The only leader is the music: A joyful Feast

Felipe Martinez recently talked about the difference between danceable music and music which moves you, literally and figuratively. I think that’s a good way of describing what is, to me, the difference between rhythmic and lyrical tango.

I’d expected the work I was doing on double-time to increase my enjoyment of rhythmic music. It has, but to my surprise, that wasn’t the biggest benefit …

Revisiting a tango fundamental

First, my huge thanks to Laura and Diego for insisting that I get to grips with double-time over my vocal protests and attempts to run screaming from the room, and to Emma for perfectly completing my introduction to this high-speed world.

One of the biggest things a beginner leader has to learn is that your job isn’t to move your follower; you only have to move yourself and trust them to come with you. That’s such a deceptively-simple sounding thing, but it takes a long time to persuade our body that it really is true.

I realised that while my body knew that worked in normal time, it was extremely sceptical about the same being true in double-time. It seemed to me impossible that a follower would have enough time to feel the intent and respond to it within the space of a single (half) beat.

I’d only gotten far enough with double-time in BsAs to try this in very simple ways, but when Emma afterwards provided the final piece of the puzzle – forget about my feet, and simply accelerate and decelerate my torso – I was able to put this fully to the test at The Feast.

It works.

It still feels like followers are being asked for the impossible, but I could literally do anything in double-time – rebound, walk, ocho cortado, even the occasional giro – and followers would simply … follow.

Not only that, but one thing Emma had me try was a ‘high-speed shimmy’ (lots of super-fast tiny side-steps). This didn’t feel remotely controlled to me, but I did that with several followers who not only followed at that speed, but even did quadruple-time! That is, I was doing double-time, and they were doing two steps to my one!

So, I was having a lot of fun in rhythmic dance, but …

The biggest benefit isn’t in rhythmic dance

What I really loved was the additional flexibility this gave me in lyrical dance: the ability to add fast accents.

90% of my lyrical dance was unchanged, but just adding in the occasional touches of double-time for things like piano ripples (musicians probably have a proper term for that!) made a massive difference to my dance.

Of course, in tango nothing stays the same. It’s still entirely possible that as my fast dance improves, I may come to enjoy rhythmic dance as much as lyrical. But for now, rhythmic tandas are like a palate-cleanser for me.

‘You really listen’

The level of dancing at The Feast is really high. In London, that might be code for cliquey, but there’s no such attitude among the feasters. Instead, it was just a joy.

It gave me the confidence to try anything, which was how I got to confirm that Emma’s theory of Just Do It doesn’t just work with her!

I also got to enjoy collaborative dance with pretty much every follower. I think there was literally one woman who responded to a pause and loosening of the embrace by waiting patiently for me to get on with it, while everyone else responded enthusiastically.

I also got a reminder that my attitude to this isn’t universal, even among technically advanced leaders. Most tandas ended with a hug and a mutual expression of delight with the dance, with followers often commenting on how much they enjoyed the 50/50 nature of it. One woman said it in the sweetest way: ‘You really listen. To the music, and to me.’

Don’t misunderstand me: there’s also a real sense of satisfaction with a follower who chooses to ‘just’ follow, and I do enjoy a mix of the two – but a whole weekend of truly co-created dance was a real treat!

Not a Plan

I know, I know, it’s exactly three days since I said ‘no plans.’ I wish it to be recorded in the official minutes that this is not an Actual Plan; I’m merely thinking aloud here.

Following has been mostly a mystery to me. Sometimes a teacher will lead me, to help me understand what the follower should feel, and I’ve done a few hours of privates as a follower, again with the aim of getting a better understanding of leading. But while I’ve maintained the very long-term goal of becoming a dual-role dancer, I’ve so far felt that I had enough on my plate on the leading side.

However, a couple of things have changed. Early on, when a teacher led me, I kind of got the idea, but it’s not like I was really following. Now, though, I am able to really follow the movement. (I mean, it helps when the teacher is giving such a ‘loud’ lead that there’s really nothing I can do beyond move in the direction and pace being led!)

Second, that ‘good listener’ thing. I do feel like I now have the sensitivity to understand my partner’s intention, and in the type of dancing I was doing this weekend, the distinction between leading and following was a somewhat academic one.

I can’t remember now who coined the delightful phrase, and Google seems unable to remind me, but it perfectly encapsulates how I feel about truly 50-50 dance: ‘The only leader is the music – both dancers are followers.’

While I may now have the listening skills to follow, I most certainly don’t have the technical skills! As a leader, the more dissociation you have, the better, of course – but there’s a world of difference between the degree of dissociation needed to lead ochos and giros and the level required to follow them!

So, if I go this route, then step one will be solo exercises. Hello kitchen bar(re) and chair. Step two will be follower technique classes – and only then will I be ready for some proper privates as a follower.

As I say, this is Not A Plan. Everything in tango changes all the time, including my goals (or temporary lack of same). And if I do it, I don’t know how far I’ll take it. Maybe just far enough for the occasional bit of fun with a dual-role dancer in a milonga; given the role imbalance, I’d feel a bit guilty about going further than that, even if I developed the talent.

But dual-role dancing does feel like the next logical step from collaborative dance.

PS: I’ll write a separate post raving about The Feast
PPS: This following thing is still Not A Plan.

2 thoughts on “The only leader is the music: A joyful Feast”

  1. I love following but still have to learn to switch off my “navigation head”.😜 A bit less of the mad swiveling eyes and a bit more trust in the leader. Eyes shut just makes me nauseous.


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