I had a great conversation with a couple of my Tango friends last night, and I thought I'd talk about it a little bit here.
In our 21st Century world, women tend to be in charge of things. Whether it's their own home or a department full of people at work or even keeping our boss in line because he can't keep his head screwed on straight, we're used to running the show and doing a lot of thinking. When we step on the dance floor, that habit tends to carry over. The leader can't possibly know how to interpret the music as well as he can, or perhaps he's struggling and we want to help....or maybe we're just off in our own world, doing our own thing. Whatever our reasons for subverting the lead from the man, a lot of us do it. Some of us don't realize we do it, because we dance blithely along, unaware of how annoyed the man is because he's trying to lead us but can't. Others, like myself, sometimes realize just a fraction of a second too late that we did something we weren't led to do or missed a lead. Oh, sure, I TRY to follow and let the man be in charge, but I slip from time to time.
So, why can't we just relax and let the man be in charge? For some women, it might be belligerance or ignorance. For those of us who are truly trying, it's a matter of learning to trust the man to be in complete control and surrendering yourself to him. This is true in Tango even more than Ballroom or Swing, because there is even less standardization than West Coast Swing and way less than Ballroom. The man is interpreting hte music in his own way, and even if he uses steps he learned in a workshop with 20 other leaders, he's still doing it in his own fashion. In order for the lady to be truly with him, she has to surrender and let him take her through every single step.
How do you learn that trust and surrender? Saying "just relax and surrender" is like saying "just go to sleep." personally, I can't just close my eyes and go to sleep, and most people can't just relax and surrender. However, unlike learning how to sleep (which may be a possibility, but I kind of don't think so), you CAN learn how to give over and just let the man lead you. However, it's not as simple as just deciding to do it (for most of us, anyway...there are some people who are natural followers who have never struggled with it, and never will).
What it takes is hours and hours of floor time. Lessons are good and helpful, but a combination of lessons and going to dances/practicas/milongas is best. You need the instruction from class, but you also need the practice of just going out there and dancing and not knowing what the leader will do until he leads you into it. You have to keep telling yourself to relax and let him drive. Take deep breaths and will yourself to relax every time you can remember.With Tango, because it's new to me and that makes me tense, I have to do this numerous times in every single song.
They say the leaders have the hardest job, because they have so much to learn and balance. However, learning how to truly follow is just about as difficult, in my opinion, because of the natural habits we have to overcome. However, it can be done with a lot of practice and will--just make sure you remain open to following instead of doing whatever you feel like doing while the poor leader struggles along.