No, not "the end of the world is near" but for tango -- "the end of leading and following is near."
I predict (and pray for) the end of leading and following in tango! This model is so unfortunate -- a misguided analogy. It worked for centuries. A new paradigm is needed to describe gender roles in tango.
Tango teaches us some great lessons about the nature of roles, and we are mostly missing its wisdom. "Lead/follow" was how a culture and an era of machismo described what tango was. Machismo is not evil. But it is a limited way of expressing role differences. I do believe that tango has so very beautiful expressions of machismo -- its more enlightened side, but that is a different topic (what it means to be a gentle-man).
Count Basie and Tango It occurred to me to use an anti-lead/follow analogy with a woman who was so far behind the beat that it was unnerving. She was "rusty," she said. She hadn't been dancing for a year, but I sensed that her delay was that she wanted me to interpret the music for her and not hear it for herself. Something that Count Basie said came to mind. His principle for good music was that it is not what you play, it is what you don't play that makes the music good. So, assuming that Count Basie was right, I suggested that the woman is the "rest" or pause (that which is NOT played) between the man's "note" or impulse. I also suggested that the music was the true leader. The most magical thing happened. She danced about five levels higher after that. Since sharing this with other women, I have noticed a huge change in our creativity level. Free at last for both have a say in the creativity of dance.
The True Leader is Amazing
If there is no leader we have a problem. I agree fully. What in the world are we doing out on that floor? Why are we moving? Who starts the dance? The leader! The reason people start moving is because the leader is speaking to them to do so. And, of course, Music is that leader! The true leader. It leads us not into temptation, but delivers us from the evils of tortured dancing. Translated literally from Spanish (la música), we should say, "She leads us." Movement is up to the couple, but She has attempted to lead us. One person plays the "note," the other allows the pause between the notes (not pulling into the next movement but allows it).
With these two philosophical agreements with a partner (that the music is the true leader, and that the woman is the creative pause between notes), I find that dancing feels "enlightened." I see women making a huge paradigm shift in the way they dance. I no longer have have to translate la Música's lead, but we co-create what She has led. Women who are even beginners "lead" me to new discoveries.
Other Analogies for Role Behavior in Tango
The biological model of man and woman indicate that the man gives impulse and in the woman's womb something new is created. Lead/follow and talk/listen and me-Tarzan-you-Jane models do not describe the biological model of creation between a man and a woman -- nor the beauty of tango. Other analogies may also help get us closer (but they are only analogies): Yin and Yang / magnetic poles / note and rest / director and producer. These analogies maintain role separations as being absolutely necessary while not diminishing one or the other.
Sociology of Roles
I just met a woman sociologist and she teaches her students to break away from role limitations. Are roles automatically limiting and bad? Tango, she said, dampens her spirit, but paradoxically she likes it. I agree with her struggle with how her teachers mostly have presented tango as "man-do-talking/woman-do-listening." Tango has a lesson for her (and all of us): That making the sexes all the same and having equal roles is going to the other extreme by eliminating roles altogether. Role switching is perfect for somethings. For example, good conversations are trade-offs on lead/follow and talk/listen. So roles can switch, but conversation as an analogy for tango is problematic. Lesbian/gay couples are ahead of the rest of us for switching roles, but for the rest of us, extreme listen/talk roles or role switching is not the result we are seeking. So the question is why in the heck are we using this analogy at all to describe tango?
The Great Feeling of a Woman "Leading"
With a woman who attends to her very active role of creating the next moment after an inpulse, I want to say to her, "Because of you I was taken to the next level." Such women bring me ("lead me") to a level of joy that is nothing short of magical. Often after I have said this (and it happens all the time), my partner self-deprecates herself by saying: "I just followed what you led." No, sorry. I was the note and you, mi tanguera maravillosa, were the rest, the creative pause. Without you "we" would not have happened. The music-of-movement was "us" not what a mere mortal led.
Counting on the Count*
Mr Basie was right. The most wonderful music is created by the rests not by the notes alone. Ladies -- you inspire me. It feels like you have led me somewhere I have never gone! You must feel the same thing because you often tell me, "you led that so well." I am sure now. I experience this at every milonga: La Música leads us both. We listen to Her. I give an impulse, I am the note, and you allow a wonderful pause. I move into the next impulse because you create that moment. I do something I had never done before. It may feel as if you led it or you may feel I led it, but really, I was the note and you were the pause; I was what was played and you were what was not played. Honey, we make beautiful música together.
*Regarding Count Basie. I suggest a book by Dizzie Gillespie: To Be or Not . . . to Bop. A whole new brand of Jazz musicians came out of what Count Basie was doing -- playing less and pausing more.
What women "leaders" teach men about being a man. This will be provocative. More on the sociology of roles and what it means to be a man, and why "leader" women have difficulty protecting their partner. Yes, provocative. Sharpen your pitchforks! The End of Leading is Near (part II).