But then came the 70s with women‘s liberation and the 80s with the „new man“. And the Tangoshows, with often classically trained dancers, who definitely needed more, than just a little practice on the dance floor. The Millennium brought Tango Nuevo, role-changing and women, who „just take the boleo, if the man does not lead it“. So now, women are supposed to participate actively in the dance.
But what if you don‘t create a choreography with your partner and thus bring in your own personality? What if you don‘t want to exchange roles during the dance or make movements, that are not suggested to you? What about active participation in a fairly traditional, close-embrace Tango?
There are still a lot of Milonguero or Salon teachers, who promote a quite passive woman‘s role: waiting for the man to invite her, waiting for the man to lead a step, to bring her back to her place. When I „grew up“ in Tango, I was told, that it‘s always the men‘s fault, if something goes wrong. Even then, I asked myself: why do we need classes, especially women‘s technique, if the quality and course of the dance is uniquely the men‘s responsibility?
And then I had a look my early teachers or colleagues. And I saw lots of female teachers, who (although they were doing all of the organisation) left most of the talking to their male partners or let them choose the music for a demo. „HE has to interpret the music, I do not need to know about it.“ But hey! Don‘t you dance to the music as well, I ask them? What about your preferences, taste, needs? Do you just want to tag along?
For me, it‘s all about making choices!
Choose your style.
I know, that there are less Tangueros than Tangueras, and women tend to go to classes or Milongas of a certain style, because their partner (or a partner) wants to participate. But you will know best, what kind of Tango you want to dance. You want to dance high boleos and soltadas? Fine, go look for a partner, who shares your idea of sportive movements. You want to concentrate on the walk and a nice embrace? Go and look out for Milongas and teachers, who focus on that kind of Tango. Not mentioning names here...
But seriously: it‘s up to you, even in a Milonga, to show, how you want to dance. Show it by your posture, by your embrace, by your way to move. You may even convince an otherwise acrobatic dancer to dance a nice close-embrace Tango, if you demonstrate him, how wonderful your embrace can be.
Be an active practice-partner.
A lot of women never complain in classes for the sake of avoiding arguments. They just stand there and let the men figure out, what‘s going on. Very often they pout and are bored. Or they „help“ by anticipating every movement, he is supposed to lead. No, that does not help at all! Be constructive. Tell your partner, how you feel about a certain movement and it‘s communication, so that he can figure out the proper way to lead it. In case you‘ve got an idea of the proper lead, why not show him? Tell him, what an exercise is about, when he get‘s it wrong and do not wait until the teacher does. You loose valuable time!
I do not want to encourage nagging and knowing-it-all, but an active positive participation in the process of learning is the pre-requisite for understanding and developing the dance. And of course: pre-requisite for giving constructive feedback is the ability to receiving it as well, as a friend just reminded me. Both partners bear responsibility for the outcome and can make mistakes!
Know and choose your music.
An active dancer needs to know the music and the possibilities it gives. Musicality workshops are not men‘s only classes! So, explore these possibilities, get to know the music, develop a personal taste and - for god‘s sake - dance only, when you really like the music. How can you interpret it, if you don‘t like it? In this case, you can just passively tag along. Knowing and loving the music enables those exquisite moments, where both partners move in unison, without being able to say, who is leading or following. They are both dancing to the music!
Choose your partners at a Milonga.
With the method of the Cabeceo/Mirada, both men and woman choose their partners for the next Tanda. Do not hesitate to use this method. You do not have to dance with everybody and accept every invitation out of fear or politeness. An active dancer chooses a particular partner for a particular music. If I want to dance to Di Sarli, I will choose a special man. If I want to dance to Rodriguez, I will choose another. And if the Di Sarli partner invites me to a Rodriguez Tanda, I may even refuse the invitation (politely), as I know, that he will not interpret this kind of music the way I like it. And if a man will dance a style I don‘t like, or does not communicate properly, or does not have the technique to make me feel comfortable, I will not dance with him at all - no matter to which music. I rather sit during a Tanda of Di Sarli, than dance it with a partner who will push and pull me around.
Learn the basic principles of leading.
Apart from enabling you to lead other women or men, this will open a whole new world of communication. With the proper technique of making a suggestion, waiting for the acceptance and then following the woman, a modern Tanguero will be open to your input. I do not speak about taking over the lead or doing stuff on your own, because he does not suggest it. I am talking about liberating spaces or blocking them and about subtly communicating your ideas. This may sound dubious, but with some time and maybe a couple of hints from appropriate teachers, you will figure it out.
I do not have to mention here, that an mastery of the basic techniques is the requirement to a more active role in the dance. Do not even think about making suggestions to your partner, if you cannot stand, walk or pivot on your own!
Choose to do decorations carefully.
Unfortunately, active participation in the dance is very often mistaken as doing lots of decorations. But WOW, is this wrong! How often do I see women, who can barely stand, and have to lean on their partners for support, moving their feet frenetically, because they want to express their personality. That‘s bad on so many levels. Not only that it is totally annoying and prevents your partner from improvising, mostly it just looks nasty. But the most severe outcome from doing too many Adornos is that you have to shift the attention from the embrace to your feet. This will not only result in a loss of quality in the embrace, but you will definitely miss those moments, where you might communicate more actively as discussed in the former paragraph. So, concentrating on decorations might even prevent developing an active role in the dance.
Don‘t get me wrong: a decoration here and then, to interpret the music is a nice thing to do. But just don‘t overdo it!
Choose to be passive.
And now that we‘ve talked so much about being active and participating in a modern and conscious way, I want to tell you: you don‘t have to do it! If just want to give over the responsibility to your partner, that‘s totally ok. Women do carry their lot in society, they don‘t have to in Tango. Social dance is about having fun, feeling good and should not become another field of competition or create stress.
Even I sometimes choose to be passive: when the music is right and the partner dances nicely and I am tired of teaching and being aware and active, I just follow and enjoy the embrace. And this can be exactly the perfect choice.
Once in a while. ;-)