Cheek to Cheek
Tango is a dance that is rich in history, and a lot of different styles of tango have developed over the years and social milieus in which tango has grown. Even so, I find that when I dance tango, I don’t have to think about what style of tango I’m dancing. I do what is comfortable and appropriate for my partner of the moment. Dancing close is something that I do with a partner who has experience in dancing close. When dancing with inexperienced women, I can still dance close, but it is easier to acclimate them and give them confidence if I start dancing with them at the "space level" where they are comfortable. The important thing is the connection we form through the key points of contact: our hands, arms, and the lady’s back.
As partners get accustomed to each other, a physical and social intuitive understanding develops between them. At this point, where the dancing relationship has developed, the option to dance close is something the man can invite quite easily. It could take a year to get to that point, or an instant. I think the lady always has the last say as to how close they will dance. The man can encourage and invite the intimacy, but it is the lady’s choice in the end. The accomplished and experienced leader will always sense and respect the ability and desire of the lady to dance close, regardless of her experience.
When the lady decides to dance cheek to cheek, she will find that the experience makes following a lot easier, on the whole, and a lot more natural. The reason is simple. When the lady brings her head and chest close to the man’s, it brings her weight forward of her feet. This creates what is called forward poise. Forward poise is a prerequisite for partner dancing. No matter what direction the couple goes, whether forward, back or side, their weight will always be forward, toward each other. Maintaining this stance is more difficult for the partner going backward, which is usually the woman. Wearing high heels probably also helps to encourage this "weight over the toes" kind of feeling. To secure this mutual forward poise, the couple ends up leaning on each other, in an equal and comfortable manner. This dependency requires trust, but will give more security and confidence in partnering, both leading and following.
Simply speaking, if the lady keeps her head toward the man’s head, her feet will fall naturally where they must. Conversely, the man knows where the lady’s feet will catch as a result of where he directs her head. With this knowledge, he will instinctually fit his body into the vacant space left available. This will vary depending on what his next intentions are for the lady, and therefore for himself. With sufficient experience, a dancer finds that pressure, and even upper body and hand contact, can become optional. It is the shape and poise which are conditioned into the dancers’ bodies that allows them the quick response and communication so necessary for moving together as one. When these elements of shape and poise are in place, it is even possible to lead and follow with no contact at all. It is dancing cheek to cheek that creates the phenomenon of balance towards each other. Self-awareness is a necessary prerequisite for the subtle change in understanding that occurs as the center of balance becomes changed, when two dance as one. When the dancers have this awareness, they will truly dance "two as one". The center, rather than being in the individual, is now between the couple. That’s one of the reasons why moving together in a close, attached way can take a lot of getting used to. To gain efficiency takes a lot of experience, concentration and experimentation. The efficient, effortless awareness that develops between experienced partners can appear to be telepathic to the unknowing observer.
The term lead really means that the man is both first initiating and then following each step that he creates for the lady. The more artistic and creative leaders dance from moment to moment, from one step to the next. The less experienced man will dance in a program, or learned combinations. The novice leaders have to think ahead from set group to set group of steps, rather than reacting from foot to foot. This is a necessary phase of learning, but it is clearly less artistic and spontaneous. It doesn’t allow any possibilities for the spirit of the moment, the amalgam of impulses and emotions which spring from the music, your partner’s movement style, and the available space surrounding you as a couple.
Historically, dance developed as a way for people to express emotion to music, and couples dancing developed out of the feeling of closeness and intimacy that was experienced by two people in love. A lot of people still bring that feeling into their dancing, and you see a lot of people who never learned to dance "correctly", at dance schools, enjoying dancing "cheek to cheek", from their hearts. Moving apart and giving each other space gives room for dancers to execute more showy figures, and to move more freely. The best dancers are able to maintain the connection that they have developed in their close dancing while they move freely around the floor.
When the upper classes adopted dance forms from the "common folk" they unfortunately layered the dance steps with rules of etiquette. These more formal forms have become the teaching norms, and they can often make dancing appear quite unnatural, difficult and unappealing to people who learn through the school route, as opposed to learning naturally from friends and loved ones. The seed of social dancing is a couple playing in an embrace to music. The prudish might find this an obstacle if they find it difficult to acknowledge the premise of the embrace. Perhaps it was the need and desire to play which attracted the rule-makers to dance to begin with, but being civilized and sophisticated has its drawbacks. "Spontaneity in play" is one of the areas that became displaced and lost as a result of the process of being "cultured and educated".
For social dancing, the intuitive and instinctive senses must be active and encouraged. The benefits and pleasure of all dance is in the spontaneous physical expression of a person’s being. The analytic mind is not the enemy to artistic expression, but it must be balanced in cooperation with the spontaneous spirit. The balance of the two elements helps to create the individual dancer’s style. Creating style is dependent on one’s exposure and choice of influences combined with personal tendencies and background. Take all these variables, and combine them with the different variables the lady brings to the partnership; the resulting combination is something different than the sum of its parts. Each couple will have a character, an individual signature style which is theirs alone.