Notes on a popular embrace

2009 September 6
by Simba
Demo Maestros @ Tiempo Argentino by Peter Forret, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License by  Peter Forret

I have seen quite a few dismissive comments of a certain embrace lately, someone calling it ‘Reaching for the man’s back pants pocket’-embrace just recently (in the comments, here). Which doesn’t sound very nice to me. I assume it is the one pictured above that is referred to, although I would have to say she is a little off if she is going for this pockets. I suspect the misunderstanding concerning the pockets comes from seeing this as a intention downwards embrace, while it is quite the oposite.

Well, people may embrace as they please, but this crititcism seems a little narrow-minded to me. I, on the other hand get an urge to dance every time I see someone embracing this way because, when done correctly, it feels very good and improves the connection with my partner, who can participate actively with her left hand.

Someone dismissed it as a fad. That may well be, but it sure is a long lived one. If you see the famous film snip of Carmencita Calderón dancing with the legendary El Cachafaz, you see her using a variation of this embrace. (As opposed to having her arm around his neck). That footage is from the 1930s. So I wouldn’t put much money on it going out of fashion anytime soon.

15 Responses leave one →
  1. 2009 September 7

    This hand placement with the fingers spread apart is strange in my opinion. It gets stranger when the elbow is lifted and the hand is turned at a angle so the fingers point downwards. There is tension in the hand to hold it in this way–wasted energy in the embrace which could be as natural as when we hug someone.

    When a couple uses the embrace shown in the photo, the woman’s left arm can restrict his right arm, that is, if she places weight by pushing downward. A protruding elbow can be hazardous on a crowded floor.

  2. 2009 September 7

    Thank you for your comment, Janis, I value your opinion, and I would like to repeat that I am not trying to convince anyone to change their dance, merely to stop dismissing other people’s dance based on what I believe to be false premises.

    If the woman pushes down, it is uncomfortable for the man regardless of embrace in my experience, and I don’t understand why this is used as an argument, since the correct way to do it involves a slight upward intention and no downwards push. I never felt it restricting my movement. Not that the man’s right arm moves that much anyways.

    Turning the elbow up makes the couple take less space, but that might not be aesthetically pleasing to you, which is fine by me. It is probably a little more difficult in that way, as you must take care in not straining the shoulder, much in the same way as for the man’s left shoulder, I believe. It comes with practice.

    As to the fingers, that too, might be dismissed on aesthetical griounds, but I regard it to be a minor detail. I don’t think it needs more energy than keeping the fingers together, though. The pressure from her hand is merely propagated from her palm, which for a relaxed hand results in spread fingers.

    As can be seen in the video clip you kindly provided a couple of days ago, several of the current milongueras use a variation of this embrace.

  3. 2009 September 7

    Actually, there is an embrace with the woman’s hand waaay down, really almost on his bottom. I kid you not.
    I don’t know if I can find a picture but I’ll try.

  4. 2009 September 7

    My one complaint about this picture is that it looks like she’s weighing his arm down. I imagine it’s not so comfortable for the leader.

    As for the fingers, sometimes I do that when I dance – spread them apart. I had no idea I did that until I saw a video of myself. 🙂

  5. 2009 September 7

    @E: I don’t think I ever saw that one, is it usual where you go dancing? Would be interesting to see and hear about what advantages thats embrace might have (for dancing purposes, that is) 😉 Are they trying to get even on the guys holding loooow on the girls’ waists?

    @Tina: I won’t say they do it ‘perfect’, but it was the best picture I found. Generally it is hard to see, especially from a picture, whether she is putting too much weight on him, and this is part of the problem I think, that people assume too much from what they see about things that cannot be seen. Got to ask the guy or dance with her. Or maybe you see something I don’t 🙂

    One guy jokingly called my dancing ‘positive’, because apparently my right thumb was always pointing upwards. I had no idea 🙂

    Thanks for commenting, both of you.

  6. 2009 September 8
    Claudita permalink

    Not sure this is the best example (it is a performannce and one that’s pretty far away from what happens on the social dance floor) but I have seen girls do this in Milongas…and yea, she IS reaching for his back pocket…

  7. 2009 September 8

    Yes, Claudita’s example is what I was thinking of, and no it is not at all typical here, but I’ve seen in it some performance style dancers, but also on the social floor at times…usually young dancers being all dramatic, or else trying to pick his wallet!
    Or maybe they are getting back at those touchy feely guys. Or maybe they just want to, um, never mind….

  8. 2009 September 8

    @Claudita: Now that would be a pickpocket…

    @E: After all, there is a long history of, well, suggestive movements in tango, so maybe it’s time for a revival…

    Can’t say it appeals to me, and from your comments you don’t seem too enthusiastic, either. If anyone knows what are the virtues of this kind of grip–embrace seems to me to be stretching it– I’d love to hear about it. Also I am very curious as to where exactly it has been encountered on the dance floor. I know, I’m a curious guy.

  9. 2009 September 8

    I have been observing the wide variety of hand and arm positions used by women in the milongas of Buenos Aires over the past ten years. Now that I have a digital camera, I’m considering taking photos with permission. I believe that many women change to follow what they see others do. I see so much energy go into spreading fingers apart or lifting a finger. Perhaps many are unaware of it. It shows that they are not relaxed and in the moment with their partners. The more seasoned dancers are natural in the embrace; new dancers appear to be more concerned with the look of tango. There are women who place their arm across the man’s shoulder as if it were an arm rest. His neck has to bear the weight.

    I read something today in an e-newsletter about the difference between a dancer and a milonguero. A milonguero wants to be close and have contact, to embrace his partner and be embraced by her because it’s one of the pleasures in dance. A dancer enjoys the movement; the embrace is to enjoy the dance, but not an end to it.

  10. 2009 September 9
    Claudita permalink

    Where? Mmmmm, I’ve seen it mainly in places where teachers who use this embrace in their performances teach.

    I’m sure in most places it’s just a temporary thing and after the Festival teachers have moved on, the girls stop trying to pick the guys’ pockets.

    I’ve seen this kind of embrace in London, Berlin and Istanbul and, I guess at Villa Malcolm and La Viruta.

  11. 2009 September 9

    @Janis: I’m sure many are stiff and look somewhat affected when they copy their favorite dancers, as you point out it takes some time for it to become natural. And in copying what one sees, there is always the possibility that how you perceive things may not be what is really going on. But we all have to start somewhere, and copying the ones who know is the oldest proven way to learn how to dance, I think.

    @Claudita: Thanks!

  12. 2009 September 9

    Cherie blogged about various embraces last year… 🙂

  13. 2009 October 13

    I’m late to join this conversation, so I’ll just say that one night at a traditional milonga (Los Consagrados) in Buenos Aires, a milonguero returned from the tanda to chat with Ruben, and he said, Omigod, why was her arm so low? Her hand was almost touching my ass! Why didn’t she embrace me “normally?” It felt FEO!

  14. 2011 July 18

    Personally, I think it can be hard to know how an embrace feels from seeing a photo. For myself, I think it’s about finding a position which is comfortable for both parties and which feels as close to a real-life embrace as possible, while not restricting movement. And I believe different couples find different embraces suit them. I have danced with men sometimes whose embraces looked a little stiff but who felt lovely and snuggly in my arms.

    I do sometimes, myself, copy people’s embraces. If I’m dancing with a new man and he has a regular dance partner, I often try to embrace him in the same way as she does — provided our relative heights make it feel natural for me to do so. I assume, you see, that the way his regular partner embraces him, where she puts her right hand, etc., feels good to him, or they would have made changes to their embrace.

    I write more about my own feelings about the embrace and experiences of embraces here:

  15. 2012 April 21

    Pardon my rambling… I am just a novice… no professional… no expert. But I dance the way that feels comfortable to me and my partner so I experiment and just doing that has taught me that I should normally push with my heel when walking backward. Similarly I have sometimes found my hand way down (no I am not a pick pocket nor an ass-grabber); note however that I don’t consciously place my hand down and I don’t feel it happening with every leader… so its probably something between dancing with a particular type of lead that makes it more comfortable… frankly its just a guess. On a side note, if so much importance is placed on dancing with core then isn’t lower back kind of connected to it (its closest!).

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