Listening

“With some followers I have to shout, but with you I only have to whisper.”

“You are so patient, I know you will wait for me.”

These are both things that have been said to me (quoted as accurately as I remember them being said) by leaders who I dance with regularly. I have been told since I first began going to milongas that I am such a patient follower. As far as I can tell, this means that I don’t do my own thing. Not that I don’t embellish, which I do, but that if a leader pauses I won’t fill up that pause with extra ochos or other steps that I feel like including.

We have all seen those followers who take this to an extreme. The ones where the leader seems to be standing completely still, holding her at arm’s length, letting her do ochos and boleos and whatever seems to catch her fancy. But I have been told that even some women who are otherwise excellent to dance with still do this to some extent. It is common enough that I have had leaders comment on my ability to be patient and listen carefully since I began dancing.

I wonder why this aspect of my dancing is so noteworthy. That is, it isn’t clear to me why other followers don’t also dance like this. It is not as though I am entirely passive; I try to continually communicate my feelings, my sense of the music, etc with my leader. I embellish as I feel like it. With certain leaders, in certain situations, I even take some amount of control by backleading (or whatever you want to call it). But by and large I focus a lot of energy on listening. Doesn’t everyone?

I am reminded of something Johanna wrote recently about leading and following. It is so, so important for both people to spend time listening, and the follower happens to have the role of listening a greater percentage of the time. If I don’t hear the leader say anything, I don’t step. I may embellish as I wait, but I don’t try to guess. Sometimes this means standing and staring at each other for a moment before I “hear” what the leader is telling me – this happened much more often when I first started. The thing is, I don’t want to guess, I don’t want to repeat patterns … I want to follow his lead. I want to interpret his signals faithfully and with a feeling and character that is my own. That is what I love about following in Argentine Tango.

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3 thoughts on “Listening

  1. Brava MT! Only by responding to what is led (or “listening” as you put it), will leads be compelled to speak more clearly, and find more interesting ways of saying things 🙂It is so very easy for me to correct poor leads – to compensate for poor “diction”. I too have started trying to do less of that, to allow my partner to rephrase if I don’t “understand”. In the pause that sometimes happens, I remain actively connected, and can sense my partner’s surprise at my lack of movement and his subsequent rise to the occasion 🙂

  2. MT, I’m going to chime in here, as I think you’re quoting me above (the second one–I’m not poetic enough for the first). Your post got me thinking about what characteristics in a follower make her most desirable to dance with. I think it comes down to three things: patience, attentiveness, and responsiveness. Patience is the discipline to wait for the lead, and enjoying the moments when the only thing present is the energy of the embrace. It is the knowledge that some of the best parts of tango come when you are not moving. You understand this.Attentiveness is showing, through your body and the embrace that you are prepared to accept my lead, and that your attention is intensely focused on listening to my body as it provides the lead. That is what I mean when I say you are quiet. It does not imply anything passive–indeed it is quite the opposite. Kind of like cupping your hand to your ear to hear better. Because you are quiet and attentive, I can lead you with very small and subtle movements–something that, for me, is very satisfying.As an aside, I, as a leader, must also be attentive. To the extent that the surrounding environment allows, my attention is entirely focused on the music and the movement of your body in response to my lead. This is what is attractive to me about dancing in close embrace. Because I cannot see what your body is doing, I must sense it through the embrace, and that requires focused attention, and it also requires me to use my senses in ways that I generally don’t encounter in everyday life.Responiveness is the way in which you respond to the lead, and I’m not talking about steps and ochos. It has to do with matching the power of the lead. The music I most like to dance to has a lot of dynamics, and the amount of power with which I dance reflects those dynamics. In a high-quality and satisfying dance, the follower is able to hear the dynamics and respond by matching the power of the lead. You excel at this and that’s why I look for you when the DiSarli and Pugliese come on.a bientot,’round Midnight

  3. Ah yes, I see. I think the responsiveness you talk about is part of what I put in the package of musicality – dynamic contrast and the like. The attentiveness is part of that right brain “listening” we were talking about. And the patience was that moment in the DiSarli when I am pretty sure we weren’t moving but I remember that we were still dancing. 🙂

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