Category Archives: Embrace

Tango Embrace

Killing Space Invaders with a Tango Goddess

I am a tango student and I travel to a distant world. And back. Every week.

It is at the opposite end of my universe from my world and is known as Walthamstow.

I go there again and again because there is a force there. Someone who is becoming a mentor to me and who has such a deep understanding of Tango that I will cross the universe every week on my crippled southern rail star fighter just to try again, and fail again – because that is what I need to do and that is where she is.

She  – more than any mortal – just tells you the truth. If you have the strength to take it – believe me it is what you need to hear.

Recently she has been killing my space invaders.

  • I invade her space when I simply stand – my left hip is too high so I tilt to my right to compensate – of course into her space because that is where she is.
  • I move around her – and over anticipating I tilt to my right – into her space.
  • My shoulders come forward – into her space.
  • She walks perfectly into my embrace and at the last moment I glance at her – unfortunately invading her space. Zap!
  • My connection is too high by about half an inch – she can never get to a perfect axis on her forward step – because – I am invading her space. Zap!

She is a goddess – she hates space invaders. They take away her ability to be her, to create. I come with an army of parasitic space invaders and they upset her. So she is helping me to destroy them – one at a time.

Lightsabers don’t actually go ‘Zap’ – they do something else. But I can’t spell it.

What she actually does for an hour and a half is to patiently take me apart, explain it, manipulate me – show me in both roles –  and help me to put it back together again in the way it should have been in the first place.

It is a painful process – and agonisingly slow. Because I am mortal.

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.” — Yoda

So after 5 and a half years of studying Tango I am back concentrating on side steps, back steps and suspensions – and getting everything wrong.

But for 90 minutes at least a goddess is holding me and giving me the smallest glimpse of what might be – if only I can find the force within me.  And with her leading the way – perhaps I can.

Her name is Bianca Vrcan.


Lead me but keep the follower’s embrace

So much is said about followers and leaders – but surely what matters is communication so that we can together share the dance and the music to take it in whatever direction we each feel.

A wonderful exercise – that thanks to the inspiration of Joao Alves – I have been including in my tango schedule for a couple of years now – is ‘dancing with no arms’. In his lessons the general approach is normally  consistent – solo exercises with him and the mirror, then dancing with no arms, then drawing the embrace – and then the lesson.

After thinking about this for a while I am starting to extend this now to a structure where we as a couple will dance with no arms, but my partner can communicate to me – with her body – that she is now the leader. And then we can communicate the change back. It is going to be hard work – but so fascinating.

Our goal is that this can be completely natural and seamless – so that at any time in the dance she can take the role that we refer to as leading – and then hand it back.

All with no change of role expressed through an embrace change. That is something else entirely. With no con tricks – just a passing of the setting of the structure of the dance from one to the other, through communication between our bodies, whenever this adds richness to our experience.

We work on this ‘with no arms’ precisely because this way of moving together has already lost the symbolic confirmation of the asymmetrical embrace – and so it is much easier to break down our preconceptions.


My next goal – for many months into the future – is that from the natural follower’s  embrace  she should be able to take over, express herself, and then – if she feels it is appropriate to the music –  to lead me simple things like an intent for either one of us to boleo or planeo.

So she takes the lead over not just so that she can express her emotion through what we think of as embellishments – to demand her emotional space – but so that she can also request a specific response from me. And I will be a good enough listener to answer her.

And then jointly agree to change it back.

Our task is in no way for her to learn the detailed role of the figures and complexity of being a leader – but instead to be able to take over the setting of the intent. And to use this to request emotion back from me in more than just those figures that we naturally associate with the role that has to work within – and not disturb – the structure of our dance.

It’s so very, very exciting – I hope so much that it works.

When ‘Correct’ is not good enough

For so long as students we all strive to be correct.

We learn figures, we watch performers and teachers. We work hard – trying to be ‘right’.  Trying not to make mistakes.

To learn to be more correct seems to be why we go to classes.

Recently I have began to feel that correct is boring. That the woman is in danger of disappearing – of loosing her individuality to the correct and familiar execution of what is asked of her.

As a leader I have been studying the footage of milongueros – building up video resources and notes – and the one thing I do not see is any sense of uniformity. They share fantastic musicality and creative skills, which they express in such extremely individual ways.

And who among us would have the temerity to describe them as wrong?

Just one example – I have been learning from clips of Pibe Avellande – particularly that wonderfully creative dance with Luna Palacios at salon Canning to Rodriguez.

Is there anything at all that is “correct” about the posture of El Pibe?

I can just hear the teachers now – ‘stand up straight’ ..  ‘don’t hunch’  .. ‘be more gentle’ .. ‘don’t stretch the woman’s arm like that’  .. ‘walk properly not like a crab’ – in short – stop being amazing and just dance Tango like everyone else in the class.

Of course I don’t have the 40 years – or the talent – to be so creative and so connected to the music as this.

But I am already so enjoying it when people that I am lucky enough to dance with express their own individual interpretation, when the energy flows back and forwards between us. When neither of us are following or leading – and when right and wrong don’t exist between us in the same way that they used to.

It is so exciting when you feel on the edge – when you take risks, enjoy the moments of surprise – and stay with the emotional landscape of the music however the dice fall.