Don'ts For Women (from a leader's Perspective)

24th July 2009

(More Next Steps articles.)

"How do beginners get better, if no-one better than them will dance with them?" ~ Chris O'Shea


First, do no harm.

Second, dance what is led.

Having spent a lot of time asking women what men do that annoys them, it was recently pointed out to me by MsHedgehog that many women are equally in the dark about what they do that annoys the men, especially when they're starting out on their tango journey.

Hopefully this will help.

The Embrace

Fold your arms in front of your chest.

Gently push them together until you have a "firm" connection. You should be using very little force indeed. Now push down as hard as possible with your top forearm and try and keep your bottom forearm from moving down. Bear this in mind with the left side of your embrace. It's very hard work dancing even a single dance with a follower who's actively pushing down strongly with their left arm. It's awful if they go a step further and actually use it to support their own body weight as well. Likewise don't pin the leader's arm to your torso. It can be painful and it's not fun for him when the blood stops flowing to his fingers.

Now put your left hand on your right bicep. Again, get a firm connection. Still pretty light, huh? I regularly get bruises on the inside of my bicep from women who apply way too much pressure. Now wedge your left hand into your right elbow, making sure to hook your thumb inside the bicep.

Without adjusting your left hand try and move your right arm in such a way that your left hand freely flows up and down your arm.

Remove your hand and now rest it on your right elbow but keep don't let your thumb hook in.

Now try moving your right arm in such a way that your left hand freely flows up and down your arm. In the first example you've blocked the leader from changing or adjusting the embrace. This reduces his options considerably especially where pivots are involved and generally makes the dance clunkier. It also prevents you bruising the inside of his bicep.

The leader's right hand may well be moving around your back quite a lot. Is the clothing you're wearing conducive to this, or does it have lots of bows and ribbons for him to get his hands caught in?

Likewise some materials / designs tend to bunch up under a moving hand.

Although much less of a problem, be aware that certain rings on your right hand can be uncomfortable for the leader. If you're wearing high heels, can you keep your balance in them? Again it's not fun dancing with a woman who's leaning off axis and using the guy to support herself.

Automatic moves

Auto-ochos, auto-giros and auto-crosses: the leader starts to lead one, the follower recognizes it, but then stops listening to the lead and does the rest of the move on their own.

On one level this is merely annoying.

The leader may have wanted to do a different timing to interpret the music, or they may actually have been leading something else and now they can't. Plus you've effectively broken the connection which rather defeats the object of dancing tango.

However on a floorcraft level it can be a bit more dangerous.

The leader has effectively lost control of you for several steps. If in that time he needs to move evasively to avoid an incoming collision, he's going to have to use a lot of force, or literally pick you up and move you. Likewise the move he was leading may have fitted the space - the move you've led to completion may not. The same problem occurs with adornments. Be aware of your surroundings if you're doing adornments.

Intermediate moves

"If anything, beginners are easier for me to dance with than bloody intermediates, who epitomise the saying 'a little knowledge is a dangerous thing'. Beginners don't anticipate, they don't try to backlead, they don't have preconceived notions, they don't try to overstyle or hijack... Beginners, by and large, are great." ~ David Bailey

Get a defrosted chicken - this represents your leader.

Get a pair of high-heeled shoes.

Hit the chicken with the heel a few times. Doesn't take much force to do real harm does it?

This is your leader after you've finished doing unled boleos and ganchos on him.

The simple truth is that most intermediate leaders can't lead ganchos well. Ganchos are not the woman deciding now would be a good time to kick her heels in the air. The most likely outcome of unled ganchos is the woman kicks the inside of the guy's leg. This is not fun. If you kick the inside of his knee, don't be surprised if he doesn't want to dance with you again.

Unled boleos obviously have the potential to harm those around you. Given that you can do an unled boleo on any pivot, this can annoy a leader very quickly indeed as he tries to work out how to lead you without using an pivots whatsoever (and quietly prays you don't start doing linear boleos)


"It doesn't mater how tiny she is, if she doesn't have the right body mechanics in place it's like trying to lift a sack of potatos" ~ recent conversation with a professional dancer.

Leans, also known as volcadas and colgadas, need a surprising amount of body mechanics to work well. They are not about using pure strength.

They require the leader to have the proper mechanics - for example in a colgada (lean away) the leader also leans away along the same line in the opposite direction to counter-balance. If he's standing upright or you're at a strange angle to him, he has to use brute force to keep from dropping you.

Unfortunately for him, your body weight is now most likely being applied through his back and knees. This can hurt a lot, to the point where a considerable number of leaders actually recommend letting the follower fall instead.


There's nothing inherently wrong with playing. I've had women backlead a number of interesting things on me.

The important details that prevented me from being harmed were

  • There was lots of space around us
  • They did it slowly, gently and clearly, making eye contact to make sure I was on the same page as them.
  • They were ready to bail on the move at any given point and completely take their own weight etc
  • I knew them and had danced and practiced with them a lot
  • They had good body mechanics

But ultimately it all comes back to:

First, do no harm.

Second, dance what is led.

 - Christopher O'Shea, 24th July 2009

Related articles