Turns – Milonguero Turn

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The Reverse Embrace

Reversing The Embrace

There are certain defaults that we possess after years of dancing. We don't realize that they're defaults but they are. And for the Non-native speaker, 'default' in this case means unconscious ways or methods of doing something that is performed frequently. 'Defaults' from a Tango perspective could mean but is not limited to how one crosses one's feet, how one engages the embrace, how one asks for and follows a series of ochos, how one would follow a molinete, etc. These are default behaviors. We learn them as a result of several things, not the least of which is how we (at the time that we acquired the information) bodies weren't able to accomplish an end goal so we do what we can and as a result we end up imprinting the 'less-than-desirable' way of moving, or engaging the embrace (read that as squeezing, pulling, pushing, hanging, etc), or crossing, or molinete, or .... or.... those ways of moving into vocabulary to accomplish the goal, even though it's not desirable. We don't realize that we have formed this way of moving, and it’s now ‘comfortable’ even though it’s contorted (mostly) and at the same time we sort of forget how to do X, Y, and Z properly (mostly because we don’t have someone poking and prodding us to remind us about X, Y, and Z and how it should be done) and therefore we stop paying attention to it. This becomes our ‘default’ behavior in Tango.

The Concern: This isn’t so much of a problem but rather a ‘concern’, something to be mindful of that if left unchecked, can create problems for us later on down the line. A good portion of you reading this will only look at the video and see this cool toy, and not look at the deeper issue that’s really going on here. A fair number of you will see the issue but not pay it any mind, thinking that this doesn’t happen for you. You’re perfect. Right ? Furthermore a smaller number of you will only see that this isn’t just a Lead issue, but a Follower one as well! 😉 So what’s the concern ? That we as dancers become very accustomed to sending AND receiving kinesthetic pressure/compression/force/resistance information via the embrace which 9 times out of 10 creates more issues for us than we would like. This becomes our default behavior in the dance. The key component here is ‘sending’ and ‘receiving’. You’re going to think that sending refers to ‘leading’ and that receiving refers to ‘following’, when both messaging happen for both roles at the same time. A lead or follow both send AND receives information. Mind you a good portion of both roles, don’t actually listen to the other but that’s a story for a later topic. However as a result of this way of dancing, we tend to get stuck or bogged down in our default behavioral responses and can’t see another way of moving.

From a Leading Perspective a good portion of Lead/ers (not necessarily a Lead - we’ll get to that in a moment) rely heavily on the asymmetry of the embrace to communicate our intentions, specifically our left arm and hand (for a lot of leads) in turns and ochos (think ‘resistance’), and for a smaller number of leads their right forearm and a much smaller number of leads that use their right hand to paddle their followers into turning or stopping. This is using the embrace to communicate our intentions, or more to the point forcing the follower to do X, Y, and Z through compression, tension, resistance, and physiological pressures. These pressures are ‘messages’ to the Follower and what a good portion Lead/ers that use this way of dancing don’t realize is that this is not a desirable way of dancing. A Lead does NOT use these things, much like a Jedi uses the force for knowledge and defense - never for attack, they use body-on-body contact to communicate their intent without pushing, pulling, or physiological arm/hand pressures to indicate their intent. And even a Lead that does all of that properly still has a default set of movements, a default set of expected responses, that they’re unaware of. It is to that group that this topic is really speaking to. Why ? Because the Lead/er crowd of resistance based dancers have absolutely zero desire to change what they’re doing. For there to be change in that dancer, several things have to take place. Most notably they have to have reached the end of the road with Resistance Based Dancing, to be shown that it is less-than-desirable by experiencing it for themselves - what it’s really like to pushed and pulled around the floor for 12 minutes (assuming a 4 set tanda). That, and a lot of Followers saying “No” to them, and a lot of sitting. Speaking directly to the Lead reading this, you have a concern that your lead is not what you think it is, it’s not as clear as you think it is. So by reversing the embrace you will see the areas where you are weak, and where you are clear. 

From a Following Perspective you may not realize that you to have a default way of moving, a default expectation and responses. You may, erroneously, believe that The Reverse Embrace structure outlined above in the video applies ONLY to the Lead/er (and Lead). Not true. It applies to you as well. How’s that ? Simple, you have the same embrace biases that the Lead does only to a smaller degree, however your concern is that you have a set way of doing things, specifically your turns, ochos, and crosses. By reversing the embrace, you realize just how awkward things feel. The awkwardness is a key component to making things feel effortless. Truthfully we want the awkwardness to occur, it creates a scramble in us and we want it to occur. Why ? Because it shows us just where we’re our expectations are at, and more importantly where our defaults are at and how they present themselves. By reversing the embrace you will recognize those things as well as where you are compensating for a poor or unclear lead to do X, Y, and Z. Or more importantly having to infer what a Lead (the person not the action) is or more than likely is NOT doing. It’s the inference that we’re really after. Why ? 2 reasons. Firstly, we can clean up what we’re doing, and secondly it also creates a place for us to interject an idea or two (think ‘active’ follower).

We have to address the larger resistance based follower crowd that may be reading this: You have issues. Resistance is not desirable. It’s work. Hanging, Pulling, Pushing, not so much with that. You will never progress to dancing with the desirable leads in the room as a Follower if you continue to utilize this way of moving, and reversing the embrace will only make things 10,000 times more challenging for you. “Challenging” is an understatement. More like downright impossible. You are hardwired to use your embrace and the lead/ers embrace to stabilize yourself in turns, ochos, and crosses. So ‘hearing’ (really ‘feeling’) the nuances of the dance are outside your abilities at this point because you are unstable, and this nuance topic of reversing the embrace is more of a ‘WTF’ than anything else. 

The Dancing Perspective is that this is a nuance topic that a good portion of you will dismiss entirely as folly and not really helpful to one’s dancing at all. It couldn’t possibly change what you’re doing. It couldn’t possibly rewire you to do something else. That’s the dancing reality. When in fact reversing the embrace is probably one of the greatest tools you have to refining your skills as a dancer. Why ? Because ideally you want your dancing skills to be seamless and effortless regardless of what style or type of embrace you use or whom you are dancing with. Short of actual solo practice working on your technique of execution, this is one of the more useful diagnostic tools you can possibly get without a teacher in the equation! So when would you use this tool ? Simple, EVERYWHERE! Why ? Classes, Workshops, and/or Seminars ? Yup. Practicas ? Absolutely. Milongas ? Yup. Why ? Just for fun because you can.

Fixing It or in this case, changing it. The really cool part about this is that you can do this going forward today. You don’t need a class, you don’t need a workshop or seminar or a private lesson to teach you to do this. Nope. Not one little bit. There’s no special class on this one, it is it’s own class. The feedback that you’ll get from employing this tool is nothing short of immeasurable data that you wouldn’t get otherwise. If you’re thinking that you could just ask for feedback from your partners. That’s not going to help. a.) They don’t possess the language skills to identify what’s going on. Ok, a good portion of them don’t. b.) Honesty, that’s the problem right there. A good portion (like 90 to 95%) of the people you are currently dancing with will NOT tell you the truth of how you feel to dance with, or comment on your dancing for fear that it will offend you or hurt your feelings. And quite honestly you don’t want to hear their feedback either mostly because you think that your dance is spot on to begin with. So unless you want to have your head handed to you (and most of you, unfortunately, don’t) then this is the probably the safest route to getting the necessary feedback that you require in order to change what you’re doing!

However, you do actually require help. And that means actual technique, actual feedback, and actual clear, clean, consistent, concise information that you can play over and over again. That’s this page, and the videos that are sitting behind it. Registration is free, and you get about 40 older videos that will open the door to those ideas. However, that’s not the real power of this site. It’s the foundation, technique, exercise, and whic videos that are sitting behind a paywall. It’s the full videos that these snippets that you see are from. You want the full videos. All of them. 🙂 Hit the green button and subscribe and consider a gold membership. It’s really the best of all possible worlds. You get access to all the video content that you can watch anytime - anywhere, and a 40% discount on all video purchases in case you want to download something for offline use when you don’t have an active internet connection.

The Arm Pit Dancer

The Armpit Dancer

For most dancers their embrace is theirs and theirs alone. It's what separates them from everyone else. It is their signature. Regardless of whether or not that embrace is desirable or not. Mind you they may not realize that their embrace is not desirable, they may not realize that the quality of their embrace is desirable. We like to believe that our embrace is the finest thing since sliced bread, and yet it is that embrace that causes more problems than it's worth for a greater number of dancers. Take for example an aspect that is frequently passed onto dancers learning close embrace (which turns out to be a grand fallacy) that the Follower must apply 'Resistance' (which generally ends up as 'Rigidity') in order for the Lead/er to feel them. Or still another that the Follower should wrap their left arm around their Lead's shoulders.

Each of these issues, and many more that aren't listed here create physiological stresses on the couple that we don't want. And as a result we end up having to compromise our natural bodily structure to compensate for what essentially amounts to an uncomfortable embrace.

To be clear, and fair, the embrace is not the only problem child here. The other major component to nearly every issue that you can think of comes from one other place, it's the walk. Or more importantly, one's stability in one's walk. Do not discount what you'll hear in the videos above, and this article as "Ahhh I just need to fix my embrace and then all will be magical!". Nope. You must, must, must, must, must ... let's stress that one more time with feeeeeling -> you must work on your walk, and in specific, your stability in your walk. And there are loads of exercises you can do to correct for that, one of which has already been covered here "The Ballet Rise".

The Problem: The embrace is massive component to the dance being successful on any level, and yet there is another component is just as important but very infrequently talked about. What's that ? Body Position and Body Placement for both Lead and Follow! Body Position is where you place yourself within the construct of the embrace, Body Placement is what you do with it (e.g.: vocabulary). The issue is that getting this topic right is the dividing line between 'ease' and 'work', between 'pain' and 'pleasure', between "ouch" and "aaahhhhh". And yet, no one talks about this thing. So what specifically is the issue ? The fact that a good 90% of the time both Lead and Follow will enter into an untenable embrace structure based on their respective Body Positions right from the start of the dance where the Both dancers will quite literally either place the Follower into their Lead's Arm Pit, or the Lead will readjust to have the Follower there from the start. And in that we have what is known as "The Armpit Dancer". 

From a Following Perspective, this issue is as much yours as it is the Leads' issue! You either went directly to the Lead/ers arm pit or more importantly you drifted there by means of every cross, turn, and ocho you were 'asked' to execute. In short, you are just as responsible for this as the Lead is for allowing the problem to happen in the first place. Let's go on the theory that you went there by comfort, not by drift, that will happen later anyway. By comfort means that you don't know anything else. You went right into the armpit of you Lead because you don't know any thing different. It's all you know. And quite honestly no one has probably told you that you have a responsibility to be actively ontop of being in front of your lead, and being in their armpit is not that place. Placing yourself in the armpit is less then desirable on several levels: 1.) You're making work for yourself. 2.) You're instantly behind on everything that is being asked of you. 3.) You're more than likely going to end up in long forward steps because of your position.

Let's be clear about something, there are certain aspects to the Modern Follow that did not happen 50, 30, and maybe even 20 years ago that does happen today. One of those things is that certain pieces of vocabulary mentioned above are all yours. The Lead may ASK (operative word) for it, but you're the one that has to execute it with some degree of precision and awareness. And that means that while there's nothing that you can do about the speed of one of these pieces of vocabulary, there is something you can do to change how things are executed because you're the one that's doing the execution! Put simply you are responsible for Forward, Side, & Back, and just how much disassociation you engage to execute X, Y, and Z that is being asked of you. You must place yourself in the right places at all times to allow for these things to occur. That means a.) Execute. b.) Get there in a timely fashion (read that as being on beat). This part is optional, but mostly quite desirable c.) With elegance! Generally the problem is that you have allowed yourself to 'slip' in any one of those three steps, in specific the back and forward steps of your Molinete as well as the back step prior to the crossing step of the Argentine Cross.

To 'slip' means that you are out of alignment with your lead. While the video above talks about the Follower's Molinete where this occurs repeatedly, it also occurs in the Argentine Cross, and you as the Follower need to take control so these things don't happen. One of the things in your way, unfortunately is a Lead's embrace that is restrictive that won't allow you the freedom to move across and around your lead's body. If the embrace isn't restrictive, you have the tools you need to accomplish your goals! Technique, and Space! Now the only thing you need to do is execute.

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From a Leading Perspective, this one is as much your issue as it is the Followers! Why are you responsible for this issue ? 1.) It's your embrace. 2.) You have control. 3.) You're the one that's choosing vocabulary, not the Follower. 4.) Navigation! 5.) One of your jobs as a Lead (you have 3), is Music. Your job is to select the beat that the couple is dancing to and on. That is why you are responsible.

Let's go on the theory that you are ignorant of why placing the Follower in your armpit is not desirable. That you're doing what you're doing out of your own physiological comfort and ignorance:

Put simply, the Follower has a ton of physical work to do. You, my friend, have a different kind of work to do. While the role of the Follower is all about the physical, your role is intellectual - it's all about planning. You think, they do. Mind you if you think and do for them, there's not a whole lot for them to do except look nice and smile. Which is precisely what Tango was for many decades. That's not the case in today's Tango world, it's changing...slowly. The role of the Follower has expanded more over the last 2 decades. And as a result, they have more to do, and you have less to do. The more ? They're essentially being asked to execute a turn - the how the turn is done, but not when that turn is done (that's still your job). Still another instance is that they cross their feet automagically because you're not leading it 90% of the time. Still another is that in traveling ochos (what you call 'back ochos'), they're deciding how to ocho and how far that ocho goes, constantly. Put simply, they're doing the heavy lifting, while all you're doing is thinking about what should be done in time to the music.

Those three things (and there are more, these are just the prominent ones) are physical labor for the Follower. Specifically the 1st and the last. Why ? Because they require disassociation and applied disassociation (what you mistakeningly think of as a 'pivot') on the Follower's forward and back steps of their Molinete, and their ochos. 9 times out of 10 you'll start a turn to the Open side of the embrace (Lead left), using the Follower's backstep as the opening step either from a stop (bad idea by the way, see a future WHIC video on this topic), or from an ocho (better idea). That disassociation (from you) and applied disassociation in your follower tends to land them right in your armpit and thereby makes it difficult for them to get around you (for a variety of reasons which are not discussed here) for the remaining steps of the turn. The same is true of the ocho! In short, this stuff is work for them, and every time they move from the armpit, they're having to stretch to go further around you just to end up in the same place. What makes that even more challenging is that you compress the embrace, you turn away from them in turns and in crosses you place them in your armpit deliberately, and you move the center of the circle or you close the distance in crosses, and/or pull them with your left arm, your head is in the way of the turn or cross (watching their feet). Each and every time that you do this it makes their job harder and harder.

The Dancing Reality. The reality is that this stuff is going to continue to happen. And these words will make no difference. You'll keep doing this stuff and stressing your heads, bodies, and dances to the breaking point. The reality is that you like dancing like this. You like dancing in pain. You like working harder than you have to. You like force, tension, compression, and resistance. That's the reality. You see other people doing it and seemingly having fun and think, that's what I should be doing. What you may not realize is that these people are ignorant of what's supposed to happen. It's only after they start rubbing muscles and tendons, that are seemingly strained for some odd reason (!!!!!), and they need a massage or a chiropractic visit the next morning that they realize that Tango is the cause! So 'no' you shouldn't be doing that. What you should do is fix it!

Paying For The Soup. Change can happen, but only if you want it to happen. And 'want' is the key word. First and foremost you have to see that this is an issue. If don't, then so much the better, that means less work for you. But the reality is that this is a ton of work for both Lead and Follower. Further still you are contorting your bodies to make it happen, and then you wonder why you're paying a chiropractor every few weeks for an 'adjustment'. There's a reason for that, and that's because you're contorting your bodies to dance like this. Here's a helpful hint - STOP DOING IT! As arrogant as that may sound, and quite frankly the whole thing is arrogant, the fact is that it's not arrogant if you see it as a helpful bit of advice that can stop you from being in pain. 

The Soup Part. This website isn't a free resource. All the toys that can actually help you to change your dance are all behind a paywall. If you want access to the toys that means you have to subscribe. If you want access to the free resources, all you have to do is register. That's it, that's all. There are quite a few resources for the free user. However, all the good stuff, and really the up to date stuff, will cost you about .66 cents per day. It's that simple.  If you were a free user, this paragraph would actually be about a tiny free tip that could see, but you can't because you haven't registered yet! If you registered...you'd see the tip.