Monday, September 22, 2014

Close embrace, awkward-close, and making intentional choices

Dear dancer-leaders: close embrace is not best accomplished by squeezing. Specifically, it is not best accomplished by leaving your hand where it was in closed position and applying force on my back to bring your hand directly towards your chest. 

For starters, it's not actually possible for me to come properly into close embrace without offset between our bodies; my toes cannot occupy the same space as yours, nor can my knees. If you draw me directly towards you, I am stuck something like 10 inches away. I refer to this position as “awkward.”

But even once we’re in a decent close embrace position, holding me *tightly* is a choice I would ask you to (re)consider before/when you do it.

My major personal objections to being 'squeezed' towards you or being tightly held while dancing (these are phrased as "I" statements but I don't think they're unique to me): 
  • If it is not a reciprocal desire, it makes me feel super TRAPPED, like I am being held in place (because I literally am). 
  • Pulling me directly towards you puts your face really close to my face if we're anywhere near similar heights. I experience this as extremely intimate. I'm personally pretty tolerant to body contact as long as I'm not being held in place, but "your face close enough to my face that you could kiss me without moving anything but your head" is fairly personal space, for me. (Actual close embrace does not violate this for me because we are looking past each other, or my head is on my leader's chest.)
  • In "awkward" position, the closer we are to the same height, the more difficult it is not to have to choose between extended eye contact and staring at the floor. And then tilting my head down brings my face even closer to yours. :/

Holding me against you with force, lingering with your face very near mine, especially if you are also holding me in place, and unremitting eye contact are pretty intense things to do. Not categorically wrong or bad, but they are intense.

Something else that's really intense? Putting both of your hands directly on my torso (shoulders, rib cage, hips) and exactly manipulating where you want my body to be in space for an extended period of time.

**Did you mean to be that intense?** Do I seem into it? Am I matching you? Are you paying attention such that if I try and move away/toward-less-intensity, I can? If I ask "can you please not hold me so tightly", does it register? do you argue with me about it? Would there be a better way to ask you?

Do you trust and respect your follow enough that if s/he moves in a different way than you wanted, you move with them, or do use force to “tell” her/him where to go, leaving few options?

Do you make assumptions about the level of intensity someone else is OK with dancing at after watching them dance with someone else? (Please don't do this.)

From a friendly local follow, please do have some intention about the level of intensity and/or intimacy you are requesting in a dance. And please do not "correct" me with more force when I try and move away from "awkward" position.

I left SFLX early last night because I am not [your] puppet.


  1. I am still not good at asking aloud if closed position is okay! I need to work on it. But I try not to force my follow into any position. Heck, even though it seems the norm in DC for closed position blues dancing to be... really flippin' close, I tend to stay a couple inches apart with infrequent or first time dance partners. As for Lindy Hop -- aside from the occasional quick jig-kicks, I don't get that close; I may want to swing the eff out at a moment's notice!

    But in general, I keep learning more about how important it is to check in with one's dance partner. Both explicitly and implicitly. And my desired level of intensity is usually not one that requires a face-to-face! Good post!

  2. The easiest way to ask for close embrace, in my experience, is to lead the follow forward towards you *briefly* while offsetting yourself, and actually lift your arm entirely off the follow's back while lifting your elbow a bit to get your arm slightly further from your side.

    You end up not touching the follow at all for just a moment, and in that moment it's pretty easy to position one's self at the desired distance from the leader, either in proper-to-cozy close embrace or simply not in close embrace at all by not continuing forward.