Thursday, May 29, 2008

Follower Energy :: Deep Tango Thoughts

Colbay over at The Tango Hours mentioned it. Debbi at An Ever Fixed Mark touches on it in her private with Shorey.

You might call it follower energy. Or perhaps power. It's the concept of the follower not being passive at all. The absence of energy is what I have called a lazy follower. Not passive, active. Relaxed, but listening. Poised.

The leader leads with intention, the follower should follow with intention. Her intention to "take" the step. Not just take the step, but "TAKE" it. I'm having a hard time verbalizing what's in my mind on this. I will have to leave it at this - it's not just stepping. There's more to it.

Jaimes Freidgen has us do an exercise at a workshop once. In particular, it was on the molinete, and it was intended to illustrate the follower's energy level when taking her steps - back-side-forward - around the leader. He had the leaders stand on one foot, with the other leg extended out to the side, with a block frame. The follower was to take her steps around the leader, and pivot him on his active (standing) foot. First one way, then the leader changes feet and the follower goes the other way.

This energy level can be extended to walking and most/all other steps I would think. The crux is the delicate balance of it all. Not to seem lazy/flaccid, yet also not to seem too athletic, not to be backleading, or to feel like the follower is "getting away" from you or overstepping the lead.

I wonder, is this concept the difference between a heavy (feeling) and a light follower? Some followers (regardless of their physical stature) feel like a ton of bricks. Some feel like a feather mounted on ball bearings. These would be the two ends of the spectrum. I like it somewhere closer to the feather - but not too light.

This is a topic that I struggle with, when dancing with a few particular practice partners. Used to struggle with, since I no longer practice regularly. Eventually, I just gave up on it and kept my mouth shut.

Ladies? Your thoughts?


koolricky said...

Hi Alex, I understand that concept as passive leading, which has nothing to do with backleading.
Backleading is when someone doesn't care what the leader wants to do and decides to ruin the dance by effortfuly putting the followers mark in it, regardless of the story of the dance. Passive leading, or follower energy (it's all a question of semantics, more and more I find it), it's when the follower is absolutely in line with the leader, absorbing his dance, extending it with her input and in those moments where the leader gives her freedom, adds something else to the music.
However, I have stopped discussing this on the web so I'll say no more!

koolricky said...

Hi Alex!
Back leading is always a drag. It happens when the follower ignores the leaders's input and decides to write her own story in what it should be a tango for two.
The concept that you touch is what I call passive leading, which it may be a question of semantics but it's pretty much what you are describing here.
I stopped discussing "passive leading" on the internet though, due to reasons that I don't want to bring out here. So I'll stop it here! ;o)
very good post!

tanguetto said...

Ahora solamente paso, volveré a leer con tranquilidad.

Taylor0405 said...

Good thoughts...will keep in mind this week!

I plan to absolutely "TAKE" it!

Alex said...

hola koolricky...

thanks for the comments...I prefer to think of the concept of active following...versus lazy's hard to put a finger on...but I think it exists with some followers...

and, it can be a touchy subject, that's why I started keeping my mouth shut...I'm not sure why I brought it up here...we'll have to see how the commentary goes...

Anonymous said...

KR, Alex, while the issue of active/passive/backleading may be touchy and impossible to really define, the other issue you raise in this post, Alex, is why is a follow "heavy".

I believe it is a multi-pronged answer: lack of trust (the "lag" created when a follow tries to figure out what the lead is doing rather than just doing it); lack of technique (poor posture, balance, etc.); and improper weight shift.

Alex said...

Hola Johanna!

I also think it goes to the more esoteric/arcane/theoretical of "grounding". It is possible to "make" yourself "feel" heavier, or more stuck to the ground, or more immobile. I have had teachers do a little exercise where they just say "make yourself immovable".

Is it possible to do this just by thinking it? Or, is it possible to do this by unconscious mindset?

I suppose being "grounded" is good...but "grounding" yourself can result in excessive "heaviness". And again, I must emphasize to other readers, this concept has nothing to do with a follower's actual weight/mass.

I'm starting to get confused...this all might be a little too "out there"...even for me...

I think it's just something to be aware of...not something that a follower can really do/manifest...

ModernTanguera said...

When you talk about intention, and following with the intention that the leader has, I think of the word "quality". I always try to follow with the same quality of movement that the leader is using. When he is stepping strongly and quickly, I try to match that in my steps. When he is taking slow, smooth, even steps I try to match them. To me that's mostly a matter of sensing and following my leader's quality.

On another level, it's a matter of just being confident. Taking the step without worrying. You feel the lead in that direction? Go there. No worries about whether you're understanding the lead correctly, whether it's the right thing to do, whether it's a step you know. Just go. Understanding that concept took away a lot of my initial problems with weak following.

But I think the distinction between heavy and light followers is more complex than just these things. The first thing that comes to mind is how grounded the follower is when she moves. Two ways I have heard to talk about groundedness: feeling your feet extend into the floor, having roots; and releasing your lower body so that it is relaxed rather than held up and tensed. This is another place where you need to strike a balance. (A little Goldilocks moment: This follower is too heavy; this follower is too light; this one is juuuuuust right. heehee!)

ModernTanguera said...

I just saw your comment to Johanna (we must have been writing at the same time!). I have to respectfully disagree with the last bit - groundedness is *definitely* something that can be changed. It is exactly the sort of thing that you consciously change when someone tells you to try to be immobile.

It's a hard concept to explain, for sure. Some people just won't get it. Maybe they have to feel it to understand. But I remember one distinct moment in a workshop where a lovely teacher came over, made a sound effect for me, and suddenly I was grounded. Now I know what she was getting at (being grounded is discussed in other dances, too!) and can changed how grounded I am in tango whenever I think about it. It's just another technical thing that takes some practice and patience.

msHedgehog said...

"I think it's just something to be aware of...not something that a follower can really do/manifest..."

I'm not really inclined to believe that, because I have the impression you're saying it because you don't know what it is physically, and surely that was the question you were asking, so let's at least try to think how we might go about answering it.

To find out what it consists of physically, you would probably have to do an experiment with a partner who doesn't normally have this problem, in which you asked her to try to reproduce it in various ways, and then, assuming she succeeded, asked how she did it.

But that wouldn't necessarily give you its cause. For that, you'd have to find a partner who *used* to have this problem, but has solved it, or who only has it some of the time, or who has it all the time and wants to solve it.

I think we can make some guesses, though. One is that she simply hasn't realised it's OK to step with more force. For this I think the exercise you described is a good approach. Also, they could watch 00:56 to 01:06 of this video. Where is the power coming from to rotate Pupi's mass against the floor? His feet are standing still, so it must be coming from Geraldine. He may be steering, but she is the engine. It doesn't take very much force, because he is wearing smooth shoes on a smooth floor and is perfectly balanced, but there has to be enough.

Another is that she is simply having difficulty getting the lead at all, because there's something wrong with her embrace. The 'resolution' with which I can percieve the lead has changed dramatically with my skill level, but it's also affected by how relaxed I am and how far I've succeeded in adjusting my embrace to the leader. On occasions (getting rarer) the adjustment fails. Does this happen to you, say, with women who are not used to dancing with someone so tall?

Anonymous said...

Alex, some of this is too esoteric and technical for me. But in answer to your question, YES, I can manipulate my "groundedness". I can make myself "heavier" or lighter, depending mostly on how I am being led. When a lead tries to rush me at a particularly vulnerable place, or before I've shifted weight, I plant myself like a marble column until I can shift my weight. Most of the time, they get the message and I can return to my normally incredibly-light-but-grounded-and-highly-responsive self.

Mtnhighmama said...

When I first settle into an embrace, I try to listen to the tone of the lead. I don't always get it right, and sometimes I scramble mid step to adjust my energy to his (or hers) because I realize I read the intention inaccurately.

I make a conscious choice how to carry my energy and how to let it flow through my legs and feet with each step. As Johanna said, I can be that marble column or I can be that downy feather, but I need to be able to read it in my lead. I need to be able to hear what his expectations are from me. Once I hear what his expectations are, I can choose to play with his energy, acquiesce to it, ground it, etc.

How do you communicate to your follow the intention you desire from her?

Tina said...

I would add something, but I personally prefer to just shut up and dance. ;-)

Hum. Guess this means I have to go to El Beso... ;-)

Elizabeth said...

Lots of interesting comments, and I tend to like Tina's!
But seriously, Jaimes is a great teacher but his female students have a tendency, being young and lithe and ambitious, to try to do a lot of things. Here in Seattle it is a problem with "active" follows who really are into themselves and don't care too much about the lead (the leads will tell you!) Then, for the true follower, one who waits...she has to seek out leaders who can make the space for her to respond. I can count them on one hand.
The leads hardly stand a chance with this diva group. If they are going to get a hold of their own lead capacity...they need followers. Those follows need not be passive, just in the mode to wait, to be sure, then to act with matching energies.
And so now, I will shut up and dance. Thanks Tina!