Certified Maestros Tango Argentino with 33 years experience (Mariano) and 23 years experience (Cosima).

Double Role Tango

social tango tango tango history Jan 10, 2024

by Mariano Díaz Campos, 10-01-2024

27 / 28 January 2024
Double Role Tango Bootcamp >>

'If you really want to learn tango, you have to learn the other role as well', is an expression that tango teachers, me included, often say to students. As a teacher, when I say this to students, I hear them sigh loudly. And when I heard this sentence myself from my maestro some thirty years ago, I sighed myself. Why is it so hard to learn the other role?

When you learn something, you will get new insight of your learning process. In our case as tango dancers we learn that the tango dance of the leader and the follower is completely different and not mirrored like some other dances. That means that what the leader is dancing, is not the same as the follower. So when you get the insight that you need to learn the other role, it can feel like you have to start all over again. But that is not true.

I remember when my dad -a maestro himself- told me that when he learned rock 'n roll dancing in the neighborhood Villa Fiorito in Lomas de Zamora, a city that is part of the Buenos Aires metropole, he learned the dance from older guys, while they danced the ladies role.

That's because you don't want to be made a fool of when you go out dancing with the girls. When your invite a girl for a dance, you had practiced before with your friends who danced both roles to teach each other and try out new ideas. This solidarity among male dancers was essential and part of a 'bro code'. Your friends were your family and you took care of them. As dance schools were not so common, your learned from your friends. This was the case for tango in the golden era, and with rock 'n roll in the fifties and sixties.

This conduct between male dancers and friends appeared around the late 19th century in Buenos Aires because a lack of women due that migration was almost solely male. All those young men from the provinces and from Europe came to Buenos Aires. Sometimes it was ten men to one women. In the migrant barracks and shanty towns, in the bars and brothels, to get close to a woman and be appreciated you had to dance well. Especially because also of religious culture. Young women didn't go out without chaperone or didn't go out at all. Young men had more freedom to go out. When de demographic was already stable this culture incorporated in the society of the nation.

That's what the generation of my father experienced in the sixties trying to learn rock'n roll at the 'esquina', the corner of two streets where they tend to smoke their first cigarettes and gossip about girls. He told me that when he was there for the first time as a teenager a older boy of the 'barrio' (the neighborhood) asked him if he could dance rock n' roll. When his answer was 'no, not yet', the boy grabbed him and learned him his first step. I imagine that it was like that also during the time of the tango in the forties and fifties of the 20th century.

When I was growing up, we would always welcome Antonio Todaro in Amsterdam when the maestro was touring in Europe. He was a close family friend, the main maestro of my parents Lalo Díaz & Mirta Campos, and Antonio inspired me to become a tango dancer myself. He gave me my first tango shoes to encourage me to dance tango. My dad told me how his tango maestro Antonio Todaro had a male dance partner in the fifties named Virulazo (real name Jorge Martín Orcaizaguirre). The boys in those times taught each other tango, and learned from each other. Todaro and Virulazo were so famous that they were asked to give shows together in the milongas of Buenos Aires.

I saw Todaro dance once with Raúl Bravo, also a colleague of him, in milonga Club Glorias Argentinas, in the neighbourhoud Mataderos, in Buenos Aires. I was impressed how elegant and accurate Todaro's movemens were when he danced as followers role. My dad often said: "Todaro was the best follower I danced with". 

But why do tango dancers in the beginning of their tango career find it difficult to learn the other role? It's simply, in my opinion, that you as a beginning leader or follower think that you have to learn a whole new dance, but that is a misconception. You think 'how can I learn the other role if I still can't manage all the other steps I do in my role?'.

We as teachers think differently now. Firstly, there will always be sequences and steps you won't learn because every day new steps are invented, or rediscovered. Secondly, you will learn better to do your principle role by dancing the other role, because you learn the movement of your partner, you know what your partner feels when you propose (leader) or respond (follower), how you process it, how your body language transfers information, the musicality of the leader of the follower and lots of other things which are part of technique, coordination, movement, weight and balance. 

In perfect dance education setting, both roles would be taught in a dance school from beginning. But that's often not the case. If you took lessons with us you know that in our tango method we often ask the dancers to practice the steps of both roles, and we often dance the side - front - back and balance in changing roles for all dancers. We implement this aspect in our tango method, so that both roles could be taught, and during our years of experience we developed this method. In about two weeks we have the launching of a new tango seminar where everybody is welcome who wishes to explore more, to also improve 'the other role' of tango dancing. So if you are interested doing the double role seminar in our Tango Masterclass Method, you can sign in and we assure that it will improve your dancing as a leader and follower.

Sign up here:
27 / 28 January 2024 Double Role Tango Bootcamp