Argentine Tango is normally a close embrace dance, and dancers caution that the embrace is one of tango’s most important aspects. Tangueras often describe a man as “has a good embrace” in picking him as a partner.
The embrace is frequently discussed in tango classes, but almost never taught, so men are left to figure it out on their own. It took me many years to figure out my embrace, so this is what helped me, and my attempt to help you.
For Tangueras the embrace is very personal, and each woman’s needs are quite different, so you will need feedback from your partner, and also from every other partner. Women generally appreciate being asked about appropriate arm pressure, and appreciate being seen as unique individuals whose preferences are respected.
Here are some universal tips (though mostly for men):
- Keep your full attention on your partner while in the embrace; feel the music and the space around you, but focus on the emotions, self-confidence, axis, breath, muscles, position and momentum of your partner. Don’t talk or look around.
- Soft front – both men and women – while maintaining posture; so bring the softness from the sides.
- Women, with each step, shift all your weight over one leg, relax your free leg, and let it follow your body to its next step (don’t try to place your foot somewhere). Don’t plan the next movement or think about the last movement.
- Both, relax your whole body, but especially your free leg, with every step.
- Move with no bounce, lurch, sway, or speed change. To make it easy to follow you, move like a slow-moving predictable train, passing through the market in India. Don’t start or stop with a jerk, but ramp your speed up and down; like a train. Firm, but no extra motions.
- Men’s right arm firmly across her back – but not squeezing her. Keep upper arm tight against her side – but not pressing – and hand firmly on her back or side – flat and not grabbing or pressing. This arm is not for leading or steering; it is to let her feel secure, enveloped and protected. You can ask her if your arm is comfortable for her (knowing that all women are individual, and that her comfort is your no. 1 priority right now).
- Left arm relaxed, elbow down, hand half-way between you, at eye level, palm facing your cheek, like a little table for her to rest her hand on, and sometimes to use to help her pivot (like a ballet barre). Don’t do the locomotive or the steering wheel, but give just enough resistance for her to push or pull against. Women, feel free to use your right hand against his left for stability and assistance, especially in pivoting.
- Men, always follow your partner; appreciate every surprising move she makes and create the next move from where she is right now. Learn all your movements from her. Never have an expectation of what is next (tango is always in-the-moment). Stop dancing sequences of steps; dance one step.
- Head up (because this pushes your chest out, so she can feel your movement).
- Pause often, especially for pauses in the rhythm (string bass), and suspensions, and use the opportunity to ground yourself, relax, and re-connect with your partner.
- As you (gently) leave the embrace, thank your partner, and compliment them for a specific outstanding quality they exhibit (make one up if necessary).