If you've learned to dance the man's role in tango, you may have been urged to dance with more intention. Especially as a beginner dancer, any tentativeness or indecision would probably have been identified. You would have been reminded that even a hint of uncertainty is immediately apparent in your partner's response .... or lack of it!
As a consequence, you may have also formed the impression that dancing with intention is only important in the man's role. That the woman simply follows what the man proposes in the dance. And perhaps this is so ... in the early stages.
However, most experienced dancers will confirm that there is much more to the woman's role than "just following".
Dancing well in the woman's role means responding to the music and to the man's proposal without anticipation and haste. When she moves to the music it is with conviction, commitment and confidence.
Perhaps not so different to the intention required in the man's role??
Here are two performance treats, both embodying intention.
Andy highlighted the challenge of the woman's role and the timing of her response to the lead. Indeed the woman must contribute her interpretation of the man's lead and the music to the dance, otherwise she is merely a puppet being dragged around in his arms.
A very good female tango dancer achieves a sensitive balance between the lead and her personal expression, with the outcome being a beautiful unity of music and movement. Two individuals dance as one in the embrace. Lidia Ferrari's article The place of woman in tango (or Is tango macho?) elaborates on what is required of the woman, as well as perhaps challenging some macho men who may see themselves as good tango dancers. Thanks for sharing these articles, Andy!
Just take a look at Adela dancing with Gaston at the start of Dany and Lucy's milonga.
Have your ever heard the expression: Ladies, all you need to do is follow the lead ?
In this day and age of gender equality you might perhaps sense that the
woman's role in the dance is diminished through this terminology - such
an inadequate descriptor of the woman's role in tango, which is quite
different to the man's role, but no less significant. (By the way, I do
believe that the complementary [man-woman] roles in tango may be a major factor in
the popularity of the dance. Perhaps western society's political
correctness and inclination towards gender neutrality may be nudging people to the traditional gender roles in tango, as described by Paul Yang.)
Probably not all women in tango will agree with me, but when the music calls,
and I'm in the embrace of a dance partner whom I trust, I love being
taken on a short but memorable journey courtesy of my partner. He is
the principal guide to the music, while I contribute to that tour in my
response to him and to the music. But for him to treat me to his
personalised insider's tour, he needs to feel my appreciation of his
efforts by relaxing in his embrace, and by being present
just for him and the music. A delightful quality of Golden Age tango
music is that it is multi-layered, so, each tour guide will show me different highlights of his appreciation of the music and perhaps some hidden
surprises. How good is that? Every tanda offers the potential for a new
journey. Why wouldn't I enjoy the woman's role?
I am curious to know what men feel about their role in the dance.
Dancing in El Beso can be challenging, but need not be,
provided yet another higher order skill for men is employed.
Yes, the floor gets crowded, with couples closely sandwiching you at front,
back and side, but the standard of dancing is high, so navigation skills are
fairly well refined.In fact, it’s this
knowledge that gives me confidence – I rarely have to worry about dancers
behaving inappropriately or with poor control.
But there is something else that happens – I not only dance with partner, I
dance with the couples around me, particularly those directly in front and
behind.We need not be interpreting the
music in exactly the same way or utilising the same small batch of figures, but
there is and ebb and flow as our movements resonate with each other.While I’m dancing with my partner, I’m
constantly adjusting my position so that the other couples can use their
‘space’ relatively unimpeded; and they afford me the same courtesy.
Certainly, I am ‘in my own world’ with my partner – listening to her,
responding to her, picking up the rhythms, cadences & moods of the music
and responding to them too.However, I
connect with ‘my other world’ – surrounding couples, by dancing in my space and respecting theirs, which means walking and pausing, ochos cortados, vaya ven,
lots of small turns, and whatever else my body (not my head) decides to do.
“Dancing in the ronda" is therefore much more than moving around the floor
anti-clockwise parallel to the walls, it’s about dancing with others.
What do I mean by higher order skills relevant to the male role in social tango?
appropriately to the music, using the body to effectively communicate
your intention and responding sensitively to your partner, are all essential. But these I consider bread and butter skills. In other words, skills which are absolutely fundamental to dancing tango.
So what is a higher order skill? Tricky figures executed in performances may come to mind, but here I'm thinking about tango only in the social context. I'm thinking of the challenge (and the pleasure) in putting those bread and butter skills into action in a busy milonga.
in their tango journey, most men probably feel somewhat anxious (and
rightly so) at the prospect navigating a dance-floor, let alone a
crowded one! A number of skills and factors come together to produce
good floor-craft in a male dancer. Not least of these is
self-confidence balanced with respect towards the other couples on the floor.
Without both of these, even the most musical and skilled male dancer becomes a hazard
to others at a milonga.
Master good floor-craft, gentlemen, so your partner can have complete confidence in your ability to protect her and to respect others. It's worth it. Do this and she will surrender to you in the dance. Now that's tango!
Just take a look at a video-clip of Lujos, one of my favourite milongas, to see what I mean.
Respect lies at the heart of tango, and it begins with that most respectful of invitations to dance – the cabeceo . It continues with ...
Close-embrace, improvised tango danced socially in traditional milongas of Buenos Aires is the tango we love. We focus on developing musicality, connection, sound technique and confidence with milonga etiquette in our classes.
Robert Youngson & Patricia Petronio
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