Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Finding the Embrace

I enjoyed reading Ampster's thoughts on developing his embrace, and it reminded me of my own process.

Everyone travels their own path, and mine started with this.  I have always been known as a good hugger*, and to apply my terrible spanish, it is due to Entrega: A good hug involves surrendering to your partner.  Opening your heart, listening to their body, and embracing. I have understood this part of Tango, and people have always responded positively to me. Improving my connection to the music, to the love of the dance itself, has taken time, but understanding the connection with the other person has been there.

What made this difficult? Two things:
  1. Surrendering to strangers is harder than surrendering to friends -- I still have to work on opening up with new partners.
  2. Confidence in my ability. I have been confident about hugging for a long time. Less so with Tango. It is very difficult for me to surrender when I don't feel confident in my self. I did not go social dancing for about a year after starting regular tango classes (maybe 2-3 times in that year), and this lack of confidence was reflected in a stiffer embrace, too much thought about my own motion, and not enough listening to my partner.
As my confidence improved, my ability to listen farther than my own feet grew. As I started dancing more, more dancers became my friends, and I grew better at opening myself up to strangers ... at least for 15 minutes at a time.

Beginning the Song
With the above in mind, I was doing my best at really communicating with my partner. Interpreting the music, suggesting it, listening for a response, and moving together. Then, I happened to take a workshop on starting and finishing songs, and it added a very important piece for me: the embrace (not only the physical part, but the connection between dancers) is the most important part of an enjoyable dance, at least for me. If this is so, I should spend as much time as necessary to establish a good connection!

Therefore, I now almost always begin my dances in the same way. I offer my left hand, shoulder height, for the follow to take, and then move together for the embrace.  I like to hold all the way across the back, just below the shoulders; this changes depending on the height of the follower, of course. I usually connect at the sternum or just below it; I have been losing a lot of weight recently, which has caused my point of connection to move upward!

This is the 'starting embrace', and I pause here, waiting for the music, or the right moment in it, to begin.

While paused, any adjustments necessary get made, and I like to close my eyes, to focus only on the follow. We are not moving, and may not have entered the pista yet, so I don't fear running into anything. I try to still my thoughts, until I can feel my heartbeat, and that of my follow. I try, for lack of a better description, to feel how warm the follow is, and wrap a little closer, or give more space, depending on it.

Having finished this, waited for the music, I now enter the dance. Usually with a side step. And now the real embrace is ready: somehow, despite all the above work, it is only after we take our first step in the dance that everything shakes out. We pause again, to adjust and re-affirm. Even though only one step, it lets us read whether the other person is in time with the music, and how responsive they are to a suggestion.

And then we go!

** Here is my advice for hugging:
  1. Connect with your whole front ('stomach', I often say, but it shouldn't be pushed out). Don't bend forward at the waist.
  2. Movement is not necessary -- no patting, shuffling, etc. A little rocking/rotation can be nice, but don't overdo it.
  3. You shouldn't squeeze them, but you should be able to feel the embrace. (Some people do like squeezing, but it imparts a different feel)
  4. Close your eyes.
  5. Hold the person until one of you has had enough.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Held Closely

It's still early, and the floor is empty. Lights are low, the space is warm, and we are dancing. With this song, and this partner, holding you close, carefully, listening to your every response is the dance. We are surrounded with a lush, melodic sound, lifting us around the floor on its crest.

What a great night! Ended perhaps early, but on a high note.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Nuevo and Traditional Dancing

In many areas, I am fairly evenly split between encouraging innovation, and respecting tradition. To frame my thoughts, let me define the arguments for each:

  • Tradition is valuable because it is already the distilled result of much innovation. Collective wisdom has already emphasized the most useful and valuable aspects, and to ignore tradition is to throw away years of innovation.
  • Innovation is valuable because there may exist a better way to do something. Although many things may have been tried before, circumstances change. Given my personal preferences, something which has traditionally not been enjoyable/possible, may be a huge improvement.
And more particularly with tango, we have some social aspects to consider:
  1. As a group activity, doing unexpected or possibly dangerous things will forcibly effect those around me. Sudden ganchos, long corridas, or changes of direction can be confusing to dancers trying to navigate with or around me. Tradition plays an important role in creating the shared framework we use to dance with each other.
  2. On a smaller level, tradition improves connection with a (new) dance partner: we can focus on a communally chosen set of signals to use in our dance, and not have to interpret sudden new movements on the fly. Some might choose this as a challenge, but not everyone will.
  3. There is social pressure to 'fit in'.  This goes both ways, of course: if the majority of a group favors a traditional style, those showing new movements will be frowned on, but the reverse is also true.
  4. Some change is necessary to keep a community alive.
There is a nice discussion of Nuevo Tango here, also, talking about some of the same area: innovation is not a new phenomenon, and established tango already includes much of what is being re-discovered, evaluated, and perhaps discarded again.

I personally have a lot of fun in trying out new ideas.  I do this usually while dancing (at a practica, and with a partner whom I know enjoys it). I don't usually take the further step of braking down the possible motion into it's components, or really understanding the body mechanics behind it, but if a motion seems particularly enjoyable (or, at least, possibly enjoyable after some more practice!) I will do so.

My actually dancing evolves only very slowly, though; I rarely incorporate things that I 'tinker' with into my dancing at a milonga. That is not to say there is no effect: my understanding of my body, how my lead is recieved, and in some cases my skill at conveying those signals are all improved by focusing on an unused aspect.

Plus, it is fun.