Monday, September 22, 2014

The importance of the follower’s response in the embrace and why the technique is not the answer (published in Gancho, September 2014)

A former student of mine told me once that she was confused about how she should respond to the embrace of the leader: some of them ask for a firm, almost tense embrace and some ask for a very loose and relaxed one. She asked me what is the true and correct answer to her dilemma and what is the technique for it. 

The truth is that there is no truth here. Or better yet, the truth is somewhere in the middle. When a follower is in the first year of her tango, she’s merely defining her posture and understanding her body, its reactions, its natural state of being. And she tends to take for granted what a leader is asking from her, especially if the leader is a more experienced one. The danger here is that usually a more experienced dancer doesn’t speak the beginner language anymore. This is not a judgment! Fact is that when we consider ourselves let’s say intermediate we start taking some of the basics for granted. For instance, we tend to forget the trouble we went through when learning the simple caminata and now that we “own” it we think it’s the most natural thing in the world and all dancers should know how to do it. So when a beginner comes along and has “existential” questions about the simple things, we have trouble explaining simply. We complicate it with all the other information that we gathered along our own tango discoveries. Therefore, when a follower is seeking her embrace, a leader’s answer – like “it needs to be more present” or “ it needs to be more relaxed” – can confuse even more that follower. 

The embrace is not a thing that can be taught very easily with technique. Ok, a teacher can explain the position of the body: where you put the arms, how you keep your head, where’s the point of contact or where the points of contact are and how they change and so on. But that helps up to a certain point. The part with the pressure, relaxation or presence is a little bit more difficult to explain. 

So, I told my student that there should be pressure neither pressure, nor relaxation, but presence. And to make it more relevant, because the term “present” is also very ambiguous, I gave her a metaphor. Imagine that you are in a conversation with someone in a cafĂ©. You’re sitting in a comfy chair and the conversation is rather boring. So you’re relaxed, sitting back, your body would react slower to any kind of change in position. Let’s suppose the conversation shifts to an unpleasant topic and you get all tense. You sit straight and stiff and again, your body would react slower to a change because it would have to get out of the tension first. And in the middle of these two extremes is the state of presence. Let’s say that the conversation becomes very interesting, it’s on a subject that gets all your attention, it’s very lively and your interlocutor is very talented in telling the story. So your attitude changes, your body is more alive, your back is upright, you may even lean a little bit forward and your speed of reaction increases. You’re present in the conversation as if living the story that’s being told. It’s like the entire world around has disappeared and you’re there only for each other. 

She told me that she’d never thought of the dance from this perspective and it made a lot of sense for her. And I have her confirmation that she got compliments on her embrace some time after this story : )

It’s one way to look at things. And it’s not technique that will make your embrace memorable, but feeling and understanding the relationship we have with each partner. And, most of all, it’s about the particularities of that relationship and the presence of each of the partners in the “conversation”. 

Enjoy your embraces! See you in the ronda ; )

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