Lesson 2 of 11
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The meaning of the embrace in tango

The meaning of the embrace in tango

 

“Dancing a simple feeling…

Tonight I shared a hug. I calmed down.

I remember when I was taking my first tango steps, I was told that the embrace should be like the one you give to a loved one.

Warm, hearty, tender. It is not an embrace to control.

I lead as much as is allowed by the good quality of the embrace.

If the embrace is destroyed, then I simply do meaningless steps, spending time till the tanda is over.

If it is not close, it is not tango.

How else could I feel her heart beating? How else can I feel her breath caressing me?

How is it possible to feel tango from a distance?

And as time passes by and beautiful experiences increase, I start to see it differently.

I do not want anymore to hug in tango like when I hug the people that I love; I want to hug those I love as in tango…”

I wrote this when I was 21 years old, seven months after my first tango class. I had just broken up with a girl I was together with for five and a half years. All I was looking for was a hug. A hug to let me forget, calm down, let go. In those moments, I was only moving my legs because people would find it weird if I were just remaining motionless, simply embracing for a complete tanda. Some, justifiably, would feel annoyed by me blocking the flow of the dance floor. Unwillingly, I moved. I did some steps. But only the steps that allowed me to keep a warm, close embrace.

You might hear people saying that when you embrace your partner, you should only focus on him/her. That night, I failed to do that. I thought of my ex, and I was hugging her in my mind. In some dances, it just happened that the woman I was dancing with had a similar body that reminded me of her. The feeling got stronger. I had to take her off my mind. Who else do I love? Who else do I care about? I started asking myself.

As the people I hold close to my heart started coming up in my mind, I started embracing as if they were in front of me. It felt great and incomplete at the same time. But I did it either way.

The truth is, I gave and received a lot more hugs in tango than in my entire life. Although my mother was a hugger, still, no one can’t compete with more than a decade of tango. I had weeks when I danced every night for five or more hours, not including the classes.

Something strange started happening. The hugs that I was giving in my daily life simply started to feel less powerful than those in tango. How can you compare 12 minutes of hugging while co-creating art, expressing music, and communicating in silence with the two-to-five-seconds hugs we are used to in our daily life? Yes, some unique hugs made me feel good out of tango, but most of them simply couldn’t compete.

And then, I started missing the tango embrace when I was not dancing. I remember thinking about it while lying on my bed, preparing to sleep. I remember dancing entire tandas in my mind while visualizing the warmth of the tango embrace.

“I do not want anymore to hug in tango like when I hug the people that I love; I want to hug those I love as in tango.”

I believe that most people have felt the power of the tango embrace, but few decided to take it further. Few tried to understand its meaning for them, and even fewer decided to give it additional meaning and purpose. I feel that a lot of people suddenly put up their shields when I say that. Dimitris, why try to give additional meaning, why not simply feel, simply be?

In my life, I came across this narrative many times. Why try to find additional meaning in your dance, and not just simply be in the moment? Why try to understand musicality when you can simply focus on what the music tells you to do at that moment? Why practice sequences when true beauty is in improvisation? Why practice technique when you can focus on transferring feelings?

If you are careful, you’ll notice that all those questions assume the same thing: a yes-or-no situation, a this-or-that case. I choose to see it differently. There are times for being and times for doing. You work on your technique (doing), so you can be fully present in the embrace (being) without your body getting in the way of what you want to express. You practice sequences so that your body can internalize concepts that you can then use while improvising. You study music so that your mind can listen to things you couldn’t listen to before. You look for additional meaning so that you can discover the shared meaning that leads to genuine connection. 

There are times for being and times for doing. To be fully present, years of preparation might be needed. That’s not because you can’t be present without preparation. It is because your house looks different when you live in it, and when you move back to it 40 years later, after you have traveled the whole world and had the experience of a lifetime. It’s the same house, same person, but the second time you cry, you realize how fast life is passing, and how few things truly matter. And if your response is hey, if I come back to my childhood house after being 40 years away, I am not the same person anymore. I have done so many things that have changed me, then congratulations, that’s precisely my point. There is time for doing and time for being. Knowing the difference can bring happiness and growth.

Let me share below a defining moment that changed how I see my embrace. I invite you to look in it for reasons to understand the purpose of your embrace.

 

“Last night, I went out for tango, and something beautiful happened.

First of all, you need to understand that I don’t dance so much as I used to.

Not because I don’t like it.

My focus is on playing with my son when I am not working, and he is too young to join me on a night milonga.

But yesterday I felt this need to dance.

I was working all day long listening to tango music in parallel, and both my body and my mind was telling me it’s time.

I kissed my son and wife goodnight and went out.

As usual, I didn’t start dancing right away.

I gave myself time to absorb the music and the environment.

When I danced my first tanda, I was not in the mood for the usual conversation.

You know “where do you come from?”, “how many days are you staying here?”

I simply asked:

-What do you like most about tango?

Silence.

She took a while to respond.

Who asks this kind of question, right?

-Connection, she said.

We danced during the next song.

-You didn’t ask me, “Connection with whom?” she said at the end.

I asked.

-With myself.

-Why?

-It is my active meditation.

-Why do you need it?

-It helps me grow.

Now I was intrigued.

What if I kept doing that all night long?

What would I discover?

The next woman I danced with, simply said:

-I love to meet complete strangers from anywhere in the world and know that I have a language to communicate with them.

Beautiful, I thought.

I received many answers that night.

-Because tango shakes my soul, another one told me.

And then, it happened:

–To stay alive, she said.

I won’t share more about this conversation; it is too personal.

But it led to one of the deepest, most emotional tandas of my life.

Why?

Because I saw the soul of that person and the healing power of tango.

-If you want to improve in tango, I said to myself, focus on using your dance to heal and give joy.

When you put that as an intention, all answers become easier.

I watched this old tanguera sitting, almost all night long.

At one moment, a man seemed to be looking at her, so she smiled, ready to dance.

He walked closer to her, and then he simply continued walking to dance with a woman a few steps behind her.

The old lady, who was already on the move, grabbed a glass of water, to cover her misunderstanding.

I saw her face turn sad.

It was not her age that made me take the following step, nor pity.

She had the calmness that only people that have lived a full life have.

It was the realization of the power of a simple embrace.

I went close by; I looked at her.

She looked at me, and then she looked down again.

I kept my gaze.

She looked again and then looked down.

Then she looked for a third time, full of disbelief.

I finally had time to smile back and move my head, pointing to the dance floor.

A huge smile appeared on her face.

You might ask how the tanda went, if we danced beautifully.

To this, I would say that it was a true joy and that you are asking the wrong question.

We shared a moment as humans, no matter our age difference, ethnicity, beliefs, and that’s what matters.

I left this tanda happier, and I hope she did the same.

What if we all danced to spread joy and to heal?

How would a milonga look like in that case?

That’s a milonga I wouldn’t miss for the world.

That night I saw people that are passing through hard divorces smiling.

I danced with a brave soul that had just learned a few days ago that the life that was growing inside her would not make it.

She was about to lose a person she loves and hasn’t even had the chance to see yet or touch his/her hand.

And she had no way to know when it would happen, just the certainty of the imminent future.

She was dancing and letting go.

We danced, but I was no longer dancing with her.

I was dancing with the life she was carrying, praying for healing, praying for a miracle.

I was hugging, and my hand was just a bit lower on her back.

Exactly… there.

I was dancing, trying to give a safe environment for that unborn life, saying at the same time my “Hello” and my “Goodbye.”

How many things happen right in front of our eyes every day, and we don’t see them?

That night, I saw people connecting with people, finding healing moments.

And I said to myself again:

-What if we were all dancing to heal and be healed?” — continues below.

That night, I found the meaning of my embrace: a healing embrace. This simple meaning made me focus on developing an embrace that focuses on healing the person I have in front of me and myself. That meaning was not the end of my embrace’s development. It was the beginning, although I was already dancing for about ten years. Knowing what you want your embrace to do doesn’t mean that you are already doing it.

I started reading about healing. It is hard to read about healing without seeing the word trauma coming up. I started getting deeper into how trauma is healed, and the somatic disciplines and methods that deal with it. I looked into how a loving environment, safety, and expression of feelings through the body can heal us. Based on that I tried to create an embrace that offers an environment that will allow healing to happen.

In my blog, I started asking the readers why they hug. I got tons of answers, so unique, as the readers that gave them. I started asking more and more people during our tandas the same question. Seeing the meaning this simple question brought to my embrace, I got obsessed with discovering other people’s meanings. My thought was simple:

Connection comes from shared meaning. 

Shared meaning demands that you understand the meaning that the other person gives to what is happening. 

The more you understand the variety of meanings, the easier it will be to identify the meaning the person you are dancing with gives to his/her dance, embrace, etc. 

And when that happens, true connection can happen. 

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t say that you can’t have true connection without all this effort. You can. But I feel that this work allows you to experience that connection more often. And you can help others experience it easier too.

Why do you embrace? What is it that you are looking for yourself? What is it that you want to create for the people you dance with?

These are not easy questions. Sometimes though, simply having them in your mind during your tango journey might be what you need to discover the answers. But this is not an excuse not to try to answer them right now. So go ahead. What is it that you want your embrace to create?

Got it?

No worries if you are not 100% satisfied. Make an effort. Put your answers into words.

Good.

A funny thing happened when I posted about my habit of asking my dancing partners why they danced. Some people asked me, “why talk? Why ask? Why not dance in silence?” I answered, “I prefer silence too. I love a tanda where no words are exchanged, and a feeling of deep connection is there. But when I talk, I prefer meaning over chatter. Check your discussions during a tanda. Would you prefer to talk about the country of origin of your partner, or discover the meaning behind each other’s dance?”

Of course, some people are surprised by the question, “Why do you dance?” And I know that some of you might be worried that you will make your partners feel uncomfortable. I was worried about the same thing too. Till now, I believe it has only happened once. I might be wrong, but in all other cases, we ended up sharing thoughts with a smile, humanity, and feeling that someone cared enough to ask.

But I wasn’t fully aware of the real power of that question till I started meeting women that had read my blog post. Some of them had already started asking others why they dance. There was a beautiful result of that question, independently of the answer that kept coming up again and again. The more women shared with me their experience of asking, “Why do you dance?” the more I saw that one result clearer and clearer. And one day, it happened. Two women, at the same tango marathon, on the same night, described the result of that question with almost identical words. One more time, I realized how few I understand and how much comes from simply just trying something and seeing the result for myself. I will share what was this one result that the women saw after asking their question in one of the following chapters, when the time is right.

Stay curious,

The curious tanguero