Tango: On learning close embrace

Photo of couple dancing
Photo by Chigirev via Pinterest

Last week I delivered shoes to a beginners and improvers class in East London. The teacher was leading a discussion about close embrace and I was invited to contribute. I tried to convince them that close is magical and worth the effort but hearing the challenges the students were tackling got me thinking. What do I wish I’d known when I started out in tango?

The follower may change the embrace

It is the right of the follower to alter the embrace as she or he wishes. You might start off in close and change to open and vice versa. A leader must not “force” you to stay in close if you don’t want to.

Why would you want to switch to open, when close is so magical? Well, because sometimes it isn’t. You may feel trapped, the lead is giving you no space, he or she is leading with their head and making your neck hurt, they’re pushing you off axis or they’re just holding you too darn tight.

If you’re at a class or practica, stop dancing, find the teacher and ask for their help. Be prepared to find out it’s something you’re getting wrong as well as the lead. You’ll need to make sure your own posture and axis are sound.

If you’re at a milonga, slip into open embrace. If the lead resists, at the end of the song tell them you’ll do the next one in open. You might discover you really enjoy their lead in open and both of you will be happy. Whatever you do, resist the urge to critique their embrace. One of the cardinal rules of milonga etiquette is that you must not teach or critique. Compliments, thank yous and polite requests (“let’s do the next song in open”) are fine; telling the lead how to fix their faults is not. Personally I see more leads trying to teach at milongas than followers but the rule does apply to everyone.

The embrace changes, go with it

The embrace is, like tango itself, a fluid and responsive thing. It opens for giros and ochos, and in nuevo and some vals. Don’t expect to always be in closed, or drape yourself so firmly around the lead that you can’t safely respond to a change in space.

If the leader gives you space for an ocho or giro or anything else, take it.

There is an exception, of course. If you’re dancing milonga, the ochos will be so tiny you won’t need the extra space.

What rules do you follow for close embrace? What would you tell a beginner? Add your thoughts in the comments below!

Disclaimer: Tango is a tricky art and everyone has an opinion about what is right and wrong. I love that it is improvisational and slim on rules, but it does lead to disagreement. I’m not a teacher, just an experienced follower. I was taught these rules by well respected teachers and stand by them as they’ve worked well for me.


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