Tango Notes: Embrace

Every move is communicated from the leader to the follower through the embrace so it is critical to get it right. The embrace must not only communicate the lead, it must also make the follower feel good

There are three general categories of embraces: open, close, and practice embraces. Most beginner instruction begins with the open embrace.

Open (or Salon) Embrace

Most beginning tango instruction teaches an open embrace. For beginners the open embrace is more comfortable and easier to manage most figures. The torsos will not be touching. There must be a solid connection on the closed side with the closed side hand on the follower's scapula and the closed side follower's arm firmly connected to the leader. The open side handhold should be slightly firm but quiet at approximately the follower's shoulder height. This describes the most common, mainstream, approach to the open embrace. As a follower you will occasionally encounter

Common leader problems: (1) Leader's open (left) arm is too active. It should mostly move as a result of the shoulders moving, it should not pump up and down, and should not grasp the follower's hand too tightly. (2) Leader's shoulders should remain level. Lifting the right shoulder is a common mistake.

Common follower problems: (1) Follower's left arm floats off leader's arm. Makes following/leading difficult. (2) Follower's right arm has limp, "spaghetti", feel. Makes following/leading difficult.

Close Embrace

The close embrace is the favorite of intermediate and advanced dancers. The upper chests are pressed together. This allows the leader's chest movements to be communicated very directly to the follower. This close contact allows for very precise leading, but also demands good leading because mistakes are transmitted directly.

Open and close the embrace. Some dancers will stay in close embrace all the time. However, this restricts the range and style of figures considerably. The most common intermediate and advanced style is to dance close embrace where appropriate and open up for moves that need extra space.

Too intimate? The close embrace is definitely intimate. For beginners it is often socially very uncomfortable. Most dancers eventually begin to like the closeness. If desired, the follower can make it clear that they are not comfortable

Practice Embrace

There are many styles of practice embrace. Your instructor will show which style is appropriate for an exercise, eg, grasping forearms, biceps, follower's hands on chest/shoulders/upper arm.

Instructional Videos

Argentine Tango Milonguero Style (Close Embrace) Volume 1 17:25
By Christy Coté and George García. This is a good video introduction to the close embrace.
Tango with Lori & Patrick - #1A - Connection & Embrace 25:17
There is lots of elementary advice about posture and moving. The embrace information starts at about 8:15, first with an interesting exercise without touching. Then we have an exercise with the follower's hands on the leader's chest. Has good advice on leading with the chest before the feet. It's only at 19:00 do we get to the first open embrace. Part 1B continues with the close embrace.
Tango with Lori & Patrick - #1B - Close Embrace 17:05
A good, if somewhat long, introduction to close embrace. At 10:20 they discuss the important issue of choosing open or close embrace.