Lead in Open Embrace

Thoughts after a Gloria and Eduardo lesson. By Igor Polk, 2003 February 12

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Today I am publishing a page Gloria & Eduardo are Teaching Argentine Tango . Check it out. This new page is about what they say, but I also want to share my own thoughts on the subject. Here it is.

For now I allow myself only a little elaboration about "A steady framework". I have thought about it for long time, but it is crystallized only now.

"A steady framework" is one of many confusing propositions taught by teachers. "Keep your frame.." I was told at a beginner's lesson. So, I collected all my strength, and started marching with the arms spread. One, two, three, ... whole eight-count. "It must be pleasant for her, I keep such a strong frame!" - I thought. Marching like that I was able to make the whole dance in just 3 months of practice. "Open the door, close the door" - that I was doing ochos ! Hmm.. Something is wrong. Let me try another school. Now it was: "Look at your partners chest. Watch the movement. No need to hold arms". Hmm.. Something is missed here. Subconsciously, I resisted. What do they say in books? Let us open one: "The man's arms and upper body make a firm frame in which the woman is gently held. The man must not allow his arms to move independently of his upper body, as this destroys the frame..". I do not like the approach. Something does not sound right here. Too much attention to keep rigid shape of upper body. Something is missed. Does it mean that arms can not move independently? Of course, they can, I saw it many times.

( January 19, 2006. Hector Falcon: "Tango is about the embrace. If you dance ballroom, you hold your partner. But in tango we embrace the partner. In english it is very clear. In Spanish we don't even use the word hold." )

Frame? Frame which is understood as synchronous movement of arms and chest? Yes, it is important, but it is not most important. You can not lead with a frame. It is just an instrument to teach beginners and to look good. Frame in this understanding can be completely dissolved in advanced dancing. And actually, as I have found later, it interferes with teaching of right lead and follow replacing the real mechanism with something artificial and too rough for great sensual dancing. And more than that. Taught as is "man keeps the frame" it is just plain wrong.

What is most important is the following. In open embrace, "the device for lead and follow" is just two points in space created by two points of contact. It could be just two fingers meeting two fingers of a follower, the opposite side. They just touch each other. A subtle force appears. Equal in both points. It meets the opposite one. This is resistance. The opposite side must make the resistant force. She must do it! The initial subtle force feels the opposite one. Then the force can be preserved, or even increased. The body behind the opposite force starts to move. The body has inertia, isn't it? It can not start movement right away. It needs time and preservation of force to start movement. Then the force is disappearing. The opposite force feels that and decreases itself and signals the body behind it to slow down. The initial force disappears till only the gentle contact is preserved. The opposite force disappears too and the body slows down. It has inertia, isn't it? And finally it stops. This is one tango move. Lead and followed.

This approach to first approximation makes a woman a perfectly tuned instrument. Man is a player. He provokes steps, he moves a woman around her vertical axis, he provokes boleos and ganchos. Subtle movements provoke, and stronger forces are applied when a woman needs support and speed. And let it do it herself.

All ( first approximation ) man's movements are done in relation to a woman, his instrument. For example, when a man turns "the frame" around his axis, it does not turn a woman around her axis. Done as is, it turns leader around only his axis, not the lady's one, which is of course wrong. Changing your weight from one side to another with simultaneous turn of your body and not just frame around HER axis turns woman around her axis. Frame is just an instrument for beginners to create the right dynamical ( dynamics means part of physics related to forces, not to movements ) spatial ( in space ) structure. If she does not hold resistant force, there will be no turn, no matter how good is the men's frame.

And what "turning of the frame around your own axis" provokes? That is right, the woman's side step ! There are no mistakes in tango, only opportunities.

When leading a backward step, the point of contact from the right man's shoulder is transferred to the right man's hand and arm which support woman's back. With subtle, gentle, caring pressure he "invites" a follower to step forward. You have to carry her forward, like a baby, not pushing mechanically with your hand.

All these "pressures" should not be sharp. As all tango movements, they must arise and decline smoothly, even the fastest ones.

Now, how to do it. I have found that the best way is to move the projected center of gravity along a man's foot, that creates enough force and looks great. It is like progress your chest forward standing on one leg. Ah? Can you do it? As a result your weight moves to a very tip toe. But exactly the same result should be achieved if you dissolve the embrace and push you partner away with only your arms. That is correct. In Apilado in is even greater. You push from the ground with you legs! Legs lead! Nor body nor hands do not move at all! This push meets the follower's opposite force. At a certain moment she lets you go. It means she accepted, ready, and her leg is already extended! And you make the movement. What happens if she does not let you go, if she opposes with the equal force? You stand. Still. This is one of the infinite ways SHE can control the dance. Just an example. Did I give you an idea why Tango is called conversation?

One tango move may be done in one step, or may be done is several steps. So, what legs are doing? What if I keep pushing without moving my body? What is body doing? What if I want to move fast and sharp? How the movement of the body relates to the movement of legs? What if the forces in two points of contact are different? That is turn ! Can I do movements of my chest independently of arms? Of course ! Can I move my arms during the dance ? Of course, it is fun, and it does not destroy "the frame". What is my right arm is doing? How it all applies to close embrace? What other physical points exist and are important?

Too many questions. Too much for today. Good bye!

Points of Contact

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2005 July 20

- Rose from Portland writes about lost connection with senseless leaders and openness
- Touch - Jonathan Thornton speaks that " a partner who is responsive to and expressive with touch is far richer in experience than.."

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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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