The way you embrace your partner in tango determines what is possible in your dance, in terms of the movements you can make and the level of enjoyment, shared musical expression and connection you can have. (The following points about the embrace are focused on standing and moving in a straight line. Pivoting will be covered another time.)
- Communicate through the chest. Sounds obvious, but sometimes the implications are missed. Firstly, in order to communicate effectively through the chest you must have good posture and balance (see tip no. 1). Secondly, if you're communicating mainly through the chest, you can relax those arms. It's worth noting, however, that when the leader is walking backward, there can be more connection from the back of the follower with the 'hugging arm' of the leader. Why this is will be discussed more in a later tip. If you're not totally comfortable in a close embrace, try aiming for the kind of firm, positive pressure that you would have from a comfortable hug with a friend. You should both be able to breath very easily while in close embrace.
- Keep the arms relaxed, relative to the chest contact. Avoid putting weight on your partner with your arms, pulling them down, or pushing them to the side. This often happens either when your arm is in an uncomfortable position, or is being kept tense. To help with that, try first making contact with your chests, then softly placing the arms in a comfortable position. Any firmness you'd like to have or feel in the arms should be of a gently supporting quality, rather than tense or rigid. In connection with this, if as a leader you find your partner drifts off to your right side, try keeping your right elbow by your side, during the dance.
- Experiment with arm position. The best arm position will depend on who you're dancing with, the angle your chests make in the embrace (V or square), and what movement you're making. So don't be afraid to experiment. For instance if a follower is dancing with a much taller leader, putting the closed side arm around the side of the leader's back may be more comfortable than trying to put it over the top of or on the leader's shoulder. The key considerations are whether you are comfortable and whether your arm position helps or hinders you to feel your partner's movement and to move yourself.
- Communicate through the congruent contact of your arms, hands and backs, if you prefer to dance by feel, without relying on visual cues. When you are moving in a straight line the position and shape of your arms should be constant, relative to your chest. (It works slightly differently when pivoting, where it generally helps to allow one or sometimes both arms to more fully relax to allow the pivot to take place easily. But that's a topic for another time)
- Connect with your arms as you would with your chest. When you enter the embrace try to make the quality of contact like it is when you are in close embrace, i.e. your hands, arms and backs are hugging each other. When standing still the 'hug' is a light one, but when moving the quality of contact can change according to various factors. Imagining that your arms are extensions of your chest, so that when your chest moves they do to, will help all the points of physical contact you have in the embrace to move in a congruent way, with minimal strain or confusion.
- Find a comfortable arm and hand position. It's going to be hard to have a quality of contact you could liken to a nice hug, if you're not comfortable. Much of this comes down to posture, but specifically where you put your arms and how you hold hands makes a big difference too, just like in close embrace. One position that generally works quite well is to have the forearms parallel and in contact on the closed side of the embrace, with equal contact pressure along the whole forearm (followers imagine holding an orange under your armpit), and on the open side to have the hands just far enough out that the elbows can rest comfortably facing down and about in line with the front of the chest. As for how the hands make contact, try having the wrists fairly straight and creating a little cushion of air between your touching palms, wrapping your fingers gently around your partner's hand.