On my tango journeys out West I met a woman and fell in love. Love is a college filled with incredible avenues of learning unavailable in other courses of instruction. We shared many things but mostly we shared insights into our perceptions of tango. From our discussions I discovered a simple trick to make many of my tango engagements remembered favorably by my partners. The trick is to end the dance on a positive note and the way to do that is in the execution of the final release.
I had been dancing tango for five years when I met her and thought I knew everything but really I was just beginning to learn what is truly important to a tango encounter. Instructors of milonguero-style had swept through the western cities of Denver, Albuquerque and Tucson yet I had never heard of it. I was a New-York-City-style dancer, educated in all the fancy moves: lifts, volcadas, colgadas, etc. Tango to me at that time was more of an acrobatic feat than a true connection with my partner whom I barely understood, though, in my naivete, I assumed I knew all I needed to know.
My lover was a total beginner. I took it upon myself to educate her properly in the art and she blossomed like a flower, revealing to me a beauty of the dance I never knew existed. Because we were lovers, I was able to ask her questions about the men she danced with and felt certain I had gotten honest answers.
It takes three years to learn how to hold a woman in the tango embrace. It is not just an act of understanding the physical mechanics of where to place your arm and how to arrange your spine. It is the composition of many things, of mind, body and emotions. Holding a woman, a strange woman whom you’ve never met, has to be done from an attitude of respect, your mind must be clear of primal thoughts but those thoughts must not be hidden. Tango is full of paradoxes. You must project confidence and be calm. Above all, you must endeavor never to push her off her balance. If she is off-balance she will panic and that is no way to conduct a relationship, for that is what a tango dance is: a relationship if only for the length of the song or the group of songs that comprise a tanda.
We attended a tango festival in Tucson, then another in Albuquerque. In the spring of the year following the time when we first met we attended a close-embrace workshop in Salida, Colorado, taught by instructors well-versed in the milonguero-style of tango. This method of dancing focuses primarily on the emotional connection between a man and a woman and very little on movements beyond ocho cortado and caminar. Looking back, I probably gave the instructors less credit than they deserved because this workshop was the doorway to an invaluable insight for me into the tango connection. It was not so much what they were teaching that illuminated my experience, rather, it was what my partner was learning and what she was telling me about her experience that I found so valuable.
Here is what I learned from our late night and early morning conversations: if a close embrace connection is established then the disruption of that connection can be disconcerting to the woman. Every time your bodies disengage surface temperatures on the skin begin to drop and panic sets in for the woman; when contact is restored, calmness returns.
This was an epiphany for me and I was able to take this thought all the way to the conclusion of the dance encounter. If you are a follower of my blog you will know that I am a whitewater river guide at heart. A river runs through my life….literally. Of the many rivers I have worked on, the ones with great rides through the rapids at the end are the most loved by the rafting patrons. It is the final memory of the day and so it is with tango that the final memory of the dance should be the most pleasurable.
For the next four years after that workshop I worked on improving my performance of the release of the tango embrace after the dance. My lover and I had agreed that 2.5 seconds was the target duration of time that it would take to complete a proper disengagement of bodies though I have found, in practice, that it varies from woman to woman and from encounter to encounter: not all engagements are the same.
When the song has ended and everyone has stopped dancing, this is no time to disconnect abruptly. Doing so creates an unfavorable emotion and the entire experience may be counted as a failure. I have found that waiting for my partner to begin the release, either by her exhalation or a relaxation of her frame, eliminates the infusion of negative energy at the completion of the dance and, therefore, I believe, the registration of the dance in her memory as a positive experience.
Memories are a funny thing. We only remember things that we can associate with an emotion, be it positive or negative. The key, therefore, is to make that final moment of the dance a positive one by taking the time to allow her to disembark from your frame at her own leisure.
I began my tango education as a study of movement but I found this dance is about so much more than that. It is a dance about a woman and her experience of you, a man; an experience that is profound, unique and only available to those who venture to discover the universe that exists within another individual.
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