Women share responsibility for maintaining safe conditions on the dance floor. Irresponsible and/or unsafe movements by Followers can create dangerous situations for partners and neighboring dancers. “How can that be?” a lady new to tango might query. “Men lead, we just follow.” Naïveté…how sweet.
Although men make decisions regarding when and where we step, we determine HOW we step and skilled followers take every step in a safe manner. The clueless or irresponsible step with abandon, as if there were no one else on the floor, often throwing wild embellishments that extend beyond their personal space, seemingly unaware that they may be putting some unsuspecting neighbor in peril. Moving about the floor with a lack of consideration for others is not tango, no matter what steps are being done.
A fact about Women: We are, therefore we love shoes. The higher and slimmer the heel, the more elegant we feel, and the more “tango” we look. But, Ladies, here’s the deal: Our shoes can become absolutely wicked when used improperly. The slicing capability of a three inch heel connecting with flesh can be quite spectacular. Have you seen or experienced a wound caused by an errant gancho, boleo, kick or other motion involving high energy and low precautions? It ain’t pretty and the pain caused is often second only to childbirth (women) or passing a kidney stone (men). On every milonga floor there is usually at least one tanguera who slightly misjudged the distance between the bottom of her left heel and the top of her right foot when moving to the cross, and who has the scars to prove it. There’s also probably some guy who would love to show us the scar on his back or thigh from being whacked by a flying Comme il faux pas.
IMO instruction at all levels should include training and practice for Followers in walking with our heel low to ground, extending our reaching foot while maintaining contact with the floor. For stepping back that means, brushing the floor with the inside of the ball of our foot, and gradually taking weight onto the extended leg. A sure sign of a beginner, no matter how long she’s been dancing, is when she lifts her reaching foot and clunks down on it as she steps back. Lifting the foot breaks the connection with our partner and the floor, two of the five connections in tango including: Our self, the music, our partner, the floor, our floor mates. (It actually takes Five to Tango, but the song title wasn’t catchy.)
When we walk backward, especially on a crowded floor, the man directly behind us is in harm’s way if we pick up our foot and step back with our heel in the air. As we move our weight on to it, there is the chance that our heel and his leg (or pant leg) will connect with highly undesirable results. Not all collisions are the fault of leaders. Women can be culpable too. Most followers’ accidents can be prevented by paying better attention to our floorcraft.
Men who lead high boleos or ganchos on a crowded floor will have a special place in tango purgatory, and women who add self-propelled, high-flung flings will be right there beside them. Women who dance with care never kick up a leg without being 100% sure there is no one within a reasonable, safe distance. On a crowded floor, it’s impossible to tell when a couple will suddenly pop up out of the blue into the space that a three inch heel may come flying through. (Skilled followers do not complete high boleos that are led in tight spaces. By absorbing the energy received from their partner rather than matching it, they keep their leg close to the floor.)
When dancing with our eyes closed, we completely entrust our safety, and that of those around us, to our partner. In that situation, we are usually in close embrace, taking small steps and our leader (if dancing with safety in mind) will take good care of us. On the other hand, if we are in salon frame, dancing with our eyes open, we can see behind our partner and can let him know if someone is about to step into his space and/or collide with him/us. A small squeeze on the arm, a facial expression, increased pressure if your hand is on his shoulder blade or other area of his back, or a word of warning are in order and quite appropriate. He will appreciate your attentiveness and contribution. (This is quite different from “back-seat driving” where the follower is continually directing her partner.)
The Follower’s role is not about being at the mercy of our leader. We contribute as well as participate and the more skilled we become in musicality, embellishments, and floorcraft, the more we can enhance our experience. Men enjoy giving us pleasure, however, when we assist appropriately and with finesse, the dance becomes ours as well as theirs. Intimacy and magic involve both partners dancing with and for each other. Giving and receiving. (Again with the tango/life connection. Oy.)