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.
He He! We all have to go over to the dark side now and again, if only to see what we are missing, or not. The thing is for me, I started out this way not realising there were other ways until a few months later. I would easily do both for a couple of years until I made a choice to dance in close embrace as the amount of fancy footwork really got on my nerves as I could tell that my partner was more concerned about moves than the music. Live and learn.
Very thoughtful post, Mari. Thank you for that.
The more complicated the movement, the greater the difficulty in finding a good placement for it in the music (and getting the timing and mechanics right, and doing both of the previous with a good partner connection). I actually enjoy the feeling of a high boleo: If the leader catches me and the music just right, it feels so grand – there are times when it just fits better than a smaller one because of the energy of the movement and the music. But meeting up with a partner who throws in random boleos and doesn’t understand the movement and the context… Yeah, not so great. The boleo gets a bad wrap from not being fully considered.
It’s great that you are open-minded about trying out the Nuevo style. I enjoy both. My preference tends to depend on the partner (sometimes the music but typically I find you can dance musically in either style) and my mood. Our community is primarily close-embrace, but there are several leaders that I dance exclusively open with because we tend to connect better that way. When you can’t find a comfortable close-embrace and, for me, when the leader doesn’t allow for your internal energy to manifest itself in subtle articulations (and doesn’t do the same himself), I find I have more freedom and a greater ability to connect as well as express myself and be musical when we remain open. But I agree with you that there is nothing like the quality of a good close embrace.
To address LondonTango's comment... Having danced equally in both styles, I personally don’t find a correlation between style (open vs. closed) and the moves-based tendency. There are close-embrace dancers who give you no connection (or a superficial imitation of it) and are very into the flash-and-trash, while there are Nuevo dancers who are very much about the connection. I think being one or the other is dependent on how each dancer approaches the dance, not on which style they choose. Sometimes (not always) our value judgments on a style reveal how we feel in that style, not anything innate about the style itself. Of course it’s great to find a great connection in one style and there is nothing wrong with sticking exclusively to that, but stereotyping those who choose otherwise is a misguided (though admittedly easy) temptation. Just some food for thought...
Instead of talking styles, we can say that some dance an "outer" dance to tango and others dance an "inner" dance. I prefer the later.
Just like Londontango started with being taught big moves in open embrace. Soon found out that we couldnt dance like that anywhere but in our garage.Found a teacher to teach us close embrace and subsequently connection, throw in a bit of musicality and bingo you are dancing AT. We sometimes dance open in the right place to the right music but to be honest after 1 max 2 dances we are dragged back to close embrace and the magic thereoff.
One of my favorite quotes (not sure who to credit) is this: "You don't 'do' boleos. Boleos happen." I know you know this Mari, but some of your readers may not.
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