Tango’s Role and Roles in Tango

Tango helped me understand my truth. While it has proven to be a journey, rather than a constant, I am very grateful to tango. I have heard many tango conceptualizations and over the years as a dancer build my own, “tango your life” after all. 

When I came to teaching tango, I started to think about a broader understanding of tango and what message do I want to pass on. Would my message work for others? Is it inclusive? Does it work for both roles? 

And more students came to our classes, more people tried different roles, more it tested our language and showed how much tango is (or is not) adjusted to social norms we live in or more so thrive to have. 

It was the most exciting time of stepping on the path of personal conversations with self in search of the deeper truth of tango and own beliefs. Which stereotypes I still preach without even realizing it. And I began the process of piling social norms and gender roles expectations off of tango to my best ability to get to the core of the true concept of tango as an art form, created by two beautiful humans in sincere and vulnerable exchange of pure energy, – what would that look like or what language to use to explain this?  

From my perspective, there is a lot of similarity between roles: both must listen to each other and to the music, both adjust, both support one another when a partner gets off balance, e.t.c. But one initiates and moves initially and another completes the movement. So I thought of using the terms Initiator and Completer instead of Leader/Man and Follower/Woman respectively. 

Now I know there are others who are adopting new terms and there are debates, what is the better way. My humble opinion, as long as it is not “man” and “woman”, all is important work. We stepped away from leader and follower, because, as it was pointed out by my teaching partner at the time, Luis, there is an underlying assumption, that man is here to lead and woman is to follow. 

Nowadays there are many trends to redefine what means to be a leader, there are great leaders of all gender. And there are many spaces that introduce new strategies and tactics of leadership, which are based on listening, empathy, cooperation and mutual respect and uplifting all who contribute. And if tango is used as a platforms to do the same and help achieve healthier communication, I think it is very important work and I celebrate those, who chooses this path.

We chose to switch terms to new and it felt very liberating, it felt like an awakening call for us and our students. It really gave a sense of creating a space that invites everyone to explore, think creative, and be brave. And this was only the start of an exciting journey. 

Switching to new terms helped to not have to fight any preexisting expectation of each role within ourselves or in our students. But as important was to support it with the language, that suggest: both roles are important, safety and comfort of each dancer is a priority and we do not have to suffer to make others feel good about themselves, all are here to listen to each other, to learn non-verbal communication, learn empathy and learn to be attentive to another person. And to have time and space to except, that there is no shame in being caring and learning what another human being might need at the moment. 

In our fight for privacy we learnt not to look at other people, and so it crippled us in understanding what is a healthy exchange between two humans. The most often touch is with a romantic partner, and so to touch or be close to more people is in our mind borderline creepy. But it is OK, to seek human connection, and it is OK to take time to learn back this skill. And by creating space for partner dance without gender expectations, felt like a good start for it and was my way to say: “I see you and I am here for you”.

And so we began our journey of conscious language, self-growing and many new lessons. First lesson did not make us wait, so many times we caught ourselves still using pronouns “he” and “she” for initiator and completer respectively, and apologized for it.

The best skill I learned through this: I can question myself without fear or guilt, and that is a beginning to beautiful awakening, growing and better understanding of myself, and for that i am forever grateful to my teaching partner and students.

Iryna Ilyk, August 2020

Photos By Natalia Regan

4 thoughts on “Tango’s Role and Roles in Tango

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