All about the embrace


Today was going to be more following, this time with Bridgitta, in the practica at Tango Garden. As things turned out, we switched back and forth, me leading something and then Bridgitta having me follow the same thing to illustrate how different versions feel …

It had been a while since I’d danced with Bridgitta, and she said she could really feel that my dance was on a whole new level now, which was lovely to hear.

I’d recently really developed my ability to end ochos and giros with a very clear compression, and was feeling pleased with that – but, tango being tango, there is of course always a next level! Bridgitta said that while what I was doing is great for dancers at my level, more experienced dancers need less, and the best way to end a pivot with them is to simply gather them back into the embrace.

She demonstrated that by leading it, and it immediately made sense. This was the same concept Diego introduced when I was struggling to end pivots: effectively putting myself in the way. But while Diego had given me the version appropriate to my level at that time, Bridgitta could now add the next layer: sliding my arm around my follower as I moved in to meet her, to give it a holistic and rounded feeling.

As a follower, it combined an unmistakable lead with a really lovely feeling, so I worked on doing the same as a leader.

Initially, I had a tendency to kind of jump between the two arm positions, rather than slide smoothly, but once I got the hang of it it felt really good as a leader too. However, it’s worth noting that I wouldn’t have grasped how lovely it feels as a follower had I not experienced it myself.

Gather and … go!

Linked to this, Bridgitta had noticed that my first step when walking out of an ocho or giro was less assertive than subsequent steps – but as soon as I got to grips with the gathering up, that was sorted. Again, having followed it, I really got to feel the pleasure of that combination of being gathered back into the embrace, a momentary suspension and then a real oomph when walking out of it. Bridgitta said that it felt great by the end.

Bridgitta also had me work on sliding my right arm smoothly around the follower’s back when leading ochos. In particular, she pointed to the importance of ensuring my hand does remain on her back, not sliding as far out as the side, as that then feels uncomfortable. Again, she demonstrated by leading both versions so I could feel it for myself.

By this point, I’m absolutely convinced that everyone should learn both roles from the start – or, at least, get some early experience of the opposite role. You can tell someone something, but it’s never going to be as effective as allowing them to feel it for themselves. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a physical sensation is worth ten thousand.

More dancing in small spaces

Bridgitta demonstrated a movement they’d just been doing in the group class, and it was quite similar to the circular walking around the outside of the follower we’d done in the Tango Space workshop. I tried this with her, and basically managed it, but it definitely needed work!

The key is getting it as close to the two-180-degree-steps ideal as possible. When Bridgitta led it with me, she was doing one forward step and a side-step. My version was less neat but I was getting the idea. Again, it was about oomph in the pivot.

Bridgitta then had the bright idea of trying it anti-clockwise! This felt really awkward to me, especially trying to get a snappy left-hand pivot, though, strangely, it apparently felt better.

Since we were into static 360s, I asked if we could try some calesitas. Bridgitta said this is a difficult things to do well, as both leader and follower need to be really solid in their axis. But we tried some, and one key is to be fully at my follower’s side, which is further round than I think it is – a similar phenomenon to leaders tending to dissociate much less than we think we are!

Bridgitta led some, and her follower was very definitely not solid in his axis, but it helped communicate the idea. Essentially the position is similar to the Americana, with us side-by-side and the hands 90 degrees behind the body as we rotate. I then had another go; a little better, maybe, but it’s not something I shall be attempting in a milonga anytime soon …

And solving a mystery

Finally, I asked Bridgitta to solve a mystery for me. Namely, when two dancers first embrace on the pista, I’d understood the theory: that the leader invites the follower into the embrace, and it’s the follower who decides the closeness of the embrace. But I wasn’t sure how this worked in practice – how I work out how close she wants to be when we’re both moving together.

Bridgitta said it was actually very simple: remain where I am, offer my arms and then see where my follower moves to. She demonstrated this by a series of embraces encompassing every distance from 0mm to about a mile and a half. It was, as advertised, very easy to tell if I just remained where I was.

So, another great lesson, and while this one was a mix of leading and following, it once again demonstrated the power of following as a means of improving one’s lead. I may still be a wildly incompetent follower, but doing at least some following during private lessons is something I’ll continue to request as a teaching tool.

Image: Shutterstock

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