Ladies Leading Ladies

We hope this article will inspire ladies to take up the twin arts of leading and following

When I (Jennifer) began dancing tango in my early 50’s there were few male leaders, and those there were had the pick of the good followers, or even not so good followers who were fortunate to look the part.   This is by no means complaining, but there is a reality in the tango world,  It  may not be fair, and it’s important to understand this reality and not take it personally.

Jennifer – leading at a Festival

When we created Tango South, we pioneered the idea of ladies leading as well as following, and actively encouraged our ladies to lead socially on the tango scene, which in those days was less common, and not always accepted.  Leading certainly changed my enjoyment of dancing tango.  I was no longer relying, sometimes in vain, on the goodwill of the limited number of male leaders.

Of course, Peter (my husband) and I enjoy dancing together, but we also want to dance with other people.  As most events have an imbalance with more followers than leaders, being a lady leader redresses that balance and enables me to dance in my own right more often.

Also, as I am now more limited physically with how much I can dance as a follower at any one event, being abe to mix leading and following allows me to keep dancing for much longer.  Leading is so much less stressful for my body, and gives me time to recover.  For me, it makes for a far more enjoyable and varied event.  On a bad day, when I simply cannot dance as a follower, it doesn’t prevent me from staying and having a lovely time just as a leader.

Jennifer leading after a long evening teaching

When is the Right Time – my recommendation for ladies is to learn your following first, so you are not trying to juggle learning both dances at the same time.  You will also  have an excellent understanding of the follower’s movements.  This is one of the most valuable tools a leader can possess, one which most male leaders do not or will ever have.  How can you be a superb leader in anything, without an understanding of what it is you are leading?  This simple truth was well understood by the early Argentine tango dancers – who organised their all male Prácticas accordingly.

Approach learning to lead is like any other unfamiliar dance – you need to go back to basics and learn it as a completely different dance – which it is, apart from your background understanding of following. Make sure you continue dancing as a follower, in order for you not to have it impacted by your leading.

Shoes for Leading – personally I have never made the distinction of dancing in different shoes – I dance both as a follower and leader in the same shoes.  This gives me the added advantage of not having to change shoes every time I want to dance as a leader.  This is a personal choice, you may like to use special shoes or practice shoes, especially for classwork.

Benefits of Ladies Leading: 

… when the event is top heavy with followers

… the ladies you ask would otherwise have been sitting out

… some of those ladies may not even get to dance the next tanda

… the ladies you dance with are then seen as dancers, which increases their chance of being asked by a male leader

… you are seen as an even better dancer – having the skills of both leader and follower

… your awareness of leading gives you greater insight as a follower

… it helps you develop a sympathetic understanding for your own leaders

… the surprise of your follower when you know she’s had a wonderful dance

… when she says at the end ‘you’re one of the best leaders I know!’

Jennifer leading at a Practica

Leading at Social Dances – to gain confidence and experience stick to familiar and friendly communities.  Milongas vary enormously between the liberal and the ultra-traditional.

Although times are changing, ladies have not always been encouraged to lead at Milongas.  I am pleased that having made a public stand for ladies leading over the years, the culture on the tango scene is changing, even at some of the more ‘purist’ events.   More ladies are leading than ever before, and even men are now asking me to lead them.

Once at a social event, try first to ask someone you know or have danced with before – just to be seen as a leader.

I normally allow the men the courtesy of asking the ladies of their choice at the beginning of a tanda.

Conversations usually ensue with a lady who is sitting out a tanda with you, and often this revolves around tango.  You can easily mention you lead too and politely ask if she’d like to give it a try.

Once you have established yourself as a good leader, ladies will begin to ask you!

Watch Jennifer leading a improvised dance after her class:

What are the Skills you need to Learn

This is quite a full list, starting with the essentials, then moving progressively to the more advanced aspects of leading as you work down the list.  There are only so many things the human brain can pay conscious attention to at once.   So the sooner you can commit the foundation elements to your “auto-pilot”, the more capacity you will develop for the more advanced aspects.

1.  how to use your upper body movement and the embrace to communicate with your partner

2.  the leader’s steps.  These will not always be a mirror image of what you do as a follower 

 3.  paying more attention to the music and deciding how you are going to interpret it in your dance, including the rhythm and phrasing

 4.  being clear and purposeful about what you’re going to do – then leading it.  This requires a completely different mindset to that of the follower.  If you are unclear or confused, your confusion is what you will communicate to your partner.

5.  keeping it simple and fresh, varying what you do, in what order, so you don’t get stuck in a never ending repetitive cycle.

6.  taking responsibility for floorcraft, navigation, collision avoidance,  protecting your partner etc.  Developing awareness of what’s going on around you, where there is space to move into, and integrating everything into what you plan to do.

7.  taking your partner on  a “journey” through the Tanda.  As a lady leader I find working on a theme always helps – for example there are many ways of getting the lady into a cross, not just walking outside.  Another possibility – you can delight your follower with fabulous mix of sacada variations.

8.  give as much of your attention as possible your follower.  You are inviting her to follow you and as decoratively as she can.  As a leader you need to be stable and secure for her, and give her time to respond.  Be prepared to pause and give her space to develop her ideas – especially decorations.

9. mistakes will happen – smile and think of it as part of the fun.  When they do, just stop, re-adjust your connection with your partner and continue.  Don’t start an apologetic conversation.

Above all, be confident and enjoy it.  After all, this is a social activity.

© Jennifer Hudson, Tango Nomads, 2017

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