Monday, 26 October 2009

Changing Embraces

There are quite a few people in the London tango scene who vary their embrace during their dance for one reason or another. I'm not going to go in to why that is or whether it's a good thing or not, or why you might want to do that or something else. I have the impression that dancing socially in an open or sort-of open embrace is getting less common, but it's not something I can really measure. If you're leading, then you make up your mind what you think is right, and try to get good at it. If you're following, and you think that being able to have a working and reasonably enjoyable dance with the widest possible variety of partners is a worthwhile goal, then you need to be able to deal with all the variations. You don't have to agree that it is a worthwhile goal, but in London1 it's a good way to get a lot of practice, especially at the start. I felt it was a good goal for me for a long time; it's still useful to me, but less important than it was.

But what I wanted to say about this was a point of information. Leaving aside an open-only style, which is unusual and is really a different thing altogether, a 'fluid' embrace feels quite different to the woman from a consistent close embrace that you can really settle into. Even though the technique is the same, the overall feeling and flow of the dance is different.

Sometimes people know how to do both, but they don't know how it feels to follow. And when they switch between them in the same track, or even the same tanda, following it is like a change of channel in my early digibox - jarring, disturbing and things tend to get missed. It feels like "where have you gone? I thought you were dancing with me!" The way I have to connect is different. If you're going to do a fluid version I'm OK with that (assuming there's lots of room and we're not invading other people's space) as long as you make it fluid from the start and keep it that way. But don't start off making me think I can settle, and close my eyes, and dance with you and the music, and then suddenly throw me out. It's hard work, and technically demanding, and it frankly upsets me as well. It makes me want to curl up and prickle, which is not really the thing when you're dancing tango.

1The reason I'm not talking about how they do it in Argentina is that I don't think it's relevant. In as far as one option is truly better than another - practically, aesthetically, or because it feels better or is easier to do well - then that is just as true here as it is there, and you can ask your teacher or figure it out for yourself.


NYC Tango Pilgrim said...

I had an unpublished post about that. :-P I often see man embraces the woman off they go having a nice moment. The woman's eyes closed, wearing a smile on her face... all of sudden, he breaks the embrace and starts performing forever tango moves... The look on the woman's face varies from puzzled, soured to angry.

ghost said...

I'm reminded of a scene of a couple doing a long distance drive together - you get to hear the woman's thoughts first

"This is a good sign. He's comfotable enough in our relationship that he doesn't feel the need to talk. We can just be comfortable in each other's company and enjoy the scenery *contented sigh*"

Then you hear the man's thoughts

"Oh no, this is terrible. She hasn't said anything in ages. What have I done wrong? Quick think of something to say, um anything! Argh my mind's gone blank."

Similarly the thoughts inside a man's head leading tango in close embrace

"This is nice. Just walking to the music. No-one's trying to actively kill us.....what if she's bored?! Maybe I should do one move. Argh my mind's gone blank! Um think what was that sequence from last week? I think it started with a back sacada.."
at which point the woman is promptly evicted from close embrace.

It would probably help if women made more effort to tell men they like staying in close embrace (or if more men followed - hint if you're a woman leading a man do so in close embrace; it's highly unlikely he's going to follow in close embrace with other men)

Elizabeth Brinton said...

Good points MsHedgehog.
I very much dislike a change of embrace in the middle of a dance. But I understand it to be the man's fear that he might not be entertaining us or whatever. But I also have learned from the follower side to be more still (less fidgety), but I have some progress yet to make here. It seems that nice dancing is meditative, and meditating is hard?

NYC Tango Pilgrim said...


Whoever thinks like that probably hasn't found his tango.

ghost said...

The problem is using the "right" kind of meditation. "I'm a leaf on the wind" kind of thing will work with fluid. "Snuggled up under a comfy blanket on a sofa" feels right for close embrace. But switching suddenly between them is difficult without a lot of practice. The Hindu's refer to being kicked out of the meditive state of close embrace as being like "walking on broken glass" :(

@NYC Tango Pilgrim
Fer sure. The simple fact that there is an ongoing internal dialogue is not a good sign.

LimerickTango said...

Whenever I mention changing the embrace I point out that the leader should not throw the follower from one embrace to another. Something that I have seen being done.

Instead I advocate that if you are going to do something that needs more space than your current close embrace then use her requirement for more room to open out the embrace. And as ever try and do it with the music.

Mari said...

I'm so glad you posted this! It's so jarring to find yourself suddenly disconnected in the middle of the dance. My first thought is always "what did I do (wrong)?" rather than, "oh neat, he's going to do something new." Actually I never have that second thought.

msHedgehog said...

Also, I need a new TV. But the new ones are all so huge, and don't deserve the space they take up. And for something I only use about once a month it seems like a waste of money, too.

Tangocommuter said...

Closed/open gets taught, at least in London, which is probably why it gets practiced. You lead to the cross, then you are told you have to open the embrace to lead a turn. Of course you don't 'have' to, but you do have to learn how to turn clearly, and really lead a turn, rather than just suggest it with your arms, but that doesn't get said or taught so often. How often do we get taught how to turn in close embrace? &, truth to tell, some followers seem to find turns easier, or at least more familiar, if the embrace opens a bit.

@ MsH, if you use it only once a month, you could get a good monitor for the PC, and a usb stick tuner that plugs into the aerial. It works well, and you can record to your HD, if you can find anything worth recording...

msHedgehog said...

@TC - yes. And if the woman believes that she must never cross her feet (why not?), then it more or less is necessary, I think.

Anonymous said...

It always bothers me when my teachers tell me to vary the embrace - its the only way to do the moves they say.

So like a naught child, on a Friday, I secretly never do this .. and I feel like I'm staying with my follower for a whole dance. Maybe boring .. but seems to work for the followers I dance with.

On the other hand - a chap I know told me of a follower who followed patiently then asked "so when are you going to throw some **** in?".

I suppose you have to dance the way you like - with those who like it too.

msHedgehog said...

@Anonymous - If I'd been your friend, I think I would have interpreted that as a compliment. Maybe she actually wanted to hear "never, I don't do **** any more".

Good on both of you for going for what you think is right. If you can back it up by doing it well, other people often change their minds.

Why not say to your teacher that you have found opening it up is difficult on crowded floors and makes it harder to respect other people's space, and what is their advice? Come back and tell us what happens. They might give a useless answer, out of surprise, but even then they might think about it and give a different answer later.

ghost said...

Thinking on Elizabeth's comment about not fidgetting.

While not foolproof, if you want to indicate to the me that you want to stay in close embrace ~

Accept my inital invitation to close embrace without reservation. Don't wait to settle into it later, I may well be dancing fluid in about 4 beats time.

Keep your right hand / arm a bit lower / more relaxed than normal. It basically says you're happy with close embrace chest leads for the whole dance

If comfortable, wrap your left arm around my shoulders kinda like a scarf. (Raising your left arm in the air before doing this helps indicate it too because it's just unusual to have a woman's hand up behind my head)

Have your face directed towards mine, ideally gently touching, ideally with your nose resting on my cheek.

Be relaxed and "huggy" rather than tense

Don't fidget.

If you want to re-adjust that's fine, but try and make sure you end up with a closer / more connected version at the end

Remember to breathe ;o)