Learning to lead is easier if you know how to follow tango

Many women I work with notice that they are learning to lead much faster than beginning male dancers. Why is this?

First, you already know the moves in tango. For example, if you have followed walking to the cross (the cruzada) five thousand times, it is not a new step. Even if you have trouble turning steps around in your head, the fact that you have been on the receiving end of the cruzada means that you already have data to plug into that move as a leader.

Second, you know what you DON'T like in a leader. If it annoys you that leaders push with their left hand, or don't use a solid marca to help you do the step they have in their mind, you are less likely to attempt to lead a step that way. Furthermore, you know what moves don't feel comfortable for the follower, and you can avoid those steps as a leader, even if they are fun for the leader; that triple boleo leg wrap thing is out! You have a checklist in your head of what a good leader does that you can follow as you learn to lead.

Third, you have prior experience dancing to the music. You already have favorite orchestras, or favorite songs. You are not building an understanding of the music from scratch, as a new leader would who does not have tango following experience. This seems to be true for milonga and vals especially, since many women admit to me that they are learning to lead so that they don't have to sit out milonga and vals tandas :-)

Fourth, you already know the other ladies at the milongas. Unlike a beginning male leader, you have friends who are willing to dance with you because they are your friends, right from the start. You have already done your "wait until they can recognize you" time in the community. Because many women start leading when they are advanced intermediate or advanced dancers, they already know the more advanced followers; this also speeds up learning time, as dancing with beginners is just harder.

Three out of four of these conditions were ALSO met for men, back when my teachers such as Tete (we miss him!) learned to dance.  In an interview, he told me about learning to dance with the other boys, and following for about a year and a half (the time changed the different times he told me this story) until he got tired of it and insisted on being allowed to lead.

The Argentine men who learned to dance this way, already knew what the move felt like as a follower. They had an understanding of what felt good (or didn't feel good) as a follower.  They knew the music from growing up around it. They didn't have instant access to lots of good followers, however: their friends had to beg dances as favors from the more advanced women, or they had to do the long wait for acceptance by the women in the community--until they were acknowledged to be a good dancer.

That means that a woman learning to lead today (unless she is starting both roles as a beginner, as I did), has many advantages. And, guys, perhaps you might consider working more on your following skills, right from the beginning: it may speed up your learning process! We can't be Argentine, but we can be good tango leaders!