Tertulia #4 (conversations) with Makela: Leader and Follower Relationship

Jan. 22, 2019

Topic: Leader and the Follower Relationship


Steven: Makela, can you talk about the relationship between the leader and the follower? What are some of priorities for each?


Makela: In my classes I emphasize that the first priority is your partner. For both the leader and the follower. That means that you are not dancing on your own, you are dancing with another human being with a soul, feelings and a body. That person cannot just be an instrument for you to dance and enjoy yourself. It has to be a negotiated dance where both are present, involved, engaged and heard. It involves the two people in a partnership, two parts connecting with respect for each others space, asking for permission [how close the embrace is for instance], and then once permission is granted, really taking that initiative and committing to the dance fully. After the agreement, both leader and follow show up without being afraid of taking risks.


S: So your saying that once the two dancers agree to dance and agree on the physical proximity of the embrace, they shouldn’t play it safe and be tentative about connecting. Instead they should lean in to that connection.   


M: Yes, exactly.  And it is a very vulnerable act.  It’s pleasurable to enjoy in that vulnerability for that song, and then with each song a new vulnerability. I’m talking in an ideal scenario where two people negotiate with respect.  Both are connecting to each other’s feelings and what is going on physically and spiritually with the other person. And I always say that first and foremost each person needs to connect to themselves. Connecting to their body first makes connecting to the other person possible. And I suggest a specific part of the body which helps. For me it is right in my center of my sternum near my solar plexus. For others it is below their  belly button. For others it is the beginning and end of the spine. Whatever it is, it is important to connect to yourself before connecting to others.  


S: In the past you have talked about the danger, especially for follows of losing themselves and following the leader without being present fully in their own body.


M: Yes, the follow more than the lead I noticed is more likely to put all their attention on the lead without connecting to themselves. Tango is about two, whole and complete people coming together. Connecting, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and also socially.  Of course the connection between the lead and the follow is very connected to the embrace.  


S: How close to each other you are in the dance, the ways as the leader you listen to the follower and vice versa, how you are physically connecting…is that what you mean?


M: Yes, for the lead it includes how close, how much pressure you are using in your hands, and always coming from a pure heart.. Always trying to help the other in small ways without needing to tell them in words. When, for example, a lead tells a follower “Just Relax!” it doesn’t help at all, it actually does the opposite. Just by expressing things non-verbally (with a good intention) really helps.   


S: That reminds me of a topic that really interests me, which is the ways in which the leader and follower think they are helping each other, but actually they are making things more difficult.  Even though they are coming from good places. Are there other examples in addition to the one you just mentioned?


M: I generally talk about the open side of the embrace and the closed side of the embrace to avoid saying left or right side, and on the open side of the embrace people often move their hands because they think there is not enough or too much pressure.  Moving the hand doesn’t help. Some follows they really try to, for many reasons-wanting to connect, overcome their own fear, whatever it is-with their hand they go to the lead and pull the lead toward them instead of meeting the lead.  So those are things that don’t help. Also, talking doesn’t help.


S: Does it happen with both leads and follows?


M: I’m not saying that follows don’t also try to teach, but the leads in particular more often tell the follows what to do. They say  “Don’t Anticipate” which doesn’t help. You can show it with your body, without being passive aggressive, really making the follow understand the signal of the body instead of talking and making the other person feel like they did something wrong.


S: Yes, I definitely have noticed that talking just gets in the way in my experience. Another thing is sometimes I will have the urge to “take care of” the follow, like I need to be very careful or even tentative. But when you say “just move them” it really helps me to just connect and not be afraid of being “too much.”


M: Ah yes, I understand what you are saying. Taking care of yourself is good, but being too careful, no. Embodying your own strength in the embrace is very important. Let’s see…so just to wrap up, we talked about the first priority. The partner, the connection, the embrace, and connection to yourself on all levels-physical, spiritual, emotional, social, Next time we will talk about the second priority in tango. I can’t wait.