Issue #29

Emotion and the Embrace

By Sharon Livingston

How do we best connect with our partner – close or open embrace?

During any Tanda you can see some people dancing with eyes closed in apparent bliss.  And for certain people this is evident with each partner.  The couple embraces, they start to move across the floor and the spell begins.  It also ends at the end of the Tanda when the couple parts for new dance partners and the possibility of new close encounters through the Tango connection. It’s a temporary but intense connection that many dancers seek in Tango.

What is it that creates that momentary bliss?  Is it the gratification of being held, so close, chest to chest?  Cheek to cheek? 

It raises many questions for me as a researcher and one who has been observing many Milongas and Tango dancers.

Do you have to experience such intense emotions to really dance Tango?


Is it emblematic of Tango and how it’s supposed to be danced? 

Is it possible to have a close connection that translates to moving to the music because of this connection? 

What feelings do we need to feel to know that we really are dancing Tango?

Must it be chest to chest to communicate with such understanding and purpose?

It’s worth considering.

There’s so much about tango and romance in the literature. 

I have to confess that I started learning Tango because I had seen a number of wonderful performances that were enticing, like Assassination Tango, The Tango Lesson and Scent of a Woman.  I thought it would be an exciting dance to learn with my SO [significant other].  It was beautiful and elegant, intense, sensual and a creative endeavor to learn to do with another soul, with someone who touched MY heart and soul.  It involved communication, responsiveness, and male and female flirtations which would set fire to our passions.

Since studying and practicing Tango, I have an expanded understanding.  Dancing with my SO is the best.  It really is.  It’s a tribute to our relationship growing and improving through the close connection. 

Tango has rules that are in keeping with age-old Male/Female roles.  He leads, she follows.  She waits for him to initiate.  He invites her response.   He protects, she supports.  She takes his lead and he invites her to embellish with grace and her personal creativity. They are each unique and at the same time working together to tell a story of their very personal invention.  You can see it right there in front of you. It might even catch your breath.  When well-articulated, it’s enchanting and delightful. 

But back to how the connection is created.  How much does it matter if it’s through open or close embrace? 

In my personal opinion, the relationship and how it’s expressed is beyond the Close Embrace, chest to chest connection.

Many times, we need an Open Embrace to perform the next move.  For example, Molinetes and Colgadas require an open embrace.  Ochos are much easier to follow in an Open Embrace. 

I think Connection goes beyond the Close Embrace.  Communication happens on a variety of levels.  While intuition and connection help guide us, movements make it possible to respond quickly and as intended.

A light push of my back to my left tells me to step back into a backward Ocho.

A light pull on the other hand invites me forward, to a front Ocho.

A combination of light pushes and pulls suggest a Molinete, Colgada and other moves.

These particular moves are much easier in an open embrace where I have more freedom to style and express myself.

I love the Close Embrace when the steps are basic, simple and easily recognized.  I also appreciate the close embrace with someone I feel very close to.  But sometimes, dancing with someone who insists on the Close Embrace feels claustrophobic.  I feel stifled, controlled.  He’s overbearing and controlling everything I wanted to escape from in the past.  It’s not encouraging or safe and sexy.  It’s oppressive. 

I know that’s not the intent, but dancing in Open Embrace is freeing.  I can stay connected to my partner, reading his intention through his guidance of body, arms and legs, without being coerced. 

This is not to say that it’s Closed vs. Open and one wins over the other.  It’s to say that sometimes Close Embrace can be suffocating.  How can I dance and experience this other human when he’s so wanting to control my response?   I don’t know him but I’m supposed to accept his damp cheek close to mine and his chest squashing me.  How can I think about dancing when I’m feeling . . . well, engulfed?

Am I challenging long-held ideas about the connection? Perhaps.  I just think there are more than one way to connect and react.

Let’s dance together, sensitive to the unique relationship with each person. Use the embrace that’s most comfortable right now.  Tango is about connecting to another human being in the moment.  It’s not just about rules; it’s also about personal feelings and creative expression

Toca Tango.