Listening to the embrace

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: 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):


Anonymous said...

I think I got the wrong end of the stick somewhere. The man is supposed to lead from the chest, which you won't always feel unless one is in a close embrace.
Also, the woman is supposed to choose the embrace, so if you don't like the way a man wants to be in hold ie: open embrace, then you don't dance with him.
Where you put your hand is a matter of choice and should allow you to have great contact with your leader. I prefer to put my arm over the shoulder milonguero/close embrace. Once can still have a close or fluid embrace, but this involves dancing a little bit larger than normal. However, I have never heard of leading from other parts of the body than the chest in any of the styles. I am confused.

Mari said...

londontango - I admit I'm explaining this very poorly - and my tango vocabulary is seriously lacking. The leader does always (hopefully) lead from his chest. However there's a lot of room for variation there - whatever the reason, skill, comfort etc. One partner I dance with frequently leads from almost between his shoulder blades. Which is very high up for me. Another leader leads from lower in his ribcage. It's easy to feel this in close embrace, from the front.

What I had not heard of before was feeling it in his back (not just on the shoulder blades) at the same time. Until I "felt for it" - I'd never noticed. I always concentrated on the front/the chest.

And while the type/closeness of the embrace is the follower's decision - I still react to my partner's preference. Offering a close embrace to a dancer who prefers open - or simply prefers open to this particular music - is uncomfortable for both dancers. In general I try to watch the dancers on the floor and figure out their preference *before* I look for a cabeceo from them. In our community we're a bit self-sorting. It becomes pretty clear who dances more open and who dances milonguero.

Unknown said...

Is it safe to say the lead comes from the hips and is just communicated through the chest?

Mari said...

Pete - Although I have heard that argument, I think the lead (as it is interpreted by the follower) comes through the chest. However we maybe just deciphering the transfer of energy through the body differently.

And some leaders have told me that the energy of it, the "intention" or feeling of it, comes from the connection to the floor. Again, for me this is very hypothetical because in the very few times I have attempted to lead, I've been a disaster at it. So my understanding is pretty academic.

Unknown said...

Have I ever told you how much I love the floor?

I like to connect with my partner, then connect to the floor. The softening of my knees flexes my ankle and causes my toes to grip the floor; that's when I know I'm rooted.

With my floor and partner connection secure, I give my intention, which travels from the floor, up through my feet and legs, then finally from my hips through my chest.

I've never tried to put it into words before. Damn you for making me think! :)

Mari said...

I love the floor too. lots of floors, actually. All over the place. Just ask my husband - everywhere we go, I slide my feet over the floor and "test" it for dancibility. :) Recently a friend said he was opening a restaurant and I said congratulations and how excitng!! And then I asked him what kind of floor he was putting in.