I had one of those ... hm... I was going to say "aha!" moments (in my tango lesson), but it was actually even more than that. It was foundational. It changed everything.
My instructor asked me why I kept my hand on her shoulder blade when she led me. I told her that I was told that was the best place to "read" the lead. She answered, matter-of-factly (as she always does), 'what if I lead from lower in my body - or higher, from my upper back? You need to adjust the embrace not just for the shape of your leader, but from where in his body he's leading.'
I adjusted for height, for comfort, for larger steps led - but I never consciously tried to feel where my partner was leading from in his torso. That would mean getting connected more quickly - really opening to his lead more quickly.
Johanna over at Tangrila wrote about a similar predicament here: http://tangrila.blogspot.com/2009/10/wait-and-see.html. I always dance in the "wait and see" mode. I hold back a little bit and wait for my partner to give first. I told myself I was just "waiting for the lead", but that's not really true. I wanted my partner to take the step first - to trust first.
What if I gave everything I had up front? Felt where the connection, and where the lead, came from in my partner before he starts to move. That in itself was a big surprise. You can feel the lead, or the intention of the lead, before he actually moves. Did everyone else know that already? I had no idea.
But to open up first. To start listening first. To trust first. Could I do that?
I gave it my best shot the same night. I still waited until a leader I was more familiar with asked me to dance. I couldn't start with a completely blank slate. I was too self-conscious. So Mr. Polished got the first attempt.
I curled up into his embrace and laid my arm a little more broadly across his back than I usually do. We listened to the music and then I felt a sort of lifting in his lower back before he took a breath and moved. I felt the lead in his back and through his chest. Is this making any kind of sense? It sounds bizarre as I reread that sentence. He led lower in his torso than I had been keeping my arm. Keeping my arm angled slightly lower made it so much easier to feel the lead. Wow. After the tanda was over, my first thought was 'I can hardly wait to do that again!'
I couldn't manage it with everyone. There's still a comfort thing to deal with. I have to know and feel comfortable with my partner before I can go into the dance in that open state, trusting completely in my partner and the dance. Be comfortable before I get comfortable? That hardly makes sense. Even so, that's the way it is so far. But I keep trying.
I try to listen . . . without waiting to be heard.
PS - I almost forgot to include this - which is a beautiful post from Tina Tangos (when I grow up I want to be like her): http://tinatangos.com/blog/seattle/embracing-the-person/