But let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Khalil Gibran, The Prophet.
This beloved poem was written about relationships, not about dance, of course. However, as tango is the quintessential relational dance and is an excellent practica for relational dynamics, I think it is fair game to apply the Prophet’s wisdom directly to our dancing - as well as to relate what we express and experience on the dance floor to our lives generally.
The challenge presented by the Prophet, is to maintain a balance between closeness and separation so that Spirit - the winds of the heavens - can permeate, invigorate and nurture connection.
These concepts might read like poetic metaphors but in fact they translate directly into how we move and relate both on and off the dance floor.
Let’s begin first by exploring ….
Togetherness as embodied in el abrazo, the hug or embrace, is the most distinctive stylistic feature of tango. In the milonguero style of tango, the close embrace is maintained throughout the dance. According to its proponents (e.g., Susana Miller), maintaining chest-to-chest contact throughout the dance cultivates a more intense emotional connection and a heightened sensitivity to our partner’s movements and positioning.
Togetherness is much more than simply maintaining close physical contact. It means holding your partner in a manner that cultivates a sense of connection and intimacy as well as providing support and structure. It incorporates listening to and being responsive to the interests, abilities and mood of your partner in a gentle and attentive manner.
And it feels great!
So the big question:
Why break up a good thing? Why bother wedging space into your togetherness?
Our second exploration …
First point, there has to be some closeness for tango to be tango. But does it have to be all closeness?
There are several reasons for changing up the embrace from close to open embrace throughout the dance. Continual closeness can be limiting; Depending on the music, it may not allow a full freedom of creativity or range of expression; We may not be comfortable with that level of physical contact for that length of time with that particular dance partner; Continual close embrace may bring a feeling of inundation or claustrophobia (and even trigger trauma responses).
Revisiting our Prophet’s admonition…
Let there be space in your togetherness.
Space and togetherness are the essential elements of connection. You cannot have connection without both in balance. Two much of either is stifling or paralyzing. Too much togetherness leads to inundation or smothering, and may not allow enough room for individual expression. Too much space leaves one feeling abandoned with no sense of closeness or connection, or assurance of support and nurturing. Either extreme will destroy a relationship - or ruin a dance.
In relational terms, creating space does not simply mean creating distance or physical separation between you and your partner. It means providing an opportunity for your partner to express themselves independently, to add personalized stylistic interpretation to the dance, to get some breathing space.
In close embrace we cultivate the experience of being supported, cared for, even coddled. In open embrace we allow for individual expression, creativity and owning of personal power and authority. Nurturing relationships, on and off the dance floor, are ones which maintain some middle ground between those two polarities by alternating the elements of togetherness and space, closeness and separation.
Now to the delicate transition between open and close embrace …
Releasing and Reconnecting
The essential third element is the transition or movement between the close and open embrace and back again. It is this releasing and returning, (Volver, Carlos Gardel’s haunting serenade shimmers in the background) that holds the promise of the most intense relational dynamic.
Tango is correctly described as a dance of phrasing. The phrasing begins with a releasing from the embrace and ends with a collecting into an embrace. This transition in and out of the active and resting states must be done with the utmost attention and reverence.
As the lead, it is this choice to release my partner and relinquish control of the dance that sets the emotional charge and intensity for her return. As the follow, I feed into this alternating current of open and close by investing myself emotionally in the reconnection. I linger and languish on the return, taking my time, infusing intensity with attentive embellishments, the foot rub on the leg, the tease.
Every time I create space for my partner (as a lead) I am sending her out on her own to explore, express, be creative, have fun. In the interval, absence makes the heart grows fonder. As I patiently await her return, I am enthralled by the skill and energy that my partner invests in beautifying the dance. When she returns home to heart centre, we celebrate in gratitude and awe the elegance and creativity that has been added to our shared experience by a deepened embrace.
By changing up the dance like this, e.g. moving in and out of close embrace with attentiveness, we play the full spectrum of relational dynamics - from intimacy to independence, togetherness to separation. This interplay allows for the winds of the heavens to dance between - a truly tango high.