Who chooses the embrace?

Comments and emails about my last post, Breaking the Embrace, got me thinking about the 'embrace negotiation' that happens as a couple begins to dance.

I have had different teachers tell me different things - "the woman must always adapt to the man's style and embrace" "The man should accept the embrace the woman offers."

Most of the leaders locally wait for me to choose the distance - I don't know if that's what they were taught or if it's just practical. I have had a few leaders scoop me up into close embrace almost before the music starts, which is a bit startling - but since I tend to prefer that embrace, I tend to settle in eventually. When a leader actively chooses open embrace and maintains that space, I try to maintain it from my side as well - though it's hard for me. As I dance more and more in close embrace, I get out of the habit.

One leader, visiting from out of town, said Argentine teachers especially emphasize that the woman adapts to the man's preference but really, that doesn't exactly work. If the follower wants an open embrace, and the leader wants close - then he has to practically chase her around the floor because it's not natural for her to be so close.

It has always felt to me, when the preferences are different, that it's more of a negotiation for both partners' comfort. Perhaps the man does choose the embrace, but the woman has veto rights.


n a n c y said...

Her veto should be exercised before she accepts the dance - assuming she has first watched to see how he embraces and then uses the cabeceo to indicate her willingness to accept a dance with him. But if those customs do not exist in your community, then it can be awkward to renegotiate every contact. I have known of leaders who refuse to dance with a certain woman because she holds her head left cheek to his right. They do not feel it is their right to 'correct' her

Frances R said...

Leaders whose embrace is not my favorite one... Let me think how it is compromised in my case.
Voila: I do not dance with them in milongas. Only in practicas.

Eduardo Castro said...

In my own experience the close embrace is more comfortable and easier to dance with advance followers.

And I notice that advance followers prefer close embrace.

Newer followers keep the distance at first holding the open embrace and it’s hard and uncomfortable to try to use the close embrace with them.

I was taught that as a leader I should decide what type of embrace to use, so I do depending on the followers skills.

Stephen Shortnacy said...

I think everyone has made excellent points.

One thing about avoiding cabaceo is that especially in a small community, some of the leads may also be friends, and that sometimes makes it hard to just not ever dance with them. (I run in to that problem. There are people that I like as people, but don't like their embrace or dance style, but would feel bad not ever dancing with them, and so I have been known to use Frances approach.

Eduardo's approach is interesting, but how do you tell if she is a good follow who happens to be with a pretty bad leader at the moment, and is just trying her best to maintain herself or do you use a cumulative assessment over the course of several tandas?

What I have noticed over the years with different teachers philosophies on the embrace is that the teachers from the West/West Coast tend to use the "mutual agreement" method, and teachers from the Eastern Side tend to favor the "man chooses" approach...at least that's how the lines divided out when I looked at where all my different teachers were teaching.


cassiel said...

Hmmm... Maybe it is suitable to introduce another aspect. In the same way style between two dancers adepts, the embrace will do it too.

It is obviously that you can start in an open embrace and come closer during the tanda. At least: that matches my expiriences.

I prefer the woman to choose the embrace but I'm supposed to be a closed-embrace Tanguero. Usually it takes two or three Tangos and we are finally in a closed embrace.


Valorie Hart said...

Would it kill you to call men men rather than the dehumanizing leader label? :-)

In the tango there are no leaders and followers. Men and women embrace and the consensual arrangement divides the responsibility in equal part.

The person assuming the role of the "woman" allows to be embraced and riding always on one axis at a time, frees her legs to follow the body which is moved by the embrace. Her intention is to always dance around the man.

The person who assumes the role of the "man" dances around the floor carrying the woman in the confines of the embrace, making the woman dance around him to his right and to his left, changing the direction of her motion to improvise the dance.

This is the real essence of the Argentine tango, and what everyone should at least be aware of in the pursuit of tango enjoyment.

By the way, the woman is the one who establishes the boundaries of the embrace. No arguments, no debate, no rationalization.

Mari said...

Nancy - you're right that so much depends on watching dancers before meeting their cabeceo and accepting a dance. It isn't always possible, but it's very helpful.

Frances - It's tricky turning down dances with people who are good friends simply because I don't prefer their style of embrace. So I compromise and dance with them in the style they like.

Eduardo - Again, watching other dancers is the key. But it is tough to tell, as bastet pointed out, whether it's the follower's skill level or a difficulty with that particular leader.

Bastet - interesting point about East and West approaches. I'm finding that to be true of the responses I get from people in different locations.

Cassiel - I agree it's easier to settle in with someone I've never danced with before in particular, starting from more open to close. It takes a little bit to find each other's comfort level. Which makes tango such an adventure.

Alberto - I get criticism for using man/woman *and* for using follower/leader. Can't win either way - and frankly, I don't really care. I decided a little while ago "my blog, my rules" - sorry. I go back and forth depending on what I'm focusing on with no real rhyme or reason.

To your points, while I agree with what you commented generally, I don't necessarily "feel" it the way your wrote it - particularly this: "carrying the woman in the confines of the embrace," It almost makes it sound like the woman is some sort of accessory on the man's arm, or a piece of furniture being pushed and placed around the floor. And combine the word "embrace" with "confines" is also an awkward feeling. At least it never feels like something confined to me. Unless I'm dancing with a "boa constrictor" leader. Maybe it's just semantics, though and the way I understand the words.

Frances R said...

Hmmm... Those friends come across as not very caring and sensitive, since they don't seem to care about how much you actually enjoy dancing with them, and do not appear to feel that you are making sacrifices. Good dancers and real friends would.
For the lot of nice and friendly people who are still learning, there are practicas. That is where I dance with them.
You might find out at some point, that tango is mostly about the embrace. Therefore, people who do not have the embrace do not dance tango.

Anonymous said...

I said that to one of my teachers recently.

"If there is no embrace- there is no tango" (to which she agreed).

Embrace is the most key factor for me. Open position or close embrace- if they aren't comfortable with the person, how can you ever release and tune in to your partner satisfactorily?


Tango Therapist said...

Mari -- you chose not to embrace Arturo. That wasn't even a veto. Just change "blog" to "body." "It's my body, I make the rules." You walked off the floor. Maybe that comment said it all about boundaries and embrace! I see myself in everything you write. I am probably the guy who scoops you up into an embrace. I agree with Stephen -- it's all about if she has the skill level. However after $200 of lessons and she wants open embrace, I recommend going to ballroom tango. Uh oh, then they connect below the waist. Uh, make that, I recommend watching dance films and other people embracing. Much safer. :-)

Tangocommuter said...

I remember an old teaching video by Gustavo Naveira and Olga (that's how old it was). Talking about the embrace, he puts his right hand on Olga's left ribcage and says: 'This is very good - but it doesn't work!' He then demonstrates that the leader's/man's right hand should go round the woman's back. So I gave up trying to do the back boleos, and settled for my right arm round the woman's back. That's a close embrace, but it's still not quite 'apilado'. (Apilado, very close, is how I always dance with partners I know.) Surprisingly frequently, partners I don't know will choose to close the embrace, even if the 'left ribcage embrace' is more familiar to them. & it's their choice, so I think it works well all round!

Thanks at least for that, Gustavo!

Mari said...

Theologian - you are the guy that scoops me up in the embrace lol. :)

TangoCommuter - I think negotiating the embrace really is about finding both people's comfort. If I know that you're comfortable with your arm all the way around my back, I'm more likely to settle in there. If a leader isn't comfortable - and is used to the left ribcage, I can usually feel it and will settle a little further back. I wish I could see that video of Naveira lol!

happyseaurchin said...

no easy answer
interesting comments...

my guess:
the tango begins before the floor...
both need to agree
especially if it is going to be close

that is
if either introduce a distance or formality
then the other clearly must honour this...

what's annoying
in my experience
is where the follower takes up the pose of close
and even after asking they wish close
they end up a mile away with my chasing their contact

subtle stuff
ladies and gentlemen...