The hand side of the Argentine tango embrace

David describes the ideal hand embrace for Argentine tango
See also, An ideal embrace.

Transcript for “The hand side of the Argentine tango embrace”

Hi, let’s talk a little bit about the hand side of the Argentine tango embrace.

Will you do a little experiment with me? Clasp your hands together in front of your chest, with you right hand over the left hand. Now, if we move these out to the side, that should look familiar like the hand side of the embrace, where the leader offers their hand out to the side with the palm facing their partner, and their partner places their hand in the leader’s palm, forming a nice, comfortable grip.

Let’s look a little bit about some characteristics of the grip. If we turn to the side, the first you’ll see is that the thumb of the follower encircles the base of the leader’s thumb. And the fingers likewise wrap around it, with the second joint of the fingers draping comfortably over the webbing of the leader’s hand. The hands are not twisted or rotated, not twisted to the side. They are in comfortable alignment with the forearm, and not bent back as in the so-called Milonguero grip.

Let’s take a few quick moments to look at some embraces that I think don’t function as well, and in some cases actually feel unpleasant. The worst of these is where the follower gives only their fingers to the leader. This forces the leader to have to grip onto the fingers to have any form of connection or control on that side. In another form, the follower keeps their thumb tight to their fingers, and they will drape their fingers over, but they do not give any connection with the thumb. Or, they may place it on the middle joint of the leader’s thumb, which is not quite so bad. But I’d like to show you how it’s more functional wrapping the thumb around your partner’s thumb.

But before that, let’s talk just a moment about the Milonguero grip, where the follower’s hand is bent back unpleasantly and uncomfortably. Some dance partners, both leaders and followers, say that this is necessary in order to get locked in, to have a very firm connection with your partner. I’m going to suggest that with the comfortable embrace that we’re looking at here, where the thumb and fingers wrap around the base of the leader’s thumb, draped nicely over the partner’s hand, where neither partner is squeezing the other but they’re just comfortable embracing, that this will produce a nicely locked-in embrace that gives all the control that’s necessary. And we can do a couple of experiments to demonstrate this.

First, let’s look at the lead-follow connection, what it means for the leader to give an intention and for the follower to respond using their own energy to that intention. So for this first experiment, I would like for the follower to be completely passive to allow their hand to be moved by the leader. So we could even, the follower could relax their hand grip so they’re not actually even gripping their partner’s hand and just feel what it’s like for the leader to move your hand around. What is it like for the leader to be moving a passive partner?

Now let’s try the second way, the way that we would want to do it, where the follower uses their own energy to respond to the intentions of the leader. The leader, in this case, will not tightly grip the follower, will not be pulling on the follower. In fact, for the purposes of the experiment, the leader could actually have their hand completely relaxed, while the follower has their hand encircling the leader’s hand. Now when the leader moves, the follower is using their attachment to the leader to move themselves.

In my opinion, this is the natural way that we want the dance to function, where the leader gives an intention or a signal of how they want to move, they move coherently in their own body, and the follower’s connection to the leader allows them to sense where the leader is moving and then use their own energy to move with the leader.

For our second and last experiment, the leader will have a passive hand and the follower will be actively moving it. The leader will actually offer resistance to the hand being moved toward the follower. The follower will drape their fingers over the leader’s hand. The thumb can be either loose or maybe even resting lightly on top of the leader’s thumb. And now I want the follower to pull against the leader’s resistance and see how that feels in the body.

Now I would like for the follower to actively encircle the thumb of the leader. And once again, to pull back against the leader’s resistance and see how that feels in the body. It should be the case that this extra recruitment with a powerful thumb gives you a better sense of connection, of being locked in to your partner, whether or not they are giving you any connection.

After you’ve thought about this, two questions might come to mind. First, what if the hands are very different in size? Is that going to make a difference? Well, I did an experiment out in the wild to test this. In front of a grocery store, I asked a woman and her very young daughter if they would assist me. Happily, it turned out that the woman was a dancer who actually danced with her young daughter. And when I mentioned Argentine tango, they were happy to help.

So I first asked them to do the experiment where they clasped their hands in front of their chest. And then without any prompting, I asked the mother if she would place her hand in mine. And she did, as we’ve been demonstrating. And then, again, without any prompting, I asked the young lady, the girl, if she would place her tiny hand in mine. And she also, with her small hand, encircled my thumb with her thumb and fingers. It felt quite natural to her, and it felt natural and comfortable to me with her hand resting on the mound of my palm and giving nice, full contact to both our hands.

A second question that might come up is how do we embrace a partner who may have a muscular or joint problem, or some other limitation that prevents them from placing a palm in the palm of their partner, where the palm is facing your partner, with the fingers draped over and the thumb around the partner’s thumb. Well, as always in tango, with the magic of making that connection in tango, we’re going to seek to make the best connection we can with whatever limitations we may find.

I’m going to show you a photo of my wife. When she was a very young girl, she decided it would be fun to ride a horse that was wild in a pasture, bareback. And when she was brushed off by a low hanging branch, the fall resulted in a multiple compound fracture of her forearm. In the picture, you’ll see two round scars in her forearm from that incident. The injury didn’t heal completely properly, so this makes it difficult for her to pronate her hand, that is to turn the thumb towards her midline. As a result, she has to approach the embrace with her hand turned vertically, somewhat vertically, or else it forces her elbow into an awkward position.

So when she embraces my hand, she will be more on my thumb than on the palm. However, since she embraces low down at the base of the thumb where it’s strongly connected to both hand and forearm, it feels quite comfortable and we both feel well connected.

If you have been dancing Argentine tango for any length of time, you will have heard teachers and experienced dancers say you can tell a lot about the dance you’re going to have from the embrace that your partner gives you. And the embrace is a gift that each partner gives to the other. We want our partner to know that we want to be with them, fully committed to what we’re going to create in this dance. The hand side is usually the first part of the embrace, and it sets the tone for everything that follows.

This is David at the Tango Tribe studio in Austin, Texas, and I thank you for your attention.

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