Argentine tango London | Tango frenemies 
“Best friends forever?”

There are 3 words commonly used in tango which I can only think of as “frenemies”. They sound helpful whilst actually leading to misunderstandings about what tango and what the role of each partner is about. Let’s expose them now:

  • Frenemy 1: “Leader” – Surely, that’s someone who leads, right?
  • Frenemy 2: “Follower” – Easy peasy: someone who follows.
  • Frenemy 3: “Dancing” – Usually understood as to move rhythmically to music.

Well, let’s think again: maybe we can confront these frenemies, bend these hung-up definitions and achieve a nicer dancing experience in the process.


Frenemy 1: “Leader” – Surely, that’s someone who leads, right?

Leaders, a lot of responsibilities fall on your shoulders, but you can make your life easier by allowing yourself to follow too. Follow… fine… But follow what?

Argentine tango London | What is a leader 
“How far will you follow me?”
  • Follow the follower – The follower’s role is to listen to your lead. As a leader, you could in turn listen to your follower, and to a certain extend, allow her to lead you. Does she feel tensed, relaxed? Have you danced together before? How does she respond to certain leads and how can you adapt them to her? Is she expressive and does she enjoy adornments – why not create more opportunities for them then? If on the contrary, adornments make her panic – consider swiftly moving on… Making the effort to establish a two-way connection with your partner makes will tango even more enjoyable.


  • Follow the dancefloor – How are people dancing? Is it going to be an easy ride or will you need bumpers and an airbag? There’s no need trying to fight a messy dancefloor and huff and puff every time someone goes against the line of dance, you might as well go with it and have coping strategies in place.
  • Follow yourself – Tired? Too much Malbec? Why not give giros a miss then?
  • Follow the music – Every opportunity is good to reconnect to the music. Find the beat, find how it resonates within you. Followers give in to the leader, and in turn, leaders give in to the music. Every move should start from the music. Simply walking or doing easy figures to the music is, in my mind, always preferable to complex moves that have no connection with the music.


Frenemy 2: “Follower” – Easy peasy: someone who follows.

Argentine tango London | Los Angelitos 
“Look who’s leading now!”

The word follower is confusing and can make certain dancers adopt a “passive” style of dancing: “I’m being asked to go this way, fine, I’ll go. Oh, that way now, let me go there then.”

The Argentines talk a lot about how followers need to be “present”. Remember that in the Golden age, it might have taken a gentleman years before he made it to a milonga and had the opportunity to dance with a woman rather than another bloke from the conventillo down the road. So, after all these efforts, dancers were not after someone who was merely following the lead, they wanted someone who was actively dancing.


Of course, let’s be clear, followers need to follow, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make a few suggestions along the way. Remember, the leader’s job is to indicate our next destination and beat of arrival. How we travel is our responsibility.

  • Sparkling adornment here and there is of course the easiest way to make our journey from beat to beat more personal and more fun.
  • We can play with the speed of our response, for example delaying our hips in an pivots or accelerating them instead.
  • We too can play with the half beats. I really like marking the half beat with a little rebound when exiting a sandwich. I’ll still get to finish the step on the beat, but who says I can’t frolic along the way?
  • We can sometimes suggest a different musicality, for example pausing a bit at a parada to do an adornment or to follow a violin. If you do, don’t abuse it, and also modify the pressure in your embrace to tell your partner that you’re busy doing something and that he should wait.



Frenemy 3: “Dancing” – Usually understood as to move rhythmically to music.

Argentine tango London | What is dancing? 
“Don’t move! There’s another couple behind you!”

A student of mine is a trained performer and she once mentioned that her drama teacher was always banging on about the “and” in acting, as in:
“Simon walks into a room AND says hello to Deborah AND makes himself a cup of tea.”

This scene would look very different from: “Simon walks into a room says hello to Deborah makes himself a cup of tea”.

(I am not claiming either of these scenes would have any artistic value, mind you!).


Dancing tango is the same. Sometime I dance with someone and I am exhausted from the feeling of running around. It can happen when I watch other dancers too – some dancing styles make me feel tired, almost out of breath, just by looking. It’s usually because there’s no pausing in the dancing. The dance feels like: salidaochosanguchitoparadaganchoboleo. There’s no breathing space, nothing to separate the different figures and give them room to exist on their own.

Adding more AND to any dancing can only make it better. Do a salida. Pause a bit. Do an ocho. Pause some more, maybe a little cradle and then a sanguchito. Explore pausing whilst stopping and pausing in motion too. Then, the tango you are drawing on the floor will be clearer for you to feel and for all to see.


Explore your own tango, beyond words and beyond steps

In my mind, a leader is someone who leads AND follows. A follower is someone who follows AND leads. And dancing is a sum of movements AND non movements.

Tango is a dialogue, not a monologue. It is a dialogue where both partners are equally active. It is a dialogue which music dictates the theme. And the dancefloor is where it takes place.

But don’t take my word for it! Try doing something differently at your next milonga – leading, following or stopping. Experience is worth a thousand words.

See you soon on the dancefloor,