A tango teacher told me to compare my dance partner to a supermarket shopping cart. I suggest you blame him for what’s following here. I immediately got what he meant though because apparently, that’s how my brain works. It may be different for you, but for me, it was clear: you want to steer a supermarket cart around the top of the isle, you move around it. ‘Likewise’, he said, ‘you want to steer your follower through a corner, you step around her’. I remember thinking, this is far removed from the porcelain vase I’m supposed to be holding in my arms or cradling her hand like it is a bird. But I’ll take the advice. Does anyone know how to steer a porcelain vase in a corner? Or maybe you just put it in the shopping cart?
I’m not sure floorcraft is something teachers can prepare aspiring leaders for. The metaphors they normally rely on may be inadequate. I’ve attended ‘Dancing in small spaces’ workshops, and even passed on some of my own experience to others, showing how to create a dance in an ever-smaller circle of students sitting on the floor. But I concede it was like driving in a parking lot with your parents before getting your license. These students in the circle were not moving. How to picture for leaders the agony of a crowded milonga and the challenge of protecting a follower’s ankles? Central Station during rush hour? Cyclists in Amsterdam? Traffic in Mumbai?
There is a reason leaders are not abundantly available despite the alluring end-state. Leading in tango does not only mean imagining geometrical squares, triangles, or virtual axis lines while simultaneously handling a range of emotions. It also implies what society usually associates with leadership roles: being strong, taking responsibility for others, dealing with criticism, and being ‘on the court’, as opposed to comfortably ‘in the stands.’ It takes a certain hubris to pretend everything is under control when you’re entrusted with a couple’s safety. It requires a cool head, lightning-speed risk analysis, Formula 1 decision-making, and catlike reflexes.
The thing is, followers all respond differently to your lead. Some may interpret it minimally, others may over-express it. Like a car without power steering, or a steering wheel that’s lagging. Calibrating may take a few tangos, but the surrounding traffic will continue, regardless. Your surface may be slippery or wobbly and your follower may still be on her summer tires. Once you have figured all of this out and are getting ready to enter a dangerous grinding Mumbai roundabout, the chosen one you hold in your arms may not be a Volkswagen (predictable but slightly stiff), a Citroen (uniquely designed and rather jumpy) but a red, relentless, raging Ferrari (don’t let it get away from you). Good luck with that shopping cart. And be careful with that precious vase, my friend. It’s fragile. And please, don’t kill the little birdie.
(You may feel this comparison to cars and objects is lacking taste, and I apologize for that. Consider, though, that it could have been much worse: I spent my adolescence riding and breaking in horses. I’ve resisted drawing on that experience throughout this whole article)
Published: 31 Mar 2023 @ 20:50