What Tango Teaches Us About Leadership
The dance of polarities is subtle and invisible
Tango is an art form that does not only require skill, but also intuition. While it may seem that in Tango the man is leading and the woman is following his lead, it´s the subtle art form of both partners “feeling” each other to successfully tango together.
My tango teacher in Berlin kept saying “Slow down, go even slower, especially you with all your energy, pay attention to detail”! It was killing me softly at that time because he really bugged the nerve out of me. I was used to being always on the move, going from even to event, country to country, and this extreme slowing down felt like losing control.
Tango was supposed to be fun and sensual for me, and by asking me and my partner to slow down so much, I lost the Joy in it.
I was imagining myself a la “Save the Last Dance” with Antonio Banderas to swirl through our Berlin Parkett Loft and simply flow to the rhythm of Argentinian Tango Classics with a glass of red wine in the breaks. Well, not with this particular teacher, who kept on saying: “Be extremely slow in the beginning, and you will be faster than anyone else in a couple of years because you nailed the details.”
His wife had a bit more mercy on me and let me have more fun, without exerting the technique so much. But he took deliberate Joy in having me go slow-mo every go.
Slow down, tune in, feel
While it was somewhat painful to slow down so much in the beginning, as I love fast movements to snatch me out of thinking and bring me into the present moment, Tango showed me a lot about the subtle dynamic between men and women, effective leadership, and being “in tune” with each other, especially when it´s slow.
This has nothing to do with expert technique, but everything with how much we can feel each other and perceive what the partner is trying to transmit to us, beyond the obvious signals they give through their hands and movement of the feet.
For example: When my partner was constantly stepping on my feet, the teacher would say “Move your hips backward.” That was quite literal. When another partner was very rigid in his physical guidance and almost forcefully tried to transmit what he wanted me to do, the teacher would say to him “Close your eyes and feel into where you want to lead her”. Nice.
When I was enjoying all the fast steps and swirls, the teacher would say: “Stop, slow down, and do them even more slowly”, which most of the time had me lose balance. Which was interesting, because I did not lose balance in moving fast, but I lost balance every time in moving very slow and being very specific in the movements. Same as in life sometimes.
Tango as a Leadership Barometer
I had the best Tango moments with men, who were genuinely interested in us dancing smoothly together, compared to the ones who were trying to do everything by themselves, getting stuck in their head, thinking they need to lead and I need to follow.
The ones who were very attentive to my moves and my response to their signals, were the ones to adapt the fastest, if I answered with a different move than they anticipated, and therefore they became the most fluid to dance with. The interaction was very relaxed and fun.
Men who took their leadership role in Tango too seriously, were extremely rigid, not attentive to what I was perceiving from them, and physically, mentally, and verbally blaming it on me, if I didn´t get what they wanted me to do. It was not about us doing the Tango together, but about them leading me somewhere they wanted to go. There was an element of separation in here, a lack of trust and Joy. Let alone a lack of relaxation.
It felt like hard work at some point, and that´s not what the sensual art of Tango is all about. Tango is about deeply tuning into the other person and picking up on each other's energy, to perceive which subtle image the partner wants to transmit about the dance.
Balanced Leadership: When Both Lead
When both partners are fully present (meaning void of thoughts) and in tune with each other, the leadership starts to switch from person to person. Both of them are transmitting to each other a mental image of what they want to dance next and where they feel the dance is going.
Tango is an art form based on present moment awareness, subtle signals, and invisible exchanges.
When I would dance with the teacher, it was impossible to perceive which signals he was giving me, yet my body intuitively picked up on them, and the dance was extremely easy and fluid. I could not explain what it was, but it simply flowed without any thoughts involved. It was a dance that was embodied rather than a mental idea, and that makes all the difference.
See my article on How to Harness the Invisible Power of Influence, where I explain the concept of intention.
Dropping from Head to Hara
In embodiment the energy that leads it´s the energy of the Hara, the navel center, which is deeply connected to intuition and gut feeling. It´s also the same energy that´s connecting us to the flow of life (in the chakra theory it corresponds to the Sacral Chakra, which is the seat of Joy, Flow and Life Force).
It´s the same energy that is creative and sensual at the same time, so the more both partners tune into their bodies, the easier it is to perceive where the flow of life is guiding them both — because it springs from the present moment. If one of them or both of them are stuck in their head, there is not much dance happening and the flow does not even start.
In the end, life is a Tango too. The more you train your ability to perceive the subtle signals, the present moment guidance, and the physical visceral feelings it transmits to you, the easier it is to just flow with it.
And lead from a place of Joy and relaxation!
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