On the lack of desire in United States tango

A friend of mine once told me about the time she first met a brilliant dancer when he just arrived in town. They danced close and by her account it was a really lovely dance. Not too long afterwards, this dancer began to strictly utilize an open embrace approach. Curious, my friend asked him why he never danced close anymore, and his reply was that with all the dancing that he would do, dancing close embrace all the time was too emotionally intense. By using open embrace he could protect himself from that intensity without sacrificing the amount of dancing he liked to get.

Now, I'm not sure I can relate to this sense of emotional overload, although to be fair I dance a lot less than this guy. But it makes me wonder if a common factor for people who dance strictly in an open "nuevo" style is something along the lines of this kind of self-protection. A way to excise emotion--or specifically, desire--from the equation. Incidentally, I've noticed that many people who really excel at this style strike me as highly intelligent, left-brain types--people in the medical field, or law, or engineering. I wonder if the pleasure they derive is from the logical construction of figures, as if it's the playing with structure that fascinates them. Like solving puzzles in order to build new puzzles of increasing complexity. The fact that there is someone attractive opposite them who is assisting in the figure creation is, while perhaps a nice bonus, ultimately beside the point.

Then there are those who do dance close, even exclusively so, in a style they consider more "traditional," yet who still somehow create an emotional distance between themselves and their partner. While their bodies are in proximity, their embrace (if you could call it that) is cold and unfeeling. Perhaps it just hovers there, forming the outside boundary to the functional cylinder of the couple. It is well-meaning, intended to be unobtrusive and efficient, to grant freedom of movement to the other and to the self. Perhaps also to best serve as the conduit of communication between the partners. I think there are more than a few teachers and dancers who encourage this, perhaps as a reaction against the amateur tendency to hold too tightly and to compromise movement and function. But to me, it is akin to the wire monkey with the baby bottle--yes, it provides a necessity, but does it comfort or nurture?

Certainly, freedom--of movement, of intention--is very important in this dance. It provides the means to the greatest degree of expression. But is this freedom all-important? What do we sacrifice, or are we willing to sacrifice, when we prize this freedom above all else?

Finding an ideal middle ground is something my partner and I seem to work on with some regularity. While it is important to me to try to communicate affection, I have a tendency for far too much tension in my embrace. It's a problem I have been trying to address for a long time and which occurs without conscious awareness--even though I'm not aware of it and when it happens I'm not engaging my muscles nearly to their maximum it still transmits to her and in the long run is fatiguing for both of us. While I know it's getting better it still has room for improvement in order to make my dance maximally efficient and comfortable. But sometimes when I am specifically focusing on this my embrace gets a little too soft, which makes it feel absent to my partner.

"Relax," she says, "but don't stop holding me."

To hold, and to be held--isn't that the point? And if not, why not? Can you really call it tango without it? Or like Geraldine said, is that mistakenly thinking of it as a dance and not a feeling that is danced?

Maybe that's exactly what we Americans as a culture--much of which is derived from staid British restraint (no offense)--tend to find uncomfortable, the insinuation of feeling. Perhaps we don't want to come across as creepy or lecherous, or needy. We don't want to give the wrong impression. We want to make sure the other knows it's nothing personal. That it is, after all, just a dance. Maybe there's the concern that the expression of affection in tango necessarily portends something more, something that exists outside of the dance, that isn't left on the floor when the tanda is done and the thank yous have been exchanged.

As ever, I really don't know the answer, or even if it's a valid question. Am I totally missing something?