Six Close Embrace Styles

Igor Polk, 2003 February 18. At the end or the article, I am addressing "What is Dance Frame" directly.

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Other articles you might be interested in:

11 Argentine Tango Styles;

Perfect Apilado Position;

Looking in the Mirror;

3 Levels of Dancing - Going Beyond Lead and Follow

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These are Argentine tango styles known to me:

But I am talking here about other styles. Styles in relation to physical structure of connection.

Under "Close Embrace" many tango dancers understand dancing when chests are in touch. I have danced extensively and found out that there are several very distinctive types of this dancing. It is clear to me that there are 6 of them. 5 of them have something in common which another one does not have. And this something makes the 5 styles feel completely different from the Open Embrace dancing, while the one feels almost the same. This something is the lead with body. It means that the main points of contact through which lead is transmitted and accepted are there. Advanced dancing may use more points. I do not talk about them here.

Style are differentiated by body positions. Anyone is free to mix styles during a dance and even mix them with open embrace. But to say "I know this style of close embrace" one must be able to dance the whole dance in the same position. No. The whole milonga. If a movement can not be done in the same body position, it does not belong to the style. Instead of changing positions, or even going into open embrace, change your technique. Each style defines its own technique.

Pseudo Close Embrace style 0.

Why 0? Bodies in this style keep vertical position. Chests are just touching each other. Points of contact through which lead goes are still somewhere in the arms. This is the style separate from other styles, which I personally do not even consider a close embrace style. It is danced and lead similarly to open embrace. It is essentially open embrace style danced in touch with each other. Nothing more to say. That is why I give it number 0. It is not a close embrace style, and it is mentioned here only because many people think that it is. Dancers dancing in this style if arm's touch is removed are not able to continue the dance without changing their technique, i.e. moving to one of the next styles.

Close Embrace style 1.

Chest are not just in touch. Points of contact through which lead goes are on the chest. Not in arms. A man leads with his chest. Physically. Level of contact varies, but in accordance with rules of lead, there is resistance, it is created by a force directed horizontally between chests. This force is a lead-follow force. It becomes stronger to make a movement, and disappears when is it time to stop the same way as in open embrace. To feel better this force as well as other forces, chests should be in tight contact. Arms are for fun, for complex moves. Ideally, lead of all steps and elements is done with chest, including ganchos, boleos, sacadas, and so on. Degree of the force between chests varies from the small resistance which may make it visually indistinguishable from style 0, to very strong.

For an experienced leader, it is easier to lead a less experienced woman in close embrace then in open, because he uses her body weight as the force of resistance. Without resistance it is very tough to lead. Of course, it does not look like pushing and pulling of helpless body. Do it, and no woman would ever like to dance with you. Sometimes a man may push slightly with his right arm a woman's body to himself, of course, if the woman allows it. It may buffer some bad vibrations of inexperienced followers when they can not keep their chest attached to the man's one while stepping.

To make a dance good, the technique and figures should be different from open embrace. It just works differently. Do not try to use familiar open embrace figures. It will not work. This style allows strictly vertical body positions and hence can be unbelievably fast in rotation.

Close Embrace style 2.

Apilado. A new force between chests directed horizontally appears. The force goes to legs. More accurately, the legs push from the floor and create this force. It requires from a light woman to place her legs very far back pushing from the floor, creating leaning - that is her force goes from the chest of her partner through her straight legs to the ground. If there would be no such force, it would mean that she hangs - she pushes from the man's chest, but this is not weight. This is that artificial force created by legs. It takes wheight from the man. This force creates unification of bodies in one. This force is constant. It is not the same like the dynamic force of resistance. It is another additional one.

This force as well as whole body position requires cardinal changing of technique from open embrace technique. It limits movements, and even more. The force destabilizes unified body position, which demands more subtle control, feeling. It demands preceision from the both, it demands great sensitivity from both. Do not try to use open embrace technique. It will not work. The technique and figures are different here.

This destabilized body position by the force between chests may drive you crazy from pleasure! Together with your partner you create something which consists of both of you, but exists separately. This new entity takes you and your partner and carries you, spins you, vibrates you. Music becomes a reality inside every piece of your body. Your own physical being and time disappears. What remains is only ten million forces and movements.

The dance in style 2 may be very fast with long steps, very rhythmic, with very short steps, or very slow. Legs may make micro movements. A follower's leg keeping all weight plus extra force is put may make sliding vibrating movements! Visually less flashy, close embrace style 2 is way more reach than open embrace.

Creation of the force is a woman's choice. That is she who chooses the style and rhythm of dance. This style requires from a man more skill of following than other styles. Essentially, you both follow. The destabilization force may put you easy in an unfamiliar position. This style requires you to improvise well. So, you'd better move your bones, guys!

Notes: 1). Area of contact in style 2 may be extended to stomach area or not. It does not matter. It only matters where the main forces are applied. 2). I'd like to stress that style 2 is not the same as style 1. For example, style 1 can be danced in perfect vertical position which is impossible in style 2. Essentially, leaning or not leaning, that is the difference, but that is simplistic explanation. More about Apilado.

Close Embrace style 3.

This is the same like style 2, but the point of contact goes down to stomach area. Sometimes chests are not in any touch at all. This position limits movements more than style 2. Movements tend to be more circular. Legs are located closer to each other, then creating more opportunities for leg play. This style provokes long leg movements. It is more difficult for beginners (of this style) since lower application of force unbalances bodies to more chaotic faster movements. It is the same way why it is more difficult to keep a short stick vertically on a finger than a long one. But experienced dancers enjoy it.

Close Embrace style 4.

Canyengue. ( Replaced the former chapter on 2006, January 15 ) If you go into a good apilado position (Style 2), then bend your knees a lot keeping bodies in touch - you are almost in the canyengue position. A woman should be more to the side and embrace is very tight. Canyengue dancing requires first of all canyengue music, which can be found in abundance in Canaro, D'Arienzo, Firpo, Ortiz, Donato, Lomuto, and many other tango recordings, especially from 1920-1945. In this dance, bodies move very smoothly, but legs do the faster work similar to milonga. There is a "hop". It is in the music, and it should be danced too. It is nice to lead a woman to the cross on "hop". So, this is pretty much it. There is a lot of fun in the dance! I have learned it from Martha Anton tapes in 2003 ( search for: Marta Anton and Luis Grondona ). There were women who danced Canyengue wonderfully, but nobody taught in here in San Francisco. Now, in the January of 2006 we had Ruben Milonga teaching it, Paulo Araujo, and even our Randy Fisher some time ago.

I remember one episode. Recently, I started to dance with a lady and music started to play Canyengue. I said: "It is Canyengue.". "Oh, really?" - she answered - "I've just had a workshop with Ruben today about it". "So, how did it go?". "We were learning a lot, all this crazy moves, but it was in very tight embrace, and a woman on the side! We were ok, but our leaders could not do much". Sad.

Candombe. It is very similar to Canyengue style but even more shocking. At the Ruben Milonga's workshop I have practiced it a lot. A woman is leaning very tight on a man's right site completely relying on him to maintain the balance. Man is leaning to her to keep that bridge-like position. He is leaning to the right, since she is on the right: the right side on the man's chest is located right between.. sorry, women's chests. Man's right arm is around her waist. She looks right to the same direction like he. The music is fast and energizing - african roots. A lot of hip movement. I have to tell you.. but I have no words to explain how great it is!

Close Embrace style 5.

This style does not look like close embrace, but it is more close embrace than style 0. A woman and man are in touch with each others more on the side. Woman's breasts may not be in any contact with the man's chest. Her left arm, left side of chest, and back serves as the replacement of her chest. Contact in this areas is very strong. It is understandable. This style allows many of open embrace figures not possible in other styles. Tango Nuevo dancers often dance close in this position. Their contact is loose. This is not what I am talking about.

How did I come up to this? This is based not on any class, or tape, or theory. This is totally concluded from my experience on the dance floor. It is personal preference what style is better. To me Apilado is the best. Probably it is. But other positions are not wrong, but something which exists. The way of dancing is different in each style. Try never change it during the dance and you will feel. What is really important is how to lead and follow, which is a separate science and can be applied equally to any body position. As soon as you do it right, it is cool! Soooooo Cooooool!

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2008, September 26

So, let me clarify it a little in terms of Ballroom Dancing. They do not use the word "Embrace" as far as I can see. They use "Dance Frame".

While I believe a firm frame is important and very pleasant in open embrace, when dancers do not touch each other with bodies, it is of less importance in Close Embrace. Of course, good arms and hands positions and tensions are important part of the dance. We will talk about it later.

In Tango, it is common misunderstanding that the lead is generated by Dance Frame which is somewhere in arms and shoulders. No. Even in Open Embrace ( that is in Ballroom called "Close" ) the lead and the feel of dance is generated by body moves. Feel of movements is transmitted by the "Dance Frame". Generally speaking, lead is not generated by linear movement of body. For example, a man should know who to lead a lady to the side step without moving his own center of mass. He can move it, but he should know how to lead her without it. The same goes for everything else: forward and back steps, boleos, and so on. This is a very complex body move which does that.

In Argentine Tango Close Embrace "the frame" is in the body. Hands are not part of the frame, even though they have important function. And since the lead and follow are transmitted by body movements, the "frame" can vary in tightness from more strong to less strong. But never goes away, otherwise "Close Embrace" will be broken.

The "geometry" of that frame is very intricate. It dances itself. It changes fluently. And please, this is not the same like some people talk about "fluid embrace" as the way of going from close to open and back. No, it is not what I am talking about. So far, it is difficult for me to express it in writing..

It all comes to something which can be called by the word "Presence". Our good term Dance Embrace is encompassing what is going on:

Dance Embrace = Dance Frame + Presence

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My name is Igor Polk. I dance Argentine tango in San Francisco.

Copyright©2003-2006 Igor Polk
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