I finally took a pre-milonga mini class with different local tango teachers, who tend to teach (though not always) open embrace, and more nuevo-style moves. They may classify things differently, but when the pattern you're teaching includes a few sacadas, a gancho and a high boleo, in open embrace - that falls into nuevo for me.
At first I was a bit excited because our teachers said this class was going to focus on connection. I thought, wow, how did we get so lucky? Then they demonstrated the pattern we were going to learn, and I got confused. The embrace was open, with the woman's left hand on the man's right tricep. We were to keep our arms (on the closed side of the embrace) relaxed but firm, and close to our sides so we could feel the "connection". When I felt awkward trying to maintain the embrace, the leader told me that I should really try to "grip" the man's tricep. The only time I have ever heard the term "grip" in tango, it has been preceded emphatically by the words "DO NOT". So, like open embrace volcadas I learned about last month, this was all totally new territory for me.
I think I would have to spend a lot of time really practicing open embrace for it to feel anything but awkward. Right now, truly open embrace feels a lot like this to me:
I feel like I'm miles away from my partner. It's hard to hear/feel the music in my leader through what little connection we have in our arms and occasionally sides. And while our teachers described the embrace as 'flexible', what I had always thought of as flexible embrace was pretty much close embrace moving to open-on-one side embrace - not completely flung apart, holding on to my leader's arm. That's all new stuff for me as well.
I'm actually starting to get used to the flexible embrace (that moves from close to "v") - it's not quite as good as close all the way through, but I understand that close embrace limits the vocabulary somewhat. Opening the embrace on one side means we get to do some other fun things and I get that, I really do. Plus there are a couple of leaders who are very good at making me feel secure and warmly embraced, even through the opening and closing distance. Maybe not surprisingly, my comfort in the dynamic or flexible embrace has a lot more to do with the leader's connection to the music, then his skill with the moves.
I did try to get the (open) embrace right and get a feel for it during the class - and a bit during the milonga later. But it's a bit like when a leader asked me, after he insisted we dance a milonga tanda in open, "wasn't that much more fun than in close?"
Um.. more fun compared to what? Compared to dancing milonga in close embrace where, by the end of the song, I can feel your breath against my cheek, and our hearts racing against each other's chests? Not so much compared to that. Still okay, mind you, there's still a lot of fun to be had. But it's just not the same feeling.
The Boleos and Ganchos
So here were 6 dancers (3 couples - an even match, hooray!) of primarily close embrace, traditional tango, learning a pattern that we would probably never execute in its complete form on the pista during a milonga. In that 45 minute class of practicing this, and another similar pattern, I'm pretty sure I performed more boleos then I had done in the 20 or so months I've been dancing tango.
Surprisingly, my high boleos don't completely suck from lack of practice.* Since the dance floor was almost empty, we practiced them again, and again, and again, and again. . . And as the milonga that followed had maybe 10 couples (and never dancing all at one time), a couple of my leaders felt inclined to lead them more often. This time, since we had acres of space, I actually followed them as high as they were led.
I still don't get the appeal of them though - at least not socially. On a stage or during a performance you need to perform moves that can be seen - not just felt. To me a smooth arch connecting with the floor feels more sensual, and has more possibilities, than kicking up into the air, but maybe that's just my own limitations. At least I know I *can* follow them high if they're led - assuming I'm ever on a dance floor with that much space again. But rest assured, there's absolutely no risk of me turning into this follower any time soon:
As for the gancho... it's still not my favorite. No matter how many times or how well they're led, they just always feel a bit forced. Like gilding the lily. I keep trying though, and maybe someday I'll feel natural following them, but it may be awhile. (Also, it would be very helpful if teachers would emphasize to leaders that simply opening your legs is not actually leading a gancho. But I digress... )
So that was my excursion into tango nuevo/open embrace dancing. While it was more entertaining than I thought it would be, I still couldn't wait to get back to milonguero. I'll keep giving it a whirl every time they have one of their pre-milonga classes, at least so I can better understand what the leaders taught by those teachers are actually trying to lead when I dance with them.
* That's probably because Silvina Valz, who taught the only boleo class I've ever been to (and that's because I was photographing it), teaches them very, very well. It may have been a year and a half ago but I still remembered the material.