Musicality 105: Yin and Yang

1st September 2010

Musicality 101 | Musicality 102 | Musicality 103 | Musicality 104 | Musicality 105

"Yin and yang describes two primal opposing but complementary forces found in all things in the universe. Yin, the darker element, is passive, dark, feminine, downward-seeking, and corresponds to the night; yang, the brighter element, is active, light, masculine, upward-seeking and corresponds to the day."

"Dad, if men are hot-blooded, does that mean women are cold-blooded?"
"Out of the mouths of babes"
~ Tim Allen


Warning this is just a theory. An interesting theory, perhaps, but still just a theory.

This article considers the next step of the idea first raised in Musicality 104. So it's probably a good idea to have read that first.

I've noticed that tango is somewhat polarised in terms of the movements that leaders and followers are good at. Leaders tend to be better at stepping forwards, sideways and standing still. We're also good at collecting when it means there's a definite stop. Followers tend to be better at stepping backwards and pivoting. They're better at collecting when it means there's going to be a continuation of movement or imminent movement.

Which is fine and makes sense. That's what we tend to do the most dancing socially. However the things followers are better at are also things that are useful for leaders. Particularly as you get more experienced.

So the idea is this; by doing the steps as a follower with musicality your body will start to work out how to do backsteps, pivots etc, because again there's a limited number of ways in which you can do them without falling over, especially if you add in different speeds etc and having to transition between them. And this seems to be much easier and give faster results than actually trying to learn them "properly" one at a time.

Why leaders shouldn't follow (maybe)

"I am a rock, I am an island" ~ Simon & Garfunkel

So should leaders learn to follow? Maybe. I'll give my 5 cents on this at the end if you're interested, but right now I'm going to give some reasons why they shouldn't.

This idea is based more on doing the steps well. That means being transferred to your axis each time and following proper tango grammar. Finding someone to do this with if you're a guy is probably going to be problematic. And the last thing you want is to follow badly led things because then your body will come up with the wrong answers. Plus, to be frank, a lot of guys really don't want to follow.

Instead I'd recommend this instead.

First look at some basic steps. Walking backwards. The box step. That kind of thing. Just try walking through them for a bit on your own as a follower. Once that's sorta working, put on some music and see if you can step loosely on the beat and then maybe to the actual music.

Once that's working, go back to leading. Put on some music and lead something simple one your own for maybe 3-5 steps. Now turn around and try and follow what you just led. Personally I'd argue it's better to stay relaxed at this stage. Don't take it too seriously and don't aim for perfection.

Hint - just in case no-one's told you, following is a lot easier if you keep your knees gently bent and take small steps.

Now you can start putting the two together. Practice the exercises in Musicality 104, then practice the exercises above. Regardless of what it does for your actual following skills, you should find that you start getting much better at doing all the things women are good at.

Why leaders should follow (maybe)

My 5 cents on whether men should learn to follow

"I see one more display of testosterone-poisoning, and I will personally put you both in the hospital" ~ Buffy

To an extent I think it's a self-solving problem. As I said above a lot of men are flat out not interested in following, it's simply not why they want to do tango. Aside from my general view of respecting other people's right to do tango the way they want, I also fundamentally think it's a waste of time trying to force them - it's just annoys everyone and gets no-where, well except hospitals.

Guys who are open to the idea of following will usually do it, one way or another. My feeling though is that usually this is a bit of a disaster because the person leading you often isn't that good (Most women who are learning to lead have realised this and will refuse to lead men who are learning to follow and instead ask their more experienced female friends). My advice would be to find a female dancer of teacher level who both leads and follows well and get them to show you. (Hint if you're in London, I'd recommend either Bianca or Claire Loewe).

There are a lot of benefits to following. The most obvious one being that you get a much clearer idea of what it is you're supposed to be leading. A lot of leaders have no idea what goes on in a cross for the follower - they rely on the fact that if you take three steps to the outside and do "something" at the end, 9 times out of 10 it'll work. And this is fine for 95% of social dancing in London at the moment. For the other 5%, you'll need something better.

There's also a number of things that feel fine to lead, but awful to follow. This will give you insight as to what they are. You'll certainly come to understand why a woman's axis is so important.

Lastly while I have no interest in dancing in close embrace with a man, being led by a woman in close embrace is a remarkably pleasant experience that I highly recommend. Let them deal with all the hassles of leading for a change!

~ Christopher O'Shea, 1st September 2010

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