Who are your favourite dancers? What are their qualities? Why do you love them?
We might all enjoy slightly different things, but general qualities we appreciate in our partners are similar.
I often have people approach me, asking: “What is it that I need to do to be a better dancer? What qualities would you like me to have so you could be interested in dancing with me at milongas?”
While I go through many individual things to answer these sort of questions with my students, there are many things that are the SAME for everyone. So I thought, why not list them? My list of qualities might not be exactly the same for everyone, but I am pretty sure most things will be what we all look for. Take a look and see if you agree with me!
I'll first go through what I want from leaders, being a follower myself. And then I'll reflect on what I heard from leaders and experienced myself, when it comes to qualities of following.
What would make me want to dance with a leader?
In order of importance.
He can embrace me.
Embrace that I can relax into, melt into, is the first and most important thing for me. I want to feel hugged and taken care of. In life, I might be a strong, confident woman, and in tango, I might be independent and expressive. But when I get the Mmmmhmmm-kind of embrace, I relax and hug back more. Which leads to the next necessary thing in leaders:
He listens to me and feels me! The leader who searches unity with me, connection to me, and not a body he can move around fast or slow, is the one who will make my tango-heart melt. And if there's a connection, I'll want to be back!
He is nice.
Nice leaders always win. Nice people always win. Smile at me, be friendly. Let's not feel entitled or arrogant. I want to dance with a nice and warm person, not a body-mover!
He hears, respects and responds to music.
I melt into a wonderful embrace, we connect beautifully, make the first step... and then continue making a move to each beat in the music. One-two-three-four-five-...-twenty-...-hundred. Right?
NO! A leader who steps on every single beat, doesn't use pauses, slow down or speed up, will not be the one I'll want to come back to again! Even if his embrace is wonderful.
Leaders, we want musicality! We want drama, and lightness, and sadness, and pauses, and a bit of running around, and feeling in love, and being angry, and all the other things, ideally in one song. I'm exaggerating a bit, of course, but you see what I mean. Hear it, express it!
He makes me feel and (I know it) look beautiful.
Give me that beautiful walk when I can extend and show off my legs and shoes. Allow me to be suspended in the air, weightless, in paradas, let me feel the floor through being grounded! I don't feel beautiful if you lead me complicated moves imperfectly, and then we both start falling or I feel convoluted in a strange figure we simply can't do well; I feel annoyed and desperate to get out this dance.
I feel beautiful if you dance maybe with more simplicity, but whatever we do feels effortless! I want to feel relaxed to be beautiful, not tense with my whole body, trying to support both of us from falling!
He is creative.
Nope, I don't mean crazy stuff. I mean, his whole vocabulary does not consist of three figures that he does on repeat, same entrance, same exit. Even if these are not three but 300 figures. If they are the same each time, I'll be bored, and he too, eventually.
Leaders, experiment with unusual moves. If it's an ocho, there are 500 ways of getting into an ocho and exiting it. If it's a giro, these are SO many ways of doing it! Try, let's be creative! And even if you have a super-fancy move up your sleeve, make it special! Let's not do the super-fancy-chef's-special move in each song. Make it truly stand out at the right moment, right time!
He treats this dance as a way to communicate with me, connect to me as a person.
I personally dislike body-movers, as I call such leaders. I can dance with them, but it feels empty. Please, leaders, please! We know your are amazing! We see your cool moves. We (and I for sure) don't want to dance with your moves, I want to dance with YOU! Tango for me is a thing for grown-ups, where it's about us together, and not me-me-me. It's so much more pleasurable when you dance with US, not by yourself and we follow. Hard to explain, but I hope it makes sense. Togetherness is magnetic.
What do leaders look for in followers?
Based on observations, feedback from leaders, and my own experience in leading.
Observation: when leaders talk about ladies they met for the first time and loved dancing with, they often say, in a dreamy voice: “She embraced... Wow.”
Followers with empty embrace can not leave an impression. They can not connect, and connection if all for us. Fill your embrace, take classes, ask for feedback in practicas. Make your embrace memorable, full, warm, soft or intense, but make it so leaders can remember you by it! Embrace is not a commodity, it's essential!
While leaders provide direction and offer to move, the key role of follower is to connect. If you can't connect, the couple falls apart. Make your connection strong 100% of the time. Help the leader to maintain it! Project, control your movement as this will help the leader feel like he can lead you anything and you'll be there with him.
She has full control over her movement. Nothing in her dance is random.
I often hear leaders say “Oh, she is wonderful! She is very sensitive and can respond very well, so I can lead her anything! Love dancing with her!”
Followers, your power is in your self-control. You need to learn to be fully balanced, and follow with precision.
Nothing worse than being talked about like this: “I couldn't control her movement. She fell on me with every step”
She is nice.
When I lead, I would never even think about asking a hostile follower to dance! I am not the best leader in town, since my main role is that of a follower, but I absolutely understand the frustration of most leaders, when followers treat them not nicely.
Followers, ladies! If you are nice, friendly and warm, you will dance no matter what!
She dances in many ways, not only one.
Versatile followers are wonderful! Isn't it amazing not necessarily to be invited only for one type of dance (e.g. “I felt like dancing with someone soft and light, so I couldn't dance with lady X. She is good for drama but not lightness, so I avoided her mirada”). Are you able to dance anything, with anyone?
Learn to be versatile, soft and dense, passionate and joyful. Be good at tangos, milongas and valses. If you can do everything, why would anyone want to miss dancing with you?
She (applies mainly to ladies) is feminine. She feels like a woman.
This one is special. I've heard stories from guys about ladies who made them feel their femininity. It is hard to understand what these leaders mean, but they say that followers who know how to express their femininity, those are “unforgettable”. So ladies, let's not forget we are women. It's not flirting, and it's not seducing. It's something to do with knowing your fragile and strong sides and not being afraid of them.
If you ever want to explore this, I recommend to talk to your closest leading friends. Ask them about their most unforgettable tango experiences. It's really interesting, anyway, and you can learn something.
(N.B. I also decided to organize workshops on active following and feminine power, which is my own understanding of femininity and how I see it in tango. More info here: Feminine Power Workshop)
She dances with the leader, not alone.
Whatever she feels in the music and expresses in her decorations, is an addition and not an obstruction. This is very important!
Decorations are awesome! I love them and decorate quite a lot myself, BUT. I often watch ladies in milongas do endless decorations, one after another. And then I see faces of their leaders, and those faces look... concerned and nervous. I would be nervous too! If I tried to lead her to do a simple forward ocho, and move on to parada, and instead she couldn't stop decorating her ochos, decorating her parada, letting her leg fly around all the time, I'd start wondering when is she going to dance with me, not by herself. Or maybe it would make me more hesitant to lead something more complex or fast out of fear that she'd get tangled up in her own feet!
In a marathon once, years ago, I was resting and watching dancers, sitting next to a leader and a very good friend. A couple danced by in front of us. We both looked at lady's feet, we couldn't help it. She was decorating all the time. And my friend quietly said to himself, but I heard it: “Too much, that's too much!”
Ladies, don't be too much! Be just about right or even slightly not enough, but not too much! Pay more attention to leader's lead, to your embrace, to music, than to your feet. Because your feet are only yours, and if they take over everything else, the magic falls apart. Don't do decorations for the sake of decorations. Decorate your movement TOGETHER, not just YOURS as a follower.
These might be points you agree with, of maybe you have other things to add, or maybe you find something less important. Let me know, I'd be really interested to hear your opinions!
But in any case, let's have an open, honest discussion about our needs. In tango we dance for US, not for ME or YOU. A dialogue and understanding is often very helpful. So if you find you agree with me, feel free to share this article and/or your thoughts with your friends, leaders and followers alike. Maybe somebody makes an interesting discovery that will change their dance completely!
P.S. Photo by Philippe Gauthier from Misterio Tango Festival 2016