Ask Arlene…How Many Steps Does a Good Leader Need?

I have received two questions from men covering the same topic, so I will address them both here.

From:  Mr Walker
Hi Arlene


(for a follower to enjoy the dance)


From:  Claus

Dear Arlene,

Have read your Ask Arlene with great interest, but did not come across this one. Thanks in advance!
Having taken classes for almost a year and attended practicas for 6 months, I am at a quandry: all the advice is to dance away at the practica as this is the best way to learn, but my step/movement repertoire is small. So I need to learn (to lead), yet there are expectations for me to lead with something interesting. Come the practica and I am at my usual catch-22. What is your advice?

Dear Mr. Walker and Claus,

I am of the less is more camp.  KISS (Keep It Simple Sweetie).  As long as one is in touch with the music and can walk in time (not too fast, and not too slow), then sometimes (or most times) that can be enough.  For a leader, I think it would be worthwhile to look at videos of older milongueros and watch what they do.  They do NOT use ganchos or make their follower do voleos.  They tend to use smaller steps and dance around in a smaller space.  They follow the line of dance.  They do not use show moves.  By focusing on the music, rather than on fancy moves, the dance ends up being enjoyable for both parties.

Learn how to do a giro well.  Most men think they know how to lead it, but they usually don’t.  Lead with your upper body, not your arms.  Focus on the embrace.  It is little things like this that make a dance enjoyable. Remember, sometimes the most significant part of the dance is what is felt between the parties involved, not what can be seen by others.

Claus, are you sure your followers are expecting something more in the fancy footwork department or do you feel unsatisfied with what you are doing?  All women want is a really lovely dance and to be transported by the music and their leader to a different place, which is not really possible if one is trying too hard to impress.  The idea is for the woman to close her eyes and enjoy the experience and not to have to wonder what fancy moves she is going to be made to do.  If the women are expecting fancy moves, then maybe they have been watching too many show clips or going to classes where they teach dancing large and the fancy steps that go with that.

When you are truly comfortable with how you are dancing with the music, I am sure you will find a way to make the dance more interesting.

13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. irenicon
    Aug 08, 2009 @ 07:34:55

    I love to dance with men who simply walk to the music. Although it is fun to play with steps sometimes with a regular partner, the beauty of the tango encounter is in the feeling not the steps.

    Sometimes I think mean feel they should produce lots of steps to please me, but it is the feeling I seek.

    If we asked the same thing about making love would it be better to know a lot of technical positions or to do so with great feeling?

  2. Sophie
    Aug 08, 2009 @ 12:39:35

    A good leader can take an absolute beginner through a giro and make her look decent, I can attest. Because a clear lead is something so fundamental, as long as the lady gives in to the lead, she executes it. What I want is not bad painful pyrotechnics, it’s a clear and bodily sound lead. Whether it’s on 200 or 2 patterns. And to be honest, I think that’s what most followers would actually put under the “simple things” label. It’s simple if I don’t have to think about what I’m doing, whatever it is I’m doing. So practice and build your dance and feel the results (and let us know!).

  3. jantango
    Aug 08, 2009 @ 15:14:25

    Good advice, Arlene.

    It’s unfortunate that men feel they have to perform an intricate routine on the social floor in order to please their partners. Not so. If they put it in the context of making love to a woman, they might realize it’s not about the quantity but about the quality and feeling they have in the moment that matters.

    Tango flash continues to be sold because people continue to buy it. The embrace is what matters. Take charge of us, and we’ll follow you anywhere! Ladies, speak up and tell men what you really want in tango.

  4. yabotil
    Aug 08, 2009 @ 16:01:34

    A good leader needs 4 steps. Forwards, backwards, to the left and to the right but they must be done well.

    I may not be the most experienced dancer who follows this blog but sometimes I do get positive feedback from my dancing.

    I previously wrote a post on my experiences: I learnt all these moves but found that I hardly ever had the space to try them out in a milonga or half the women I danced with didn’t know the moves or I couldn’t do them with grace and elegance.

    Just listen to the music – does it scream out gancho or colgada to you? If so, do them, if not, do what you feel.

    Obviously I also have dances with some women who are more interested in doing flashy fancy steps. But these dances feel dry and empty. If you’re trying to satisfy these women then good luck, you’ll be collecting steps for a long time.

  5. Keno
    Aug 08, 2009 @ 16:51:45

    As a leader when I first started dancing Tango I wanted to learn all the patters/steps I could find. I probably knew about 100 or so. My first teacher from BA told me if I wanted to really be good at this I had to practice all the exercises they gave me and they would only teach me what I was ready for. The first month Walk, second month Walk, third month Walk, etc. Now about a year later My exercise is still Walk. She did challenge me to try something, go to a milonga and only walk. No ocho, No minlonetta, no nothing, only walk forward, side, back, and a check steps. So after three months I don’t want to do all the patterns and steps I have learned. I only want to dance with the music. Sometimes I lead something and the person asked me do redo the move, I can only say I don’t remember what the move was because the music told me to lead it. The old dancers had it right. Dance and become part of the music, it will teach you moves.
    Best Keno

  6. AmpsterTango
    Aug 08, 2009 @ 17:32:27

    Master a few things well. Change how you deliver them based on the music.

    I wrote about this in my blog a few months ago:

  7. Johanna
    Aug 08, 2009 @ 18:00:44

    I’m reposting the comment since my blog address has changed 🙂

    Great post! I was going to comment, but decided it was worth a post of its own:

  8. onesteptanguero
    Aug 08, 2009 @ 20:49:57

    There is just one step you need
    to know.
    The step that makes
    her go “aah” and “ooh”:

    Simply the step to
    and joy.

    No other direction counts.

  9. El Chupacabra
    Aug 08, 2009 @ 23:17:21

    It would help if some teachers in London spoke of what Arlene said in her reply. Seriously – you never hear this in classes, and if you don’t know you’ll never learn it from teachers.

    How many classes have started with the teacher saying “Who remembers the sequence from last week” .. for some eager beaver to perk up and think he’s great at tango?

    Never mind some people who actively write down the sequence after every class or workshop – this I do not understand. Please educate me if I’m wrong.

  10. El Chupacabra
    Aug 08, 2009 @ 23:22:39

    Also – its not how MANY steps you know, its how WELL you do them. Sorry to state the obvious.

  11. Simba
    Aug 09, 2009 @ 23:44:39

    Great advice, Arlene!

    I remember feeling the same way Claus feels, but I think you are absolutely right. Even though you feel inferior when all the others do all their amazing stuff.

    Be there with her, do what you know well, and do it with the music, and you will do great!

  12. Claus
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 11:18:47

    Many thanks to Arlene and all the other replies. I think I get the gist here: it takes time and practice, and is hard at first. Then my question is: is there any point to dance classes learning exotic moves?

  13. Arlene
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 12:47:24

    @ Claus,
    Less is more is the gist and the answer to your question is not really.

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