The Ghost Guide to Social Tango 2nd Edition: The Embrace

Original: 1st March 2010

Revised: 2nd February 2011

"'Count me in,' said Tasslehoff, sitting up and rubbing his eyes. 'What are we doing?'"

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There's many different ways to form an embrace. This is the one I'm using at the moment. Bonus points if you can recognize the teacher.

So you're relaxed and you've invited the woman to dance. How do you get into the embrace? This assumes she's standing and you're walking towards her.

The embrace is a mutual thing. You propose and she accepts through several stages. I prefer to an embrace at a slight angle, so I begin by pivoting slightly to my left. Hopefully she mirrors this and forms the first connection of the embrace through our chests.

Breathe. Now I want to create the connection between my right arm and her back and ribs. It's important not to move your right shoulder when you do this. The standard analogy here is of either hugging or cradling the woman with your bicep / elbow / forearm. There is a feeling of "reaching around" rather than crushing. The exact height of your forearm will vary from follower to follower.

The follower now creates another connection between her left arm and my arm / shoulder / back. Again exactly where depends on what is most comfortable for her and may well change during the dance.

I now want to create a connection on the left side and so I look to where my left hand will be. Raising the hand is a graceful birdlike motion, but to be honest it makes more sense to me to do Homer Simpson's "Doh!" slapping himself in the head motion and just stop it at the right height.

Speaking personally I prefer my left hand to be held as if holding a mirror up to the follower so she can check her make-up. As well as having my left hand close enough that my left and her right elbow are pointing downwards (and so I can actually read what's written on my hand in the half-light of a milonga), I've found by asking women, that the point where it's most comfortable for them is actually much closer in than I think. The main reasoning for preference for this style is that it's natural and so doesn't cause unnecessary stresses and strains over a night's dancing. Likewise if something does go seriously wrong, my shoulder, arm and hand aren't in a position where they can be sprained or dislocated. Unfortunately I learnt that the hard way.

Again it's up to the woman to complete this connection by placing her hand in yours. Don't reach for it. Gently complete the connection by curling your fingers around her hand.

For the final connection, keep your head in a neutral position, slightly back. It's up to the woman to decide if she wishes to complete this connection by touching her head to your head / neck. Again, don't reach for her head.

Remember to keep breathing! Maintain your posture, don't reach and don't crush or collapse.

MsH: I think it's basically my job to plug myself in and actively maintain the connection, and the man has to let me, e.g. by not wriggling or bending himself or fighting the music or dancing way above my level or charging around like a wardrobe on wheels and running me over. There are things you can do to adapt to different styles and situations, you can adjust during the dance, and it's not often covered in classes, so ask your teacher about it. Having a nice embrace and good connection can get you some great dances, especially repeat dances, and great compliments, and you don't have to be a FabulousHotBabe or a ballerina. As you get it right for you, it can become a huge part of the way your personality expresses itself in the dance.


Seriously consider one-to-one tuition with an Alexander Technique teacher, a Fendelkrais Teacher and an Argentine Tango teacher. The huge problem I had was that they would say "Do this". I would. Then they would show me my reflection in a mirror and I realised that although it felt like I was doing it, in fact, I wasn't. A lot of this is internal too, so really doesn't convey well without being physically shown. For a long time I assumed there was a "trick" that I simply hadn't been taught. What I've realised watching myself and others is the problem is instead the main problem is faulty sensory awareness.

'I had proved in my own case and in that of others that instinctive control and direction of use had become so unsatisfactory, and the associated feeling so untrustworthy as a guide, that is could lead us to do the very opposite of what we wished to do or thought we were doing'.~ FM Alexander

We believe we're physically in one position when in fact we aren't. It takes time to correct this. You can do a lot through using mirrors. Unfortunately the better you want to make it, the smaller the margins of error become.

Although I would add that the "primary control" and "directions" in Alexander Technique are probably the "trick" I wasn't getting.

A good embrace is based on good tango posture. This is however rather difficult to explain and so people tend to either use poetic language or descriptions that only make sense after you know it. It takes time to get everything right. Unfortunately the things that are wrong compound. Tango is a subtle dance. You need the trinity of Posture, Embrace and Frame, before you even begin to lead.

There's a number of different ways to embrace. The both hands can be held at different heights and the left hand angled in different ways.

"To-Do" list

  • Stand tall - think "alpha male".
  • Solar plexus over toes, not heels. Hips over heels. Lengthen your body, but don't arch your back.
  • Project up through the crown of your head
  • A lady can decline leaving close embrace (for example, in ochos )
  • When shifting into / back into close embrace it's ok to take a moment to settle and for you both to re-adjust frame.
  • Can be either square on, or in a half "V" shape ie follow is opened out slightly, not the lead.
  • It's possible to have lead's head on the right in close embrace
  • Lead's elbows point down not outwards
  • It's not a military stance. Chest comes forward and arms hang - not "shoulders pulled back". Effectively it's the middle of a body roll.
  • Keep your hips under, don't stick your bum in the air.
  • Your torso floats on your hips
  • If you dropped a plumbline from your solar plexus it would touch your toes. (Doable with a piece of string and a bit of blu-tac)
  • Inflate your lungs and breathe with them.

"Not To-Do" List

Here's a list of Things To Avoid Doing:

The Wolverine pose

Torso diagonally forward and shoulders pulled back. (He does lead from the chest though)

When her rear heel is placed is the time for the next impulse from the torso. (As she places her heel, her forward foot will withdraw slightly). Follow the impulse in so you don't break the connection and do the chicken walk.

The chicken walk

This is where your chest ends up going forwards and backwards as you walk like a chicken. Practice with a shopping trolley to see how jarring it is. Try taking smaller steps to retain the connection. It's a continuous motion.

The duck walk

While it is possibly to stick your bum in the air, it does terrible things to your balance.

Weight shifts at the beginning of a dance aren't necessary for more experienced followers though they can be done with musicality if there's limited space, the phrasing of the music suits etc.

Dancing with considerably smaller women

So how do you dance with a woman who's considerably shorter than you without causing her left arm to angle up in the air loosing connection? For practice the easiest way I can describe it is to put your right arm around her as normal and then slide it back around her towards you bringing your left elbow back to touch the left side of your ribcage. Continue to slide it back along your ribcage until she has a good connection. Once you've got the hang of that, when you dance you simply don't reach as far forwards as normal, but you need a bit of experience to know roughly where on your left elbow will need to be. Most shorter women realise that they can rest their head on the leader's chest.

MsH: And there's a reason why experienced dancers often wear dark-coloured shirts or complicated prints that confuse the outline of marks. Makeup. It's supposed to stay where it's put, but it can go wrong, especially as some products are poorly labelled and don't mix well.

As long as you don't crouch over this is fine.

MsH: If you do crouch over it makes it very hard for the follower to keep a good connection.

It also has the added bonus that this is probably the only way to dance in close embrace and have a perfect view of the floor around you as you can see over the follower.

- Christopher O'Shea, 28th February 2010

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