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Watching The Follower's Feet

Today’s Practical Tango Advice (PTA) deals with an issue that you see quite frequently, and in all likelihood you are either doing right now, aside from reading this PTA, or have done, and will continue to do until someone, like this PTA, points out to you that there may be a few issues with this way of engaging your partner, and the dance as a whole.

It should be noted that this particular PTA issue is much bigger than you might imagine, and while the solution itself is seemingly simple, again, it’s not. There’s a whole lot going on here that you absolutely want to wade through. And to simplify this down to the few lines of text below isn’t addressing the issue fully.

The Issue: The Lead has seemingly tilted their head forward into their Follower’s space and as a result the Lead ends up directly watching their Follower’s footwork to verify, and to validate, that the Follower is doing what they’re led to do.

The Solution: The easiest answer is just to lift up your head. Ummmm….not so fast! There are a few things about this issue that we do actually have to talk about before we get to the actual SOLUTIONS, note the plural there.

That said…let’s dive into Today’s Practical Tango Advice: Watching The Follower’s Feet.

The Follower’s Side of the Equation. The reality is that there’s not a whole lot you can do about this one except, as is your choice, not dance with these Leads that engage in this practice. However, there are two things to do to avoid the practice. 1.) You can not accept someone’s invitation to dance. More on this later. 2.) You can remind someone (at a practica, never at a milonga, not even if they ask for feedback on the floor) that they’re watching your feet. Barring those two items, your options are seemingly limited.

The reality is that when you have a Lead that does this they’re not necessarily aware of you per se. They’re stuck in their heads, they may be on beat (“may” being the operative word), they may not. They may poke their head up now and again, but don’t count on it. They not exactly paying a whole lot of attention to anything or anyone else. Their reality right at this moment in time is so laser-like myopic it’s not even funny. This is an excuse of the behavior, it’s a very real world explanation of what is potentially going on for that Lead. “Myopathy” is so right on it’s not even funny at this point. They can’t see the forest for the trees. Even the Leads that have been dancing this way for years, and years, where this is the only thing they know, their focus is very myopic.

Why is this an issue for the Follower ? The reality is that they’re in your way. Depending on where said Lead has placed their head, and whether or not they’ve open the embrace to do it, then there are varying degrees of “less-than-desirable” in this instance. While the Lead’s embrace may be pleasant (operative word in the sentence, “May”), the fact is that while they’re watching your feet, they’re not watching the floor! They’re not watching every obstacle that’s in their path. That’s a navigational nightmare just itchin’ to happen! However, let’s get back to the fact that they’re in your way, specifically in any turn that you’d be lead to, almost all versions of a cross (Argentine or otherwise), and of course your Ochos (Traveling Ochos, Milonguero Ochos, etc). Where this really becomes an issue is with any Boleo, any Gancho, any Parada, or Pasada! Anything that you’re being led to the Lead’s head is going to be in your way. However, it’s not just their head….it’s the fact that in order for you perform any of what you’re being led to do, most of that ‘lead’ will come from their torso. And in order to lead this stuff, their head will be forward whereas their torso will break at the waist and tilt towards you but you won’t get all of the information from their torso. And the more pronounced the body break the less information and pre-lead information that you’ll get from your left arm and hand along your lead’s spinal column! Or put another way there’s less surface area for the Lead to communicate with you through the body-on-body or Close Embrace. While things will work mostly well in Open Embrace, Close Embrace or any variation of it, will mostly be problematic at best. If that weren’t bad enough, and this may be slightly vain, slightly: Said Lead is not exactly making you, or the couple, look as desirable as possible. In fact they’re making you look like you don’t know what you’re doing. As a direct result of this behavior, there’s one more thing that occurs because of this experience. You, in the role of the Follower, will more than likely rush to catch up with your L/lead! Typically what goes part and parcel with this kind of behavior is that the Follower ends up running behind their Lead. Uuuuugh!

What can you do about it ? The 1st suggestion above is all about prevention. This suggestion takes a bit of awareness on your part. You’ve got to watch the floor before you say “yes” to someone’s cabeceo. You’ve got to pick and choose who you’d like to dance with. You’ve got to remember the posture shown above. And lastly, sadly, you have to have it done to you a few times before you get it that this isn’t desirable former you. Unfortunately, some people will see this advice as being rude or elitist. It’s not. It’s a matter of practicality. The reality is that when a Lead is watching your feet, they’re not watching the floor, and they’re not necessarily paying a lot of attention to you (personally). The 2nd suggestion is again, preventative, but requires more than a simple reminder, when you think of it. It requires you to be jane-on-the-spot at a practica and continually annoy the living daylights out of a Lead to get them to stop doing this.  There is a 3rd method, which Tango Topics does advocate from time to time and is unfortunately not in the video as a solution. However, the solution is to put your head under their head, make eye contact with them, and to quite literally make a game of it. “Hi!”. Sometimes this works. Sometimes this doesn’t. And it can be done at a Milonga without the Lead being told what they’re doing or how to fix it. There is a problem with all of these last 2 suggestions, and that’s 2 two steps later the Lead will go right back to doing what they’re doing (more on this below). Sigh.

The Lead’s Side of the Equation. Watching The Follower’s Feet is not just an issue of posture, it’s also an issue of habit! What makes it worse than that, is that it’s an unconscious habit. So let’s dive in….shall we ?

Why is this an issue for the Lead ? Well, it’s not just one reason. There are several.

1.) The Visual Line of the couple (which the video points out above) that you, as the Lead, are responsible for generating. Don’t sit there and shake your head “No”, you are responsible for what the couple does, how the couple executes X, Y, and Z, and more importantly what they look like doing it!

2.) It’s Everywhere! As mentioned above you’re quite factually in the way of the Follower depending on how pronounced this issue is in every piece of tango vocabulary that you Lead! Walking, Embrace, Sacadas, Volcadas, Colgadas…just to name a few to add to the list from above….it’s everywhere in every step, everywhere.

3.) The Compressed Embrace. The reality is that more than a few of you that employ this way of dancing, as a result of the head (and body) tilt you will open the embrace a bit to make room for your head but at the same time, but at the same time your embrace with your Right arm around the Follower’s back will become more and more compressive! Usually, these two things go hand-in-hand (no pun intended). If there’s compression in the embrace, it’s a good bet the Lead, that’s you, is uncertain about the effect of their leading skills and what’s actually happening.

The Reason Why Watching The Follower’s Feet Occurs ? Uncertainty. The Lead is uncertain about what’s being led, and the effect of that lead (the action). In reality, the Lead’s justification for watching the Follower’s feet is really a spot check in real time of what’s actually happening so that the Lead can prevent any errors! Really it’s not such a bad thing. <cough> Really it’s not. <cough, cough, cough> It’s a simple way to check on the progress of what you, as the Lead, are doing. Why is that so awful ? First, it’s not awful, it’s just not desirable. Language is everything here. Secondly. The visual doesn’t make the couple look good. Thirdly, you’re in the Follower’s way. Fourthly, and this is probably the biggest issue of them all…and the reason why it happens: Proprioception! Tango Topics has defined this word, and there’s even video on it so go read and watch, please.

In this instance, you have not developed the skill of proprioception which would allow you the ability to know where the Follower is in space and time at all times without looking! This skill has monster benefits when you’re looking at doing any Lead Back Sacadas! And Lead Back Paradas just to name a few.

Any piece of tango vocabulary where you can not see the immediate outcome of what you’ve led, but instead you have to feel the sensation of where your body is in space and time, in relation to the Follower’s body in space in time, and the effects that it’s having.

Have you seen the Milonga Madness series ? Over 2.5 hrs of pure Milonga Instruction GOLD with one of the best Social Milonga Teaching couples alive: Detlef Engel & Melina Sedó! It covers everything you need to know to get you up and running today with Milonga. Don’t delay, subscribe today!

Milonga Madness with Detlef Engel & Melina Sedo

The Solution to Watching The Follower’s Feet ? Now that you understand the situation and its effects, what’s the solution ? There are in fact 2 parts to the ‘simple solution‘.

1.) Lift up your head.

2.) Changing your habits.

Part one is really easy – Lifting your head! Remembering to do it ? That’s the challenging part. But even when you remember to do it, there’s still another issue, and that’s part 2 – Your ‘habit’. You don’t see an issue with this stuff. For you, this is a comfortable (for you) way of dancing. It’s what you do. It’s your ‘art’ of your dance. Discussing it, or talking about it is ruining the fun for you. And anyone that says different is being a perfectionist, or trolling for the Tango Police! Right ? Who cares if you’re watching your Follower’s feet, right ? Well, you do actually. You care what you look like, what your partner’s look like, and furthermore the dances that you’ll get from not doing this. As has been proven time and time again, people do watch what you’re doing, and while your friends, locally, may think you’re a nice person and that you may never have an issue getting dances, locally. Go anywhere else and all of that stuff falls away from you and more than likely no one knows you and you’ll be starting at the bottom of the tango-rung, again! So this stuff does matter and it’s not the Tango Police in this case, it’s the run of the mill dancer, local to that scene, that you’re wanting to dance with/in/at. So….yeah, this stuff does matter!

Changing Your Habit ? The simplest methodology to changing your habit is an Auditory Mnemonic! What’s that ?

It’s a word, or an acronym, that can represent an action to remind you to do something. In the author’s case, it was a simple one like: H. A. K. In the author’s case, he had issues with his Head, his Arms, and Knees. The reminder was built on that and that alone.

H = Head, reminding him to lift up his head into the proper position.
A = Left Arm, specifically the elbow slightly backward and away from the Follower, while at the same time lifting the left arm but not above the shoulder line.
K = Knees, a slight compression of the knees.

This is the Mnemonic that was built.

What makes it Auditory Mnemonic, is that you would say out loud this every X number of steps!

The effect that occurs while dancing is that it’s a deliberate change of the author’s dance, while at the same time ending up bouncing his head up and down for a few tandas while he was learning how to maintain better head positioning and the other two items in the Mnemonic.

In this particular instance, because it’s not just the head, and you each have your own issues, you also have to factor in the torso break at the waist. You could, and really should, make your own that applies to you. In the instance, the above acronym (HAK) was used, you could just say “head” to remind yourself to lift up your head every X  number of steps! However, it doesn’t address the torso break as well. So saying “Head Torso” isn’t going to help either. How about using “HAT” ? Which is “Head and Torso!” to remind you that you need to a.) Lift your head. and b.) Lift and realign your torso. At the same time, we also have to address the embrace compression that’s occurred as well, as well as an opening in the embrace, a slight ‘vee’ that’s occurred. All of these things must be addressed in your Auditory Mnemonic! Here’s an idea:
HeToCoVe = Head – Torso – Compression – Vee. Or make up your own that addresses the issues.

The Real Key To Change! It’s the frequency. The “X” number of steps must be addressed as well because while having a nice Mnemonic is all fine and good, you actually need to use it! So as with any skill that you want to become your new habit, you must employ it religiously otherwise it’s pointless! So in this instance, we recommend every X number of steps be set at 4 steps. The reason 4 is because it’s an easily divisible number but we typically operate in pairs of steps, and furthermore usually by the 3rd step (at least) you’ve already reverted back to your usual state. So ? Four steps. Every 4 steps you’re going to say, or use your Mnemonic. “HeToCoVe”, every FOUR steps until it becomes your new habit. No, if’s, and’s, or but’s about it. This part is an absolute must. The thing here is overwriting your normal habit with something else. And while it may seem hard or difficult to remember the first few times you do it, it will become rote memory over time and thereby overwriting your habitual behavior that’s become your norm.

The Effect. Yes you are going to look and sound stupid for a little while. Yes you are going to have a bit of neck and lower back pain, and spinal soreness for a little while, not to mention the shoulder, wrist, and elbow issues that will happen long after you’ve transitioned. All of that can not be helped because you have a bit of restructuring to take care of. And that restructuring of your body’s own way it moves here will need time to settle and become part of you. The ending effect should be a more pleasant visual alignment of the couple … in the end.

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