Monday, January 18, 2010

The abrazo that is the close embrace

In the language of argentine tango, the abrazo or embrace is the general term for the hold of the leader/man on the follower/woman.

There is the open embrace which connotes a distance between the pair to allow for greater room for maneuvers and movements, and then there is the close embrace, where leader holds follower close to his chest.

The open embrace was my introduction to argentine tango, and is mostly what you will see when you dance anywhere in Manila. It allows dancers to execute the variations of the tango, without encroaching into the more personal space.

If you did as I did at the start of my ballroom life, and just watched as couples did the argentine tango, then you would notice the safe distance that exists between leader and follower. I would say that comes from the culture and the norms, where being circumspect and demure are expected of women. I too started out keeping a safe distance in most of my dancing, and to this day, I do not have the moves to do that sultry rhumba. But that is another story.

So, back to my close encounter with the abrazo. It is the inspiring teacher who, after showing me how much fun the dance can be, proceeds to introduce me to the abrazo that is the close embrace.

I am not a gushing teener nor a newly-confident twenty-something nor even in the thirty-plus era, yet the "closeness" of the close embrace was totally new. Even if I have worked with mostly men, of stature and command, for the last 12 years, that first close embrace came from left field. It was not a tentative near-embrace, mind you. It was the "I take you in my arms, hold you tight and lead your every move" kind.

Considering that my teacher, inspiring and comfortable as he is, was then an acquaintance of just two sessions, my demure persona was reacting, subconsciously thinking: why is he locking me in this embrace!!!

Well, whatever shock I felt couldn't be expressed even as a joke, because it had to be set aside immediately since the inspiring but demanding teacher had already commanded my body to glide... forward, side, close, backward, legs long, feet always touching the ground... and dance I did, or tried to that first time, locked in that tight embrace.

I survived that first session, and the next. But when it came to dancing in close embrace the whole night, it was the unused muscles on my arms, neck and the rest of my body, that spoke up. It is not easy, and in some ways, it is torture. You are pinned to the leader's chest, your movements are within a more limited space, and there is a posture and stance that are demanded by this thing they call the abrazo.

Guess the desire to learn overcame the aching muscles. The torture remains but is now more manageable. And the hours in close embrace have become longer and more frequent.

Four months later, the newness of the proximity of the abrazo in close embrace is not new anymore. Now, I look for and even expect the command and control that the abrazo has come to mean to me.

It is after all an affirmation of one of the first lessons I was taught about the argentine tango. From the start, I was told that the argentine tango required the follower to do just that: follow. From the start, the input was that with the right leader, my moves would be clear, as there would be no other option for my body and my feet.

And of course, the teachers were right. Whoever leads, whether teacher or partner or fellow student, I follow. I glide back when I sense the beginning of a forward leg move. I prepare for an ocho when the hand slides down to aid the twisting motions. I do the boleo when the leader does what I call the ragdoll command. I follow, when a slight tap or a quick press into the small of my back leads me into the next turn of the dance.

The following that I do becomes even more exact in the abrazo that is the close embrace. The extreme proximity heightens that oh so important connection. The sense one has of one's partner is immediate, tangible, translating impulse into action in the next breath.

From the viewer's perspective, the close embrace may represent the more seductive nuance of the argentine tango, which can actually be called an intricate dance of seduction. But from this follower's point-of-view, the abrazo that is the close embrace lets the spirit of the dance flow freer, and leads this follower deeper into the tango that fills mind and soul.

In the tight circle of a close embrace, the tango is danced with singular poetry. And the tango embraces you even tighter still.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you a lot for this post. I'm a 'leader'; however I do not use the sliding hands in order to lead an ocho for the follower. Everything is from the solar plexus. Anyway I'm going to read more about your tango journey! Some of your pieces seem like poetries.