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.
What is ‘Reversing’ the Embrace ? It is exactly what it sounds like. – as a Lead and a Follow, we’re reversing the embrace structure. Meaning that the Lead’s right arm is where the Follower’s right arm would be, and the lead’s left goes around the Follower. And vice versa. That’s it, that’s all. However, the question you’re going to have is why do this ? For that part, read on. However, the benefits of doing such a thing are wide and varied but this is the short and curly version: Because doing so changes your awareness of what you’re leading and following. For example: In the case of an Ocho from a Follower’s perspective, you may discover that you’re engaging in Traveling Ochos out of habit when in fact there was no actual Lead for the Traveling Ocho to occur. Another example: If you’re leading the Follower’s Molinete to your own Giro, you’ll more than likely discover that you’ve been engaging in a Lazy Man’s Turn for ages without realizing that you’ve been doing it! Crosses, Turns, Sacadas, Colgadas, and Volcadas even….everything gets turned upside down and in that turning things upside down, things tend to get righted, quickly!
Let’s be clear about something, don’t confuse this with swapping roles, or giving up the lead. No. That’s a whole different can of beans. This is solely swapping the embrace format to see how things are working (more like aren’t working but are being implied) more than anything else.
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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.
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.
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. Flippancy aside, the fact is that you do want to do this everywhere in every aspect of dancing with EVERY partner that you currently dance with. Think of it as a spot check to see if you’re right about what’s going on. Right now you’re assuming that X, Y, and Z is happening. Reversing the Embrace can give you needed insight as to what’s actually happening. Yes it’s going to feel strange, but that’s solely because it’s unfamiliar. Aside from the unfamiliar part, it contains vital diagnostic information that you can’t get anywhere else!
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