There has been a good amount of discussion on Tango-L about “Leading Ladies”, and this recent post on NYC Tango Pilgrim’s blog is making me think critically about leading. (I misunderstood him as talking about followers leading in general, although his point was about the didactic value of followers learning to lead.) So I want to consider my own reasons for wanting to learn how to lead:
1. Knowing the leader’s role helps me follow. Now, I don’t have to be a full-out, lead-in-a-milonga leader for this. This is leading as a didactic tool. Most tanguer@s accept the idea of leaders learning how to follow in order to lead better. Why does this work? Well, they learn what it feels like to get certain signals from the leader; they feel what a poor lead is like; they see for themselves the range of styles. A follower can get just as much out of leading: She can feel how important it is to be balanced, to not hang off the leader; she can feel what happens when the follower takes over and does things unlead; she can get a better sense of what is going on from the leader’s perspective, the possibilities that are available.
One of my favorite people to practice with encourages me to try leading almost every time we practice. It’s amazing how I can think I know what’s going on until I try to make it happen. Leading in those sorts of situations helps me break down a step further, understand it more fully. It’s the most leading I had done up until recently. (And I do believe that dancers should wait to have the basics before moving beyond this point. I waited until I had the basics of salon before moving on to milonguero/apilado. I waited until I could dance these well as a follower before considering learning how to lead. I don’t think it hurts to look at a step from the other role while practicing at any level, but trying to learn how to truly dance in the other role could be confusing if you don’t have a good grasp of the first one.)
2. Leading gives me a musical outlet – which makes me a more compliant follower. Sometimes I do get impatient with leaders. I want them to slow down, I want them to hear the music as I do, I want them to phrase the movement. Mostly I try to mesh my ear with theirs, to find the way that they hear the music and dance with that, dance with them, use embellishments here and there but not take over. But I am a very musical person, and it is important to me – and sometimes I just get frustrated that I can’t show my leaders how I hear the music. (One leader in particular seems to hear the music exactly as I do, and the result is magical.) But if I learn to be a leader, I can dance my interpretation. I can lead someone else to hear the music as I do, and it isn’t backleading. 😉
3. I enjoy all kinds of dancing, and learning to lead is like learning a new dance. As opposed to leading in a didactic setting, being able to lead in a milonga requires learning an entirely new skillset. It isn’t entirely unrelated from things I have learned as a follower, but then again, learning to be a follower wasn’t entirely unrelated from learning ballet. I waited until I was a solid follower to begin learning how to lead; I also waited until I had a strong urge to learn rather than deciding to do it “just because”. But just because I am not a perfect follower (as if that distinction exists – or is even a goal to strive for!) does not mean that I shouldn’t try to learn this new way of dancing tango as a leader. I am always trying to improve myself – I am trying to improve myself as a modern dancer, a belly dancer, a runner, a yoga practitioner, all at the same time as improving as a tango follower and now as a tango leader. They are all fun. And I do them for myself – not to project a certain image, or impress people, or adopt a certain dancer persona (or gender role). I am always just me, dancing.
4. Leading is a valuable skill for teaching. I put this last for a reason: I did not decide to learn how to lead in order to become a teacher. I don’t even know if I want to teach tango. (See previous post where I mull it over and come to no definite conclusion!) But if I do decide to teach, I want to know how to lead. I think that any good teacher should be at least proficient at both leading and following.