Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The State of Embrace

Mata Amritanandamayi, known as Amma has hugged more people
than anyone in human history.  She knows something about
the embrace that even tango dancers need to learn.

The embracing saint from India says, "If you can touch people, you can touch the world."

Look carefully at your community.  What is the "embrace"?  Is there one?  Some say close embrace tango is disappearing in Germany, where I presently live.  If it does, then it will return.  The embrace closes naturally between kind people.

One of the problems of close embrace tango is that it has been billed as "social" tango, and that can feel like hypocrisy when antisocial people are teaching or practicing it.  When "social" means "strict
rules" it is a turn-off.   But that's okay.  The embrace is a powerful thing.  If a person's way of dancing is non-embrace, eventually it will close. 

Embracing people for me is sometime intimidating:  At times I am aware of things I don't even want to know.  The embrace tell our souls about each other.  At times I have found out later that the mental pictures that came to mind were true.  I consider the embrace a sacred thing and what I feel is "confidential" since that person has allowed the embrace.  I am "coming out of the closet" with this experience because it is too weird for some people.  But I hope only to say that the embrace is not the intimate thing that some believe it to be--as in some sort of sexual intimacy.  It is far deeper than that.  Through the embrace the soul shares the unspeakable.

In my little local tango community in Germany it was where I learned close embrace, but more by the time I returned after many years of trying to return to Germany with my work, the scene had transformed to a more open "embrace" (is there such a thing?) and more stage tango moves.  In spite of this, it is a warm-snuggly-embrace community.  We are friendly, caring people and loyal to our local milonga.  My experience started in El Paso, Texas with tango.  We had Texas-sized rooms to dance in.  There was no need for worries of sharing space.  But the best dancers got closer and closer in their physical embrace, the opposite of what has happened where I now am.

I love the beauty of close embrace tango with truly social people.  When I speak of tango, I think of it as the Three M's (Music/Movement/eMbrace), but the Three M's are at times rare in tango.  I wish not to say that the embrace has disappeared here; it hasn't.  It has merely "gravitated" in an outward spin.  I prefer the gravitational pull inward, and my experience has changed to absolutely enjoying our small milonga.  As with all dancers, partners generally adapt to the embrace that one presents.

The embrace is as diversified as there are people on the planet.  Having said that, it is sort of embracing to now suggest and  simplify three types of people (and communities) who embrace or attempt to embrace at a milonga.  But here is my attempt anyway:

1. One-hug-fits all tangueros/-as.  Nearly everyone deserves a good hug, and we see the embrace as the first "step" in tango.  That is who I am.  Perhaps, the universal hugger is not who you are, but tango may take you to this place in a safe and warm tango community.  The physical and psychological embrace is truly social tango.  Social tango is not a style or certain rules alone -- the style comes out of the social, warm embrace.  Most who call themselves social dancers would categorize themselves as loving a warm, snuggly embrace.  But actually, there are people who do not know how or haven't been exposed to teachers or communities who dance socially and in close embrace.  Their open embrace is stopping them from enjoying what tango is all about, but they are social people and have the spirit of this first group.

2.  A-hug-is-for-the-chosen tangeras/-os.  I started in this group.  I just did not know how to dance in close embrace with anyone but my coach and friend.  When I came to Europe to visit my children, I met my first group of close embrace dancers in Germany.  It felt right.  But on the other hand, the majority of dancers in this world-wide group of the Chosen Huggers will start here and stay in their little group.   This group of dancers are in a meritocracy:  A hug is a privilege to give only those who deserve it.  The privilege often is dance skill, but good looks might be just as important in the Scales of Merit.  If this group is large, in part this may be a reflection of your community, not you or others as people.  A tango community that is mostly a "meritocracy," may keep you in this elitist group forever.  I personally feel that this is not what social tango is all about, but I am being "prescriptive" rather than descriptive here--what should be is often not was is.  Many tango communities are meritocracies.   Rank and position is not all bad, but it is the world's expression of "social order," much harm is possible in this sort of social polity.  Poverty, thrives is a meritocracy as is slowly turns to an oligarchy (such as in the US)--a social order that started with "work hard" and you will do well, to multi-generational wealth of children and children's children who are managing the money that was gained from merit.

This form of meritocracy requires endless classes, sold as a "style of social tango" with an emphasis on the rules of social tango.  An example of this outside of  the tango world would be a spiritually bankrupt place of worship:  A beautiful liturgy, impressive edifice, stately form of worship: " Oh our rules and ritual!  Wow!"  Okay, I like that too--but only once a year on Christmas Eve. I do not want to be a part of superficial religion or a superficial social tango community,  filled with antisocial behaviors and at the same time snooty close embrace dancers.

My tango community in Kaiserslautern, Germany is one of my favorite places to dance in the world, even though the style has evolved more towards stage tango.  The style of dance doesn't matter as much as the social environment and that the tangueras are willing to switch to a warm embrace.  It is true that the style and the rules are not social tango, but it is far more social than many other milongas that are sold as social tango.

3. A-hug-is-for-one-or-none tangueras/-os.  Because of genetic wiring, cultural education and human experience, some people do not feel good about an embrace.  Autism spectrum (a very wide spectrum) is an example of such "genetic wiring."  Some cultures, including some Latin cultures, may save the dance embrace for only one person, and perhaps one's family.  Even certain couples make a deal that they can dance with others, but the close embrace is reserved only for each other. Many other reasons exists for repulsion of a close embrace, but an important and often unrecognized reason is because of psychological trauma related to sexual aggression, which make some feel extremely uncomfortable with an embrace.

I try to be open to others who have different ways of expressing an embrace.  But if a woman over time does not allow a warm embrace, I will no longer dance with her.  I very much feel that tango's warm embrace can be a way for people who have been traumatized to get over their fear of the opposite sex. For those who have an aversion to an embrace to nearly everyone through experience or Pervasive Developmental Delay (genetic wiring), tango is a type of safe-environment exposure therapy, and it will transform and heal these trauma-based or typical PDD reactions.  I can also be open to a woman who tells me she is working on the embrace.  More often, I have known her struggle, and then take special care to create that safe place.  Men and women alike may have their known or hidden reasons for embrace aversion.

My life-work is to eventually spend my time teaching therapists how to use a tango dancer or work with a couple to get over psychological traumas that are dissolved by the embrace (and the two other healing elements in tango, Music and Movement).  But I do not come to the milonga to find patients!  If "healing" comes out of tango for you, that is great, but if the warm embrace is just too weird for you, consider another dance, at least for now.

I rarely have a person who does not allow a warm embrace.  If you are a man and that is happening, you really need to find out why.   From speaking to women, my first guess is hygiene or that you sweat excessively.  Also, you may pull them in.  The woman settles into you--not you into her.  Also, there can be reasons she repels the embrace that are hard to know:  She has caught her fancy dress on men's shirts and she realizes that her dress is not good for close embrace.  And then there are beginners who have only learned from open-"embrace" teachers who think of close embrace as "advanced."  In that case, she just doesn't know what to do.  Also, I notice that when a woman hasn't been dancing much, I will open up the embrace and be sensitive to her. I do not sweat much, but sometimes I am wet from others.   Another woman just may have had a bad dance with a guy who forced the embrace or has his head hanging forward onto the side of her head.   But over time, if a woman insists on a space between us, I feel that life is too short to waste another tanda dancing with her again.  Sure, if the music calls for it, I can open the embrace and enjoy myself, but even then, we will return to a warm embrace from time to time, as if magnetized back to the State of Embrace.

If I open the embrace with a woman it is because she is not sure what to do and she is stopping me from dancing well.  At many practicas, I have dance without hands with beginners, and it is amazing how those who do not know how to embrace see what needs to be done.

I only have so many more warm embraces until I die; so please learn the third M of tango:  Music, Movement and eMbrace.  Or take up ballroom dancing which uses a "frame" but not an embrace! Maybe you took a wrong turn and ended up at a milonga, and that's why it feels so weird to you.  Yes, two doors down: Ballroom on the right, karate on the left or zumba is tomorrow night, but this is tango!

I pray that you will be back. Other dances will be easier for you and prepare you.  But ultimately, I hope to see you at the milonga again.  And then your Yin will embrace Yang.  This is what your arms were made for and you cannot escape it.  Heaven doesn't have harps but bandoniones.

Sometime sooner or later you will come back to the beginning of all things the warm, snuggly embrace you received at birth.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Mark! You were mentioned here: http://www.delhimilonga.com/apps/blog/show/42526677 - thought I would let you know ... eMbrace, Anthony


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