Holding space

Argentine Tango as giving, taking, . . . and holding space

This began as a teaching article, and you’ll find some of that, but then I got distracted.

In my Einsteinian, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler” view of Argentine tango we find but two basic moves: changing weight from one foot to another, and pivots.

Yes, that’s simple, and how do we go from that to movement across and around the floor? By using, stepping into or taking away space. When I step toward and into my partner’s space they retreat into the open space behind them. Vice-versa, when I step backwards giving space in front of me, my partner steps into that space to continue confronting me.

Sometimes we both move together into a space, as in the salida.

When I want to create a curving movement I use space differentially, opening up space on one side while closing it on the other side.

I can also use that differential opening/closing technique to suggest a longer/shorter movement than mine when we step together into a space. For example, in the salida if I rotate my torso toward my partner I will close off space, suggesting that they step not quite as far as me.

In a molinete around me I continuously take one side away from my partner, opening space in that direction. In a molinete around my partner I continuously turn in toward them, without collapsing in on them, keeping them centered in my perambulation.

Floorcraft has each couple in la ronda managing their space between the couples fore and aft. We either move around the space underneath us as a couple, or we move into available space ahead, leaving space behind us.
Not terribly profound, maybe not even terribly useful. But for a beginner with limited vocabulary it can serve as a lifeline to simply know how to keep moving–simply. For an expert who transcends vocabulary, it expresses the way.

It became somewhat profound when, as my thoughts gathered, the expression holding space for another arose.

Holding space, the gift of being fully present for another person. “You walk along with them without judgment, sharing their journey to an unknown destination.” (Lynn Hauka).

When holding space for another we meet them with unconditional regard, offering unconditional support, giving our heart and our willingness to be fully with them. We breathe together. We allow. We ground ourselves.
Holding space challenges us by its intimacy yet its need for a certain distance and respect to let the other person be themselves, not our expectations nor our desires.

Does it seem clear that in order to hold space for others You must first hold space for yourself, accepting yourself as is?

Give your partner only as much as they can handle. (Test but don’t stress.) Empower, don’t limit your partner. Keep your ego out of it. Be in the moment. Make them feel safe enough to fail. Allow them to make different decisions and have different experiences than you would.

From the moments of taking up and settling into an Argentine tango embrace, can you feel from your partner, and do you give to your partner the feeling that, “I trust you. Whatever we do, wherever we go, I’m with you.”

One step only

If as a follower you feel some intention from your partner for a step or pivot, but it is not quite clear where or how you should move, or you receive mixed signals, then I would invite you to take one step or pivot with full intention and Authority using good energy. But only a single step or pivot!

This invitation has two points to make. First, both partners need good energy for creative, musical movement. The music has energy and we want to reflect that. Second, when you take more than a single step or pivot without clear a intention guiding each one, you risk losing your partner.

A dancer can make up for a single step that doesn’t fit their intention or expectations.  We can catch up and make something useful of that step or pivot. If, however, our partner goes off on some expectation that we have launched a pattern they know, then we can find it quite difficult to keep up with them.

Now some will usefully point to the molinete as a possible exception to this rule. In the molinete we understand that Forward and Backward cross steps are interspersed with Open steps. We do not expect our partner to keep urging us on for every step. We must, however, keep ourselves available at every single step for the pattern to change, or for the movement to take us out of the molinete.

So, whether you are leading or following, our dance is a movement at a time, where we must check in with our partner after each movement. As we gain skill, that checking in, each partner with the other, will turn into a seamless flow of beautifully fast, or slow, responses.