Tango Topics | Exploring Your Dance

'Pseudo' Close Embrace

The iconic look of tango is its embrace, or in this case what we typically think of as ‘Close Embrace’. At the same time, the embrace creates more problems than it is seemingly worth sometimes. One issue that happens at the beginning for most leads AND followers, is the space issue that a lot of people have. That space, and really intimacy, issue that happens generates problems for both roles not just the one. The issue is what we sometimes refer to as “Pseudo Close Embrace”.

What is Pseudo Close Embrace ?  It is an embrace that is generated, mostly, by the Lead but can also be compounded by the Follow, that a.) Is not close enough. b.) Is too restrictive. and/or c.) Is broken or bent over at the waist due to intimacy, or lack of understanding, or habit issues. Sometimes the lead will dip or tilt their head to watch the Follower’s feet while this happens. And more often than not, both roles engage in Arm Pit Dancing. One way of looking at this is that the partnership has too much distance, between them, making ‘Close’ Embrace communication nearly impossible. Put another way, Pseudo Close Embrace is a physiological distance between the partnership that does not or should not be there but is there for a variety of reasons laid out below. And as a result of there is an unclear relationship between the couple in typical tango vocabulary and it’s execution. The body-on-body contact (torso-to-torso, sometimes referred to as a ‘square’ embrace, or being ‘buttons-to-buttons‘) that is required in “Close Embrace” for direct, physiological contact, communication to occur in leading or following a traveling ocho, or the Follower’s Molinete, or an Argentine cross does not occur, and as a result there is confusion where the Follower has to infer or figure out what was intended. The lack of clarity results in lag in the Follower, and as a direct consequence, a Lead may erroneously use their arms and hands to push and pull the Follower along so that they keep up with the timing of what is being invoked. One might wish to blame the Lead (the person) for this construct, but since both roles contribute to this, both roles are responsible for it. Lastly it should be noted that Pseudo Close Embrace is an embrace structure that is sometimes mischaracterized as a ‘style‘ when in fact it is confusing more often than not.

From A Following Perspective, let’s get right down to it – there are a whole host of reasons why you don’t want to engage in Close Embrace. These are just a few of them: Your partners have  a.) Bad breath. 2.) Body Odor. 3.) Sweaty Body & Backs. or they’re being 4.) ‘Creepy’, their sexual energy is not warranted or desired at all. These are just some of the more frequent reasons why you wouldn’t want to engage in Close Embrace. There almost as many reasons to not go into Close Embrace as there are grains of sand on a beach.

One more reason that comes to mind, is that you have never felt comfortable in Close Embrace. No one has ever actually taught you what Close Embrace is supposed to feel like. You’ve had bits and pieces of sessions where someone has taken the time to explain what YOU’RE supposed to do but for one reason or another it’s never felt comfortable. You’ve never really understood what it’s supposed to be. Truthfully there is no one ‘Close Embrace’ but many different ideas of this construct. At the same time, there are also many different embrace Errors that get classified as a ‘style’ of Close Embrace. Then there’s also how you have been ‘trained’ to experience Close Embrace itself. All of this creates states of confusion for both roles, and it’s easy to see that every lead you dance with has a different take on Close Embrace:

Bob squeezes you too tightly for your taste, too much compression. 
Dave raises your arm too high above the shoulder line which hurts after a few minutes.
Jon is ok, but his hips are in the way, it’s almost like he’s shoving them forward into you. 
Javier is very dapper but holds you very, very tightly, and then asks for ‘resistance’ from you so that he can ‘feel’ you, which hurts your shoulder and your back after about 30 seconds.
Mark is a nice guy, very musical, but more than a little familiar with his right hand slipping down your lower back towards your ass.
And then there’s Yves who tries out every piece of vocabulary known to man while in Close Embrace. He twists you this way and that, it’s like a roller coaster ride that makes you wonder, “Where’s the ‘Close’ part ?”.

You have a right to be somewhat circumspect, legitimate reasons, for not a.) Not understanding what Close Embrace is. b.) Not being shown a good example of what Close Embrace can be. and c.) Not really wanting to engage in Close Embrace for all the reasons above and then some!

A practice of Tango, and decidely the subject of today’s Practical Tango Advice, which creates a lot of confusion for you (even if you’re an ‘experienced’ Follow) and compounds the problems already laid out above is Psuedo Close Embrace. As has already been defined, this embrace is not close enough for you. Which in turn creates a lack of clarity, everywhere, with every step. You have 4 common pieces of vocabulary that you’re being led to (Crosses, Ochos, your Walk, and last but not least – Your Molinete!) where you have to quite literally figure out what the frak they meant by their idea of an Ocho, or asking for a Molinete, because the primary piece of information that you need is missing! As it relates to the Follower’s Molinete (which is depicted above), there are many reasons why your Molinete will fail, part of it has to do with you stepping away from the lead (the action), the other part has to do with the Lead (the person) generating too much space where you have to infer what they’re yapping about. And as a result, you end up being pushed, pulled, and tossed around like a rag doll, because there’s no clear communication coming from the lead (the action). 

More Pseudo Close Embrace

Three Social Turns

The Arm Pit Dancer

From a Leading Perspective, you’ve got a lot of stuff in your head about what ‘Close Embrace’ is or is not. There’s what you see in YouTube videos, there’s what your teacher has told you, and then there’s what you see on a local social dance floor. And if you travel for Tango with any frequency (and you should), there’s what you see at Festivals and Marathons, and if you’re lucky enough to get to an Encuentro, and later to be invited to the private Encuentros then you’ll see a very specific idea of what Close Embrace wants to be. You’ll try to emulate what you’re seeing, because clearly in those environments those dancers seem to like it a lot. So you’ll try it out here and there and then go back to what you’re doing because it’s your ‘right’ thing to do. The fact of the matter is that there is no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ version of Close Embrace. There is only desirable and undesirable. The reality is that there is a whole lot of undesirable and like it or not, you in the role of the Lead, are generating most of the problems that are going on with the Embrace. 

Before we go any further, understand that there are certain schools of Tango thought that say that the Lead is responsible for everything that goes on in the dance. There’s another school of thought that says that the Follower is responsible for what they’re being asked to do, meaning it’s execution. These are co-dependent schools of thought that support each other to a degree. There is a 3rd, which flies in the face of both of those ideas, and is far more egalitarian in nature and practice, that says that both partners are responsible for themselves and have to work with each other to find a state that is comfortable, but also adheres to the iconic look of Tango. That last one is a recent construct. The reason it’s pointed out here is that what’s below will sound like we’re talking about the first school of thought when in practice we’re actually moving your thinking towards the 3rd line of reasoning!

Ok, the real deal here is that you are breaking at your waist, creating a bent shape in your posture that when you dance, it creates problems for both roles. The reality here is that we can dance bent over (as shown above at 00:34s), however doing so creates a lack communication in the partnership. The needed piece of body-on-body contact is missing for both of you, so, therefore, the Follower can and will miss a few things, because a required piece of information that they require is not there. As a result, you’ll end up using your arms and hands to push and pull the Follower from vocabulary choice to vocabulary choice. This is not a desirable way of dancing and yet this is precisely what happens, frequently. You’d rather invest your time in thinking that this page is wrong, that the author doesn’t know you, or that no one has said anything so why bother ? Or invest in the thinking that there’s nothing undesirable about your dancing structure and posture, and your embrace. It is easier to do that, right ? Yup, it’s easier to do that than to look at some video of you dancing, and then to compare the video above and see that they’re the same things, and then to compare it to something like this.

Look, you are responsible for this stuff, not the Follower. You are responsible for what you look like, and to a greater degree, what the couple does. And more importantly how the dance ‘feels’ to the Follower, and as that is the case, wouldn’t you like the Followers that you dance with to absolutely RAVE about your embrace, and your posture ? Wouldn’t you like to have Follower after Follower after Follower post on your facebook wall when you’re visiting X or Y city that they can’t wait to feel your embrace !?!?!? 

And so that we’re clear here, of course no one has said anything about your embrace or posture. There’s a good reason for that, it’s because the rules of the Milonga prevent them from giving you feedback on a social dance floor, that’s why! And then there’s the simple fact that most Followers (not all, but most) don’t want to hurt your feelings by telling you the unvarnished truth. Then there’s the fact that getting them to do that in a proper setting, a practica, is somewhat challenging to begin with (See “Giving and Receiving Feedback“). 

Not Apilado. There’s a Tango Topics Definition of what Apilado is and is not here. Please go look at that for a deeper understanding of what Apilado is and is not. However, it should be noted that a lot of people will see this as either a ‘style’ or Apilado. It’s neither. It’s a clear and present error in someone’s posture. And so that we’re clear about this, this is not just the Tango Topics Opinion. This is also the concerted opinion of many of the fine dancers that you probably look up. Ask them if what you’re doing is Apilado, and more than likely they’ll tell you “no, it’s not”. However they won’t go so far as to tell you that it’s an error for a variety of reasons.  

A Fluid Embrace. One last word on ’embraces’ for today. To be fair, there is a school of thought that says that the embrace can be ‘fluid‘ which is based on the vocabulary being employed. However, in this instance, we’re not talking about a ‘fluid‘ embrace, but we are talking about allowing for the arms to be relaxed and not to be so compressive that the embrace doesn’t allow for there to be motion within the partnership within the limited vocabulary of Close Embrace dancing. At the same time creating a lack of pressure does not mean that you should hold your partner ‘firmly’ to keep them in front of you. No. A fluid embrace here would mean that you’re opening and closing the distance between the partnership so as to allow for there to be further or greater vocabulary choices like a large volcada or a spinning or rotating colgada. In this instance, a fluid embrace is temporary, not a permanent structure. It is only used to create an idea not a whole way of dancing. 

Solving The Problem. There is really only one way to solve this problem and seems really obvious. Doing it on the other hand ? That’s the hard part. Most people when they start to change their dance for the better require loads and loads and loads of reminders. Part of a problem arises in that no one gives them feedback that can actually help them to change, or the feedback that they’re getting isn’t complete or is wholly inaccurate. Further still the feedback doesn’t go deep enough. Meaning, that the quality of the feedback is surface commentary only. And then there’s the bigger issue, that most people a.) don’t want to hear feedback. b.) don’t want to have to change what they’re doing. c.) think or believe that what they’re doing is fabulous because no one complains or no one has ever said anything about it before. and/or d.) if feedback is given, no one wants to hurt your feelings.

The reality is that engaging a feedback protocol (outlined in ‘Giving & Receiving Feedback‘) is a good way to get the help you need in a way that you can hear that information so that you can actually begin the process of changing your dance. However, asking for feedback isn’t enough. Doing it what has been suggested is the harder part. You actually have to do it. And that’s where having constant reminders present, everywhere, to remind you to change your choices works very well. Because the fact is that change does not come by itself. You will go back to what you were doing before said feedback was given to you because it is comfortable for you to do so! It’s familiar, it’s all you know! 

So the solution to the problem above is: Stand up, straight! (without rigidity) That’s it. There’s no magic pill here. Really. However, doing it ? That’s hard! Truth be told, once you stand up straight, everything about your dance will be way off. Your usual centers of gravity will be vastly different, your usual center of equilibrium will be vastly different, and how you execute your vocabulary will feel so strange that it will almost make you not want to change what you’re doing. It will be like learning how to walk all over again. 

Ok, there’s a qualification to this solution and it is also Dancing Role and Dancer Experience specific.

As this applies to Dancing Roles: 1.) If you’re a Lead, then you want to correct your posture that has collapsed forward, further that your head has started to (head) tilt towards the floor and you’ve started watching the Follower’s feet. You can clearly see that doing so would create a navigational problem. So here’s a good piece of advice, ‘stop doing that!’. 🙂 2.) If you’re a Follow, then you want to learn to say “no” when you see this happen. Doing so will help prevent a trip to the chiropractor to put their kids through college. Yes, saying “NO” sounds harsh, or mean, but the reality is that this particular type of lead is not being clear with you. You can continue to dance with this type lead, because it may be ‘nice’ but you’re the one that’s going to pay the price for that. And each and every time that you say “YES” to this type of lead, you are encouraging their ‘style’ (ahem) of dancing. Mind you this same advice applies to nearly every bad habit that you don’t want to dance to. 

As this applies to Dancing Experience: 1.) If you’re a Lead, and you’ve been dancing a while, then you should know this stuff by now that when you break at the waist, and watch the Follower’s feet, that it doesn’t look so good. If you think the video above is an exaggeration, video yourself dancing sometime. And if you like what you see vs. this idea, then you go right ahead and keep doing what you’re doing. However, chances are you’re not going to get the dancing invitations that you want to certain European Encuentros. Just sayin’. 2.) If you’re an experienced Follow this is about choices for you. You have to balance how long you’ve been sitting vs. how often that particular Lead asks you to dance vs. how desirable this tanda is vs. just how much pain (yours) and sweaty body parts (theirs) you’re going to have to put up with. Weigh your choices very carefully and hopefully you’ll come to the right decision, “Ummm no thank you”. 

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So, please, go right ahead, go watch all the presentation videos on youtube all you want. Because that’s what they are ‘Presentation’ videos. The couple’s that you’re used to seeing are performing for the 15th row for a room full of people, they’re not social dancing. Whereas this website is all about ‘Social Dancing’. So please, go spend your time, trying to infer, and figure out how things may work in that situation. Bend your body this way or that, twist and force this position or that. Place your foot here or there and figure it out.  Which can be a lot of fun, but more than likely it won’t help you, because you’re missing something: The explanation from an experienced teacher! (ahem) ME!  The goal of youtube videos is to entice you to go study with those teachers in person. The goal of these videos is allow you to work at your own pace, in the comfort of your own space, so that you can play them over and over again to improve your understanding of the vocabulary or technique being described to therefore better your dancing experience. The goal of classes and workshops is to get you to come back over and over and over again, thereby spending more money with that teacher. This website and the videos under it are here to act as a resource for you to help you to improve your dance. Pay once and be done with it.

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In an hour-long class, with the blind leading the blind through rotation of partners (uuuggggh!), you may glean a piece of the information you need and not get the whole thing, and you’ll miss important pieces that you’ll end up having to take a private lesson for to get the finer points. This way, you can watch over and over again, and get all the supplementary materials, and if you want you can still go take the class, only you’ll be better prepared to do so!

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