Tango is not only a fascinating dance but also a fascinating philosophy, culture and lifestyle. The search of tango is the search of humanity, connection, love, unity, harmony and beauty, i.e., an idealism that is not consistent with the dehumanizing reality of the modern world. The world divides us as individuals, but tango unites us as a team, community and people. In tango we are not individualists, feminists, nationalists, liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, etc., but interconnected and interdependent members of the human family. Tango calls us to tear down the walls, to build bridges, and to regain humanity through connection, cooperation, accommodation, reconciliation and compromise. It is a dance that teaches the world to love.

September 10, 2009

Close Embrace and Open Embrace (III)

The feeling of dancing close embrace tango is totally different from that of dancing open embrace tango. The enchanting music, comforting embrace and rhythmic motion of the two connected bodies in close embrace have a hypnotic effect to the dancers, causing them fall into a state of meditation or dreaming so heavenly that they don't want to wake up when the tanda ends. In close embrace tango, the male partner feels his female partner’s soft, springy, flexible, sensitive and responsive body. She surrenders to him, snuggles in his arms and becomes an integrated part of him. Whatever he does she follows intuitively. As he leads her dance, her body twists in his arms, her breasts rub his chest, her muscles relax and tense, and her whole body adapts ingeniously and femininely to his changing posture... All these generate a pleasant feeling. He feels a real flesh-and-blood woman. The beauty of her body and her femininity excite him. He enjoys that moment dancing with her because only she as a woman can stir the feelings within him that make him a man - strong, in charge, dependable and protective - just like only he as a man can stir within her the feelings that she enjoys as a woman. His masculinity, strength, support and protection make her feel loved, safe and beautiful. In his embrace she returns to her womanhood again. Only in that moment can she fully enjoy being a woman, as in real life she has to be independent. Tango is known as a refuge and it has to be danced by the opposite sexes to have that effect. When tango is danced by the same-sex partners, something mysterious and magic is missing, and that to me is anti-tango. I know some people may argue with me about that. But, hey, that’s me. I like women and enjoy a dance that contains the beauty of both masculinity and femininity.

But that is not all. If close embrace tango is physical and sensual, it is also soulful and romantic. No one has depicted this aspect of close embrace tango better than Eugene Grigoryev in his short essay What Is Tango? Here I want to quote that essay in its entirety because I myself cannot say it better, and the description of close embrace tango would not be complete without a depiction of this inward, dreamy, poetic and heavenly feeling. The following is the entire quote of Eugene’s masterpiece.

“Tango is more than just a dance or a sequence of steps. It is an expression of our emotions, an inner reflection of who we are and what we experience, a way to channel what we feel through movement. Tango is a language of expressing what we feel through motion, stirred in us by music, in unison with our partner. It comes into your lives in many different ways, as simple interest, a hobby, or a fascination… and ever so slowly it becomes an addiction.

A simple look, a gesture, a smile, an eye contact, his askance to lead, her acceptance to be led, all done without any need of verbal communication. As the music compels them, she comes close to him, they embrace… they feel each other breathe, they feel the passionate song unfold, it flows through their bodies, invigorating them, stirring emotions, which they both share… they can be strangers in real life, but as long as they are in this tango moment, they can be anyone they want… You don't have to know the person or even want to know them. Time ceases to exist during this moment, both dancers are moving to the music, listening for it to tell them what to do… they slow down, pause, accelerate, suspend, all in the moment… almost as being possessed by the music. Outside of this moment is the real world, with its everyday problems, solutions, responsibilities, deadlines… but not here, not now… Now it is only tango, a refuge, a moment of surreal experience of desire, longing… words are not meant to describe it.

The social aspect of milonga is fascinating. It holds anticipation, surprise, heavenly music, moments of contact and separation. The challenge and satisfaction of rhythmically moving in unison with another person is what lures us to Tango. The experience is both physical and surreal. In three minutes of a song, you can experience a rollercoaster of emotions, but you will not experience them alone. For those three minutes there will be a person embracing you, sharing what they are feeling with you… all without a single word being spoken… pure, raw emotions expressed through motion.”

September 3, 2009

Close Embrace and Open Embrace (II)

Close embrace tango and open embrace tango are two different dances that have little in common in their structures, techniques, feels and philosophies. The two dances are so different that people who only learned one dance are not able to dance the other dance without learning it. I knew this from personal experience. When I first tried to dance close embrace tango after three years of learning open embrace tango, I had no clue on how to do it because everything, including posture, connection, axis, balance, space, movement possibilities and the way to lead and follow, changed. (See The Styles of Tango.)

In fact, open embrace tango has more in common with ballroom dance than Argentine tango. Just like in a standard ballroom dance, in open embrace tango the two partners are apart by an arm's length without other physical contact other than the contact of the hands. Each partner is on his/her own axis independent of the other so the two do not rely on each other for balance and support. Theoretically the man is supposed to lead with his torso, but since there is no torso contact, his lead is sent through his hands, and the woman receives the lead through her hands also. The feeling of dancing open embrace tango is exactly like dancing a standard ballroom dance. No intimacy and comfort of embracing another person. No exchange of feelings through direct torso contect, no sensation of the two connected bodies moving together in sync to music. No emotional involvement between the dancers. The fun of dancing open embrace tango mainly comes from a broader range of movement possibilities due to the increased space between the partners. Each dancer focuses on his/her own performance. They do not enjoy the physical existence of the other person.

I like to dance open embrace tango no more than I like to dance any ballroom dance. Yes, it is spectacular, intricate, dazzling and showy, but that is not the reason I love tango. The reason I love tango lies in its closeness, intimacy, sensuousness, coziness, sentimentalism and romanticism. In Argentine tango the two partners lean into each other, chest against chest and cheek touches cheek. His arm encircles her body, her breasts press his chest and her arm holds around his shoulder or neck. In such closeness the two partners literally feel each other's body, hear each other’s breath, smell each other’s odor and sense each other’s impulse. They rely on each other for balance and there is no distance between them. Consequently the way they move their bodies is different from that in open embrace tango. (See Spot Dancing in Tango.) The man leads the woman with his torso against her torso so he does not need to use his arms and hands. The woman receives the lead with her chest. She closes her eyes, surrenders herself to him, relishes the caress of his body and enjoys his attentive ride. It is a very comfortable position in which to be and to dance. (See Close Embrace and Open Embrace (III).)