Alex Krebs Tango Quartet

My Year in Tango: Part Four

In tango, there are leaders, followers, and sometimes, The One

The leader's primary position is to lead the dance--to show, to indicate, to gently persuade.

The leader’s primary position is to lead the dance—to show, to indicate, to gently persuade.

By now you must realize that a fair amount of time has passed in my Tango Year. Since we got past the sticky intricacies of the close embrace, we must now consider another touchy subject—the leader.

Tango convention dictates that the leader is traditionally male; the follower, female. There are exceptions to this rule, but let’s not confuse things just yet. The male’s primary position is to lead the dance—to show, to indicate, to gently persuade the follower to move in a way that responds to his wish and whim and that shows her off as his willing and able accomplice.

A step back here, a leg graze there, a step to the side, a loaded pause: all this comes to the follower via carefully crafted gesture and touch, pressure, and suggestion, openings, closings and opportunities presented during moments. The follower makes the movements beautiful and languishing, and she communicates glowing appreciation of her lead’s ability. No one will ever accuse tango leaders of being egalitarian. No one will ever question who is in charge. It is the leader and, for the purposes of our discussion, I like to call him, The One.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you are behind on My Year in Tango, do not despair. We have an intro, a Part One, a Part Two, and a Part Three just a click away! Look for Part Five in a few days…

I have obtained a sense of great appreciation and respect for the men of tango, especially the beginners: those who struggle to achieve smoothness and grace against all odds and the 21st century male form, its torso cradled daily by a desk chair after the unconscious trudge to the office, a hand that conforms most comfortably to a tv remote or a mouse. In all likelihood, most American men who can afford the luxury of tango lessons have rarely, if ever, experienced what it’s like to have nothing but their pride and their walk. Tango asks so much of the affluent American male.

That man must also forget any feminist inclinations he might have, at least as they apply to tango. It may appear that we are asking The One to return us to the days of submission, domination, but I don’t think that is the case, entirely. Still, you might be wondering, as well you should, whether an ardent feminist can, in good conscience, dance tango.

Personally, I am one of those self-professed, have-her-cake-and-eat-it-too feminists who still likes it when a man opens my door, stands up when I walk into a room, lets me sit down first, and generally shows a regard for my delicate side. And for me, tango seems inherently to invite men and women to show respect and admiration for each other through the long lost art of gesture. I would like to suggest that the tango of the contemporary world offers free-thinking, independent women an opportunity to have the best of both worlds.


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