by Igor Polk, June 5, 2016 - May 19, 2014
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Different bodies are not built the same way. Someone is bigger, someone is smaller, someone is skinnier, someone if more massive, someone is sensitive, someone is not so much, someone is flexible, someone is not. While positioning and moving in unison in Cunita as well as in all tango figures, the dancers have to take very considerable effort to adopt to each other. This process is an integral part of tango distinguishing this dance from many other dances, since partners during a social dance party "change" every 10 minutes. It is a part of enjoyment. The art of it comes to such height that the adaptation allows performing figures in complete attachment to each others body. This is called Close Embrace with its most ultimate form Apilado. This is possible among partners of very considerable difference of body build and height and considerable variation of experience.
While dancing, especially "in Apilado", someone has to initiate and maintain the change. It is usually a man. He dances Leading, adopting to the woman's reaction. She dances adopting to his body and movements, she is "Following". Leading and Following is another integral part of improvisational tango: "everything is lead". A woman does nothing (usually) if a man does not lead it. A man must lead a woman if he wants her to do something. This process creates ultra strong bond between partners: they can never be lost either improvising or dancing pre-choreographed routine. Many professional tango dancers always improvise even while performing on stage. This makes the dance always new and fresh at any performance. This principle is so important that I can firmly say that a couple who is not able to lead and follow in full sense of its meaning is not dancing true tango. Not only a man can lead. And not all woman's reactions are predictable. The lead can be exchanged between partners and played with in various ways.
Importance of Adaptation and Lead-and-Follow principle is so important in tango that the ability to feel and express music and rhythm comes next. This is the source of unbelievable synchronization and adaptation which tango dancers express: they can produce attractive improvisational dance in the most crowded conditions, dancing among chairs, on a table. Even while dancing only the simplest of figures, the most valuable dancers are those who master Adaptation and Lead-and-Follow. This is the "must" of tango and no amount of complex figures will replace it. However, our interest in dancing goes beyond. We want to dance well, with the full power of human body movements. We want to understand how tango figures appeared, "designed", we want to see how they come from the principles of human movements. We want to research the dance from all sides.
The main idea of my research is the discovery of the basis of how to move to be understandable and to find the ability to produce the complete set of all tango figures and styles including the most powerful, influential tango figures while maintaining total control over the dance. I have indications, that this can be applicable to other dances, as well as other movement activities.
Cunita is the easiest starting point to practice Lead and Follow and Adaptation. Try to make Cunita (man is leading) slow and fast, in various rhythms, stopping and accelerating, with different partners. You can move from leg to leg changing the weight completely or not, producing a big cunita or a small one. Try to make cunita almost invisible for an observer or a most dramatic one.
So "everything is lead", but what does it mean? There are five types of the leading-following relationships.
1). A man pushes and pulls a woman to make impression of a dance, provokes the woman for unstructured steps and adopts himself to them. She is doing nothing but "she is moved". This is not leading. This is manipulation. A woman is not following. She is being moved. The dance will never follow the correct body postures, even though some elements are possible. Among those are Corte y Quebrada and, surprisingly, Turns. This method is not considered in this theory. The word "manipulation" may have negative connotation, but there is not much negative in this method itself. In fact, this is the most common method and everyone is happy.
2). A man executes his poses, guides woman with centers, performs transitions and steps adopting to his partner. A woman executes her poses, follows the leader with her centers, feet, and the whole body, performs with him transitions and steps with her own energy. Exchange of energy is possible when needed. This is the type of lead-follow relations described and researched here. This is the most correct way of dancing, which requires good knowledge of the dance by both partners.
3). Leading by pressing a woman with a hand in certain parts of her body to set her torque right. It can be used against upper torso, lower torso, and pelvis. This is done by a very experienced leader to facilitate correct body movements on an able, but not truly masterful woman. Essentially, he is shaping her body to the correct positions. It does work and it does work well. Some time before I did not believed it is possible even though I have witnessed some old famous teachers have taught it. Now I know that it is possible, because I know how to do it. In order to do it well one has to know the mechanics of woman body very well. This method will not be considered there, but this theory gives the precise way a woman body should work. So one who is interested, can master it.
4) Leading by twisting the free arm of a follower or both arms. Twisting arms provokes certain body postures. Therefore it can be used as the provocation. It does work with certain ladies with good mechanical path from arms to torso. In tango this method is not used, but it is used in other partner dancing. I leave this method for further analysis.
5) Leading with lines. A moving man with his embrace creates an abstract curved line along the floor along which a woman dances. Nothing else is lead only a line is created with its energy waves and possible turns. It works when there is plenty of space and a woman is a good overall dancer dancing "herself" but does not know the tango well. She follows "the line" in her own way. A man dances around her leading with the minimal allowable effort. This method is more important than it seems allowing a wonderful free dance to be created, but it requires good skill from a man, as good as in other types of leading.
A masterful leader knows all these types of lead to certain extent, because all women are different. All these relationships may produce a wonderful dance, and, for example, "manipulation" leading is felt for a woman as a perfect dance. Of course, it is possible only when a leader is an excellent follower himself.
In Argentine Tango a follower is called a woman, a leader is called a man. I will use this convention here. The process of leading and following goes like this. A man Leads with his clear change of pose and movement. A woman Reacts and Presents the result. A man Follows it Awaiting the end. Then woman Awaits the next lead. It is like both participants have an action part and a feedback part in their signal exchange.
That is the double feedback which creates the strongest bond in the couple.
Leading and following are perfectly material. It is clear from the fact that lead and follow can be exchanged. Dance poses and transition are symmetrical. So, if a woman is executing her dance well, a man is capable of following her. At least in simpler cases. Regarding this, I can say that there are Taking the Lead and Giving the Lead.
During Giving the Lead a current leader slows, scales his actions down as if he offers the partner to take the reign. And his partner may take it and start leading. Or not. During Taking the Lead, a current follower starts to perform her part ahead of the current leader or stops the leader demanding the lead from him, which is usually offered. If during Taking the Lead a partner is not offering the lead, the dancers either stop or separate by "breaking" the embrace. Both can be used for the purpose of dance. You can practice all this in Cunita.
Separation itself can be done by a leader releasing a woman from the actual contact, giving her a free reign. But it does not mean that he is giving her a lead. He may expect her to continue following.
Clarification. Since, a leader is usually a man and a follower is a woman, the leader is referred as he, and the follower as she.
Adaptation is an adjustment to a partner. For example, a bigger partner, usually a man, limits his maximal positions, twists, and steps to abilities of a woman. A bigger partner makes smaller steps. A bigger partner even adjust the location of his center! Adaptation brings the parameters of the bodies and dance in unison, smoothing limitations, finding the common denominator. Following is execution of dance figures with the partner within the rules set by adaptation.
Leading and following is a complex topic which requires practice and overwhelming amount of time to perfect. Here I have only tried to highlight the basic ideas and terms of it.