the leaders is playful, bright, and almost effervescent in her lead. I smile all the way through the tanda when we dance. The other leader is more serious, more intense - at first almost intimidating. But once the music starts - there is only the music and the feeling of total embrace. They lead like they mean it.

So when I was faced with having to lead due to lack of men in the intermediate tango classes I had signed up for - I tried to think of those two leaders and how it felt to be led by them. It was not easy. Mostly I was irritated that I had spent money on classes that I would now have to focus on leading in, rather than working on my following technique. As I wrote in a previous post, I had zero experience leading. Zip. Nada. Can't even walk a follower to the cross. And here I was in an intermediate class trying to figure out how to lead molinetes and sacadas. As I entered the third class with still more followers than leaders, my teacher said I would probably "get to" lead again. He added, it was great to learn to lead in case there were too many women at the milonga and you get bored. Bored?

Here's the thing. I've been to (loads of) milongas where I had to sit more due to not enough leaders. I don't mind sitting - especially when I get to catch up with my friends and chat. Have some wine. Rest my feet which I don't do enough. I also dance with the female leaders who ask - our community has some great leading ladies, including the two I mentioned above, and I enjoy dancing with them. However, I have no desire to lead "because I might get bored". I'm not saying it will never happen - it just hasn't happened yet. And the reasoning just felt like an excuse. 'Sorry you're not getting the class you thought you were getting, but this will be so much more fun.' Not so much, actually.

I managed to learn to lead one pattern. I did have a great feeling of accomplishment at being able to figure out very basic walking, pivoting and walking to the cross in one sequence - but I did not enjoy leading. I was too aware that I could not seem to get into the right place in my head to really connect with my partner. Truthfully, I was probably too busy mentally whining and bitching about the situation - but there you are. I hadn't signed up for a class to learn to lead. With my internal chatter pulling me down, I was not even able to approach the mindset of being a good leader - leading with my being - with my heart. That's where the lead starts. Without that I was just attempting to go through the motions. And that's exactly how it felt. Other women who were leading seemed to get so much more out of it (and were far better) than I was. I just couldn't get past that voice that said, what am I going to do with this later?

What follower technique I did get from the classes, were the same things I always work on - collecting my ankles and knees, working on my walk and my balance, keeping my core firm. The embellishments class (for leaders and followers) was comprised of adornments I'd learned already in practicas - amague, lapiz, and taps. I also, during the practica after class, got some much appreciated advice on following boleo leads low and slow.

Maybe I should have just commited myself early on and really thrown myself into learning to lead. Just suck it up and deal. At least then I might have gotten that much out of the classes. But I still can't help thinking that money could have gone to a private lesson.

The final irony of the whole experience was the teacher's advice to students to go out to the milonga that same night and try out what we'd learned. (**facepalm**) Because [sarcasm] that's what milongas are for, practicing your new moves.[/sarcasm].


St├ęphanie said...

You are a real good sport!
I would have not accepted to lead just because it's convenient for a teacher who can't figure out how to even out the numbers of followers and leaders but will still take your money. Soooo un-freaking-professional!
I have been taking classes at several schools here in Montreal and NEVER heard of such thing. There is even a school that always has 2-3 followers and leaders on hand at the beginning of each class just in case someone does not show up at the last minute. Their numbers of followers and leaders are always even BEFORE the beginning of a series of classes.
I feel your pain. Indeed, your time and money would have been better spent on privates.... it's up to you to decided when and why you will learn to lead. And when you do it sure will be for other reasons than "in case you get bored".

Elizabeth Brinton said...

Leaders who learn to follow are the best leaders..so why not the other way around?
And it's very revealing and fun to switch roles. I just don't really want to lead in a milonga setting, or to get stuck with it in a class!

Anonymous said...

For my own part, I learned to lead when I was ready to. The studio where I attended classes did usually not have enough leaders in the Beg/Int level (and the other way around at Advanced) so they began calling me before class and asking if I would come lead. So I started at Beg, where I felt comfortable with it.

I don't advocate learning to lead unless it is something you WANT to do, or doing it when YOU are ready.

I also never stopped working on my following just because I was learning to lead, and I waited until I felt comfortable enough with what I was doing as a follower before learning. This is also what I would advocate for you as well.

I disagree with making people lead or follow because a class is short. It should be a person's choice, especially if they have paid for the class and may be expecting something else.


Mari said...

Stephanie, Elizabeth and Bastet - thank you so much for your thoughts on the matter. I think, as all of you stated, learning to lead should be the follower's decision, not something thrust upon them by default. I may find myself having to face this sooner than I'd rather, but if and when I do, I'll start at the very beginning in a beginner class. And if it's possible to study tangoandchaos.org any more obsessively than I do already - I'll be doing that as well.

Frances R said...

This is one of the reasons why I stopped going to "intermediate" group classes, and nowadays go only to "beginners" and technique oriented ones.
What happened in your class was not fair to you nor to the other students who are supposed to get an intermediate level partner in the intermediate class (well, compared to other leaders in the class, you were probably on the better end anyway... you'd be surprised. :) So many people out there are delusional about their skill level).
If there are no appropriate group classes around, I would rather save time and money for private lessons.