There’s one question that comes up time and time again in my classes.
When learning decorations*, followers often ask me worriedly:
”But won’t the leader feel that?”
The question takes me back fifteen years, when I was studying tango in Buenos Aires. I recall being taught that I should do adornments in such a way that they couldn't be felt by the leader.
And it reminds me of a story that an American living in Buenos Aires told me around the same time. He had taken the bold step of asking the Queen of Tango, Geraldine Rojas, to dance in a milonga.
As he floated around the room on cloud nine with his grand prize moving smoothly in his arms, he happened to catch a glimpse of them both in a mirror on the wall. He was astonished to see that her feet were moving frenetically, creating fabulous decorations. He had been entirely oblivious to them.
The image of a swan floating serenely, body still and quiet, as her feet beat rapidly beneath the surface is a beautiful one. But the concept that followers should somehow try to hide their decorations from their partners, troubles me.
It suggests that a follower’s decorations could be a potential irritation to the leader. And that the follower is somehow misbehaving by not doing entirely as she is told.
Both these sentiments should bother anyone who dances tango - male and female alike.
Little girls should be seen and not heard? That’s not my tango.
One of my students commented recently that there is nothing he loves more than seeing the flash of a gold heel embellishing, playing with and delighting in the movements he has led. It suggests immense enjoyment on the part of the follower and a mutual contribution to the dance.
If the follower becomes so obsessed with decorating that it is to the detriment of the lead, it can be a problem. Because it will detract from the harmony of the dance.
Tango is about togetherness. It is about two people understanding the other's expression on a deep level. This is what people are referring to when they talk about connection in tango.
The more connected a dance becomes, the less it feels that one person is leading and the other is responding. It starts to feel simply that they are moving together. It is a breathtaking experience.
However, as in our relationships in life, as in tango.
The feeling of being connected as a couple, should not in any way lessen our identity as an individual. And the more we can give, as an individual, to the relationship, the better a partnership feels.
Another Tango Queen was at Tango Movement giving workshops last Saturday. Maestra of maestros, Alejandra Mantiñan.
When Alejandra dances, her personality is immediately apparent. It would be pretty hard for any partner to ignore her adornments! But why the hell would he want to?
Through her adornments, Alejandra’s delight in her dance is palpable. Through her adornments, she is sharing her feelings with her partner and the audience.
Together, Alejandra and I were discussing how much the role of the woman in tango, in particular in relation to adornments, has changed in the last thirty years.
Rather than something simply to add on to the dance - like baubles on a Christmas tree - they act as a source of communication and connection with our partner.
They can even be a source of inspiration. Just like jazz musicians, both leader and follower can inspire each other as the dance unfolds. It can become difficult to know where the follower’s decorations end and the lead begins.
So, as followers, do we simply follow his lead? No, we dance his lead.
This, my dear reader, is connection. And this - for me - is what tango is about today.
*Decorations, embellishments, adornments or “adornos” (in Spanish) are movements that can be added by both the leader and follower throughout the tango. They are not part of the lead or follow. As the names suggest, they serve to decorate a movement, or a moment between movements, and are a mode of expression of the individual dancer’s feelings and of the music.
Decorations are taught in most of the classes we give. In addition, we also give workshops dedicated only to decorations. The best way to learn decorations is to practice them on your own to begin with. Once your body is familiar with the movements, it becomes easier to focus on fitting them into the dance.