I’ve often talked to both leaders and followers about the art of rejection. You see, some people have categorically rejected to dance with me. Being the inquisitive mind that I am, I always wanted to understand. I was looking for anything that would help me understand the rejection as “it is not about me”. Because, secretly, I assume it is a little bit about me.
One part is clear and easily understood. Perhaps the person doesn’t like my outfit, my body height, my age or the way I smell (even though I always shower before the milonga, I swear). Perhaps someone enjoys dancing all valses with his favorite partner. Fine. I also get it when the last tanda is announced and people search the room for the partner with whom they came to the milonga. That all makes sense.
But some arguments are rather fuzzy. There is this one argument of not dancing with women who do not wear high heels. For years I’ve been struggling to understand this.
It really makes very little sense for me to dance in high heels. For one, with 178cm (5ft10’) I am pretty tall on my own; adding 10cm (4’) to that is plain stupid and very solitary. Maybe other tall women do not mind it, but I do not enjoy being a head taller than my dance partners. It is possible, of course, but it requires a different kind of concentration from my side to search for connection points with dancers who are extremely shorter.
The second very good reason for dancing in flat jazz sneakers is that I feel much more in control of my axis, much more comfortable and pain-free and therefore able to free the mind space for deeper connection and presence, instead of constantly auto-correcting my balance and thinking of the persistent pain in feet, hips or lower back. The state of utter comfort is for me essential for the onset of creative playfulness that I enjoy so much to share in tango.
The third reason off the top of my mind is that over the past 10 years of leading besides following, I’ve developed enough skill to be able to deeply enjoy dancing in both roles. I know that for some women, leading is just a fall-back solution when they are at a milonga where they do not get invited much as a follower. Not for me. I really love leading and all the possibilities it gives me. So, for example, depending on the music of a particular tanda and the presence of certain dancers, I like having the freedom of quickly changing between the roles. Changing shoes in such a case could swallow half a tanda, and what a waste that would be if a Di Sarli would be playing at the moment. Or a Biagi that I know by heart, with its irresistible pull...
Another fuzzy argument is the one about not dancing with partners whose style looks different from your own. You can never be sure how adaptable a certain follower is. Perhaps she has a number of styles in store and can get them out on demand. Perhaps not. But unless you give it a try, you can’t know what you are missing. Also, I’ve had a few extremely pleasant surprises in my tango lifetime - when by watching somebody dance, I assumed it would be highly uncomfortable, but in fact it was quite the opposite. Perhaps the playfulness factor was so high that I got flooded with dopamines, or perhaps the connection was so tender and beautiful that my brain cells indulged in the oxytocin for days afterwards. One can never afford having a closed mind when it comes to giving people a chance.
But getting back to my line of thought, some arguments sometimes are outright outrageous. I’ve heard the argument that certain male leaders ignore all female followers who also lead. At a recent encuentro in the countryside of Slovenia, there was a foreign leader who seemed an OK dancer. He was taller than me (which is rare enough) and he seemed to have a good ear for music and a fluid style of dancing with rather large steps. All these aspects are generally appealing to me. So I was hoping that in the course of three days and in a group of less than 50 dancers in total, our paths would cross eventually. Nope. He consistently avoided my miradas or the attempts to start a conversation off the dancefloor. In a different setting, I’d simply choose other partners to dance with, but at that particular time it became very intriguing.
So I started asking around and discovered it is not such an uncommon experience for female leaders. Forgot to mention, most of those I talked to are very experienced, well-traveled and simply lovely followers.
So that makes it all very interesting. Why would the fact that I am able to experience the dance more holistically be held against me? Don’t you realize that by both leading and following, I’ve developed a deeper sense of musicality? That I now have a greater range of motion and body awareness than before I started dancing the opposite role? A deeper understanding of tango as a whole? Does that make you feel threatened in your masculinity? But why? I can be a very sensitive follower, I’ve been told often times by many wonderful leaders. Or do you automatically assume I am sexually interested in women, if I enjoy dancing with them? I’m sorry to disappoint you, but my sexual orientation is rather uneventful. Straight. Besides, what makes you think that flirtation and seduction are necessary components of every single dance? Yes, they can be present and yes, they make that particular tanda quite exciting, but in my experience they are preciously rare and far in between. So, please, enlighten me. Anyone.
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I'm Hannah A. Tomšič from Ljubljana, Slovenia. I'm in love with both leading and following in tango. It is wonderful to explore tango indefinitely and to help others learn. Please, join my quest. Ask a question, tell me your story, make me see another perspective. We are all here to learn from each other.