Monday, April 14, 2008

Close or Open?

Ladies and Gentlemen - when you have invited/been invited to dance, it is both people's choices to dance close or open.

If you're uncomfortable dancing close embrace, for any reason, look into your partners eyes, smile cordially and put your hands out in front of you in an open embrace. Do not budge. Your arms become a barrier so that the other person has to accept. Should the other person object (clear sign they're disrespectful) you can say...

"I'm not comfortable dancing close embrace..." with you.

"I'd like to try open embrace first..." because you smell like my college roommate's month old laundry. Remember to smile politely.

If you'd like to dance close embrace, then open your arms wide, like you're about to hug the person. Your arms are not in front of you, they are on either side of you, about to accept the other person into your arms. This is the key difference between open and close - in open embrace your arms are in front of you, blocking the other person from entering, in close embrace your arms are open wide ready to invite the person to hug you. And then you lean into them and begin to dance.

Usually I will dance close embrace with a new partner. It's easier to close my eyes and concentrate on finding a connection and maintaining it. When two bodies are melded together, it's easier to find that connection. I generally will want to dance close with a good lead - I want to feel their shoulders, their upper and lower back and really get a sense of where their feet is.

As for why I will dance open embrace - generally if its someone who creeps me out and I've somehow lapsed into momentary insanity and said yes and accepted their dance. I will also dance open if I can't stand a lead's posture (I can't begin to impart how important this is). Bad posture will kill everything in a dance. I will dance open if the lead is a beginner. OR - OR, I will dance open if the lead is really good and I'm dancing tango nuevo to alternative tango music. There are some songs I do not want to dance close to - Tango in Harlem, No Diggity, Fever, etc. I absolutely love alternative tango music and some of them are best danced open, nuevo style.


There are many postures in tango, many schools of thought. Pick and choose your own wisely.

If the lead is the Hunchback of Notre Dame, things get real difficult. Many leads from Buenos Aires bend their backs (I can't stand it!), making the female arch her back and stick her butt out. This looks really cool, but kills my lower back. I will upon occasion adopt this posture - if its someone I really want to dance with. If I don't want to arch, then the only connection I have will be from the shoulder where my arm is wrapped around them. This makes it super challenging - sometimes so challenging I give up.

My favourite posture is what I call the hug. When you go to hug someone, you don't stand stiff. The stiff posture is ten times worse than the Hunch or the Bend. It's like dancing with a telephone post. Try pivoting with that. When you hug someone, you lean into them just a tiny bit, so that your chest touches. Then you wrap your arms around them and hug. The hug is comfortable, sweet, sincere and well connected. It is not a squeeze and it is not hugging a pineapple tree. Some men's embrace is so light I wonder if they want to touch me at all. A hug is loving. And so is close embrace.

And some leads will change their embrace depending on the song, the tanda, or their moves. You may not be completely connected/attached at all times. Some men have a preference of having their follows connected at all times, others will allow you to disconnect so that you can do what you need to do. Personally, staying connected for an entire 3 minute song will drench my shirt. Not comfy.

And here's a myth I would like to de-mystify. Tango and connections can be hit or miss. I've danced with some amazing dancers before and felt... blah. Some of my friends have raved about so and so. And when I dance with this amazing so and so - nothing. Meh. Sometimes your connection will be great, but the other person thought it was okay. I've had a few leads fall in love with me when I felt bored. I've danced with some amazing dancers and thought - WTF?

By the by, if you can't have a good connection with your tango teacher, fire him/her. If your teacher can't show you how a good connection feels, they're not for you.


Triman Beaumont said...

i prefer the close embrace but i think its absolutely necessary to change the hold in every step, in every move. even very close to my partner i must rotate my body in giros, i must relax my arms more in the counterclockwise part of ocho atras, i must separate my body and hips in rotation before doing sacada... sometimes im the axis of the couple, sometimes my partner is, sometimes the axis is in the middle. noone can be perfectly connected with his/her partner - it is just an illusion, a wish...

the connection is in the tense, when your partner must felt like a elongation of your body, another part which is not separated with different "physical" properties. then it will work.

TangoConmigo said...

To embrace or not to embrace, that is the question. Close embrace is a mutual decision or at least it should be. All too often the followers get offended when their open arms, for a hug, are reciprocated with an open embrace by the leader.

Personally, I prefer pseudo close embrace, or depending on your perspective a pseudo open embrace, where the partners are close enough to feel each others movements without the torsos touching.

Anonymous said...

I can see how it can be awkward to be closely embraced if you're not confortable. But on the other hand, if you don't know the leader, will you open your arms to hug them?

I give one or two kisses to women I know, don't hug them that much...

Mark Andersen said...

Great point, Triman. Sometimes my thinking is too rigid when it comes to the embrace, but you're right that it breathes a lot.

And I'd like to highlight what you said about relaxing your arms more--that's the single biggest piece of feedback I keep getting in private lessons.

Mark Andersen said...

I definitely agree, TangoConMigo, that to embrace or not is mutual decision!

Hmm--I don't think I've ever tried a pseudo close embrace. I'll try it this week.

Mark Andersen said...

Thanks, Tangopadawan, for that point. Now that I've been tangoing for awhile, I find the close embrace completely natural. But I remember when I started I found it so intimate that it took awhile for me to adjust to. So, I think we have to keep this in mind, too, when we're dancing with beginners.

I'm an equal opportunity embracer: if she wants an open embrace, great. If she wants a close embrace, great. It's all great, so long as we're tangoing.

La Nuit Blanche said...

"the hunchback of notre dame"... classic! hehe... :-D

Mark Andersen said...

Yes, La Nuit Blanche, whenever I read Sappho's posts I find myself either doubled over laughing or feeling sheepish for making those very mistakes. Either way, I always learn from her.