Strong Foundations and the Soft Embrace

Originally written by Zara M on  21 August 2013

When I heard that the class would be focussing on Yoga techniques for the “snuggly” Tango embrace my ears pricked. This “snuggly” embrace is something I’ve heard a lot about recently, but apparently it isn’t something you get an awful lot of on the dance floor, at least not in London Milongas. The class description for last week stated that we would be working on achieving a strong foundation, and exploring how this helps with a soft embrace, while still keeping a steady posture.

When I think of the word “snuggly” I imagine myself melting into a sloppy heap in the poor man’s arms and being cradled to sleep. Nobody really wants to dance with someone who has switched off completely and gone off into a world of their own though. It is much more pleasurable to dance with a partner whose body and mind can be relaxed and present at the same time.

The “snuggly” embrace therefore, is about relaxing into a very warm and flexible close embrace. One that allows you to move about more freely, while remaining connected. It is about enjoying some delicious, subtle and twisty bodily movements, while still maintaining your own balance, grounding and personal expression.

We have been learning in the classes about the importance of being able to breathe our way through yoga pose sequences, and also how to relax our bodies and still be alert and able to maintain full awareness of what is happening within and around us. There has also been an emphasis on returning to our resting poses. We were asked, in a rather wonderfully philosophical manner, “In the midst of ‘life’ can you relax and let go?”

I have been thinking about this question and how it relates to Tango and the “snuggly” embrace. For me, dancing Tango is exactly that; it is about being able to disappear into the experience of the dance with my partner, but still be fully aware of the music, my body and the environment it is moving through on the dance floor. It is about inhabiting two worlds at once and allowing them to merge. How do we achieve this though, when there is so much to think about?

Well, there was a point in the class where I found the answer… I was being assisted to help open up my hips. The assistant was behind me providing a gentle pressure on my thighs. My immediate reaction was to tense the muscles up, which of course worked against what she was trying to help me with. I think this is because when you are thinking about a specific part of your body and focussing on improving what that specific part is doing, then you are in effect separating your body into sections that you have to think about, rather than feeling your body work together as a whole. You’re basically giving yourself more work to do! When I was encouraged to relax the muscles and focus on my breathing however, I found that my muscles began to relax by themselves while I was able to remain conscious of what my body was doing. It was a very satisfying and natural feeling of flexibility, and a release of tension.

It might sound obvious, but I think that when we dance it is easy to create unnecessary tension because we are thinking too much about what our bodies are doing, in this fragmented way. This is perhaps how many of us have been taught to dance Tango though. At the beginning of the class, the instructor addressed the difference between what he refers to as “partial truths” and “the ultimate truth”. Partial truths, according to him, are what many Tango Teachers instruct you to do in order to establish a good posture and embrace, which are the basic and most important principles of Tango. Has anybody ever told you to keep your shoulders down, head up, tailbone tucked in? By the time you have finished adjusting all the different parts of your body and put them into the correct places so that you don’t look too much like a duck, you’re too scared to move in case it all falls apart! You’re so tense and in such deep concentration that the chance of you achieving that “snuggly” embrace is next to nothing.

This is basically what happens when you separate your body into sections and try to force each section into submission. Yes it is true that in order to have an amazing posture you must do all of these things, but they are only “partial truths”. In Yoga4Tango it is suggested that there is an “ultimate truth”, and this boils down to grounding and finding the body’s alignment – not by thinking too much about the body in terms of sections working separately, but by feeling the body working together as a whole.

The exercises we have been practising in the classes have been about letting go of thought. First we were taught how to move our breath through each section of the stomach one section at a time, but now we are expected to be able to sweep the breathe through in one smooth movement while still being conscious of the different parts it is moving through.

When you are taught how to dance Tango too much of your attention is brought to what parts of your body are doing by themselves. Yoga4Tango encourages you to let go of those thoughts, and instead feel the alignment of your body, the balance and the grounding and feel yourself open up. Once you have got your grounding and alignment right, and you can feel the length of your body taking up all the space it can, then you can let your body move in a constant flow, through the poses, just as you would do on the dance floor. Smooth, grounded, graceful, and relaxed yet fully aware.

This week I have decided to apply this philosophy to life. Too much focus on specific details tends to magnify problems, separating them from the bigger picture. So I intend to connect everything together, see life as a whole experience, and move smoothly through it, day by day, step by step. Join me… and join me in next week’s class, it’s fun!

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