Head placement

Original: 2nd October 2009

Revised: 20th January 2011

(More Next Steps articles.)

"Choice, the problem is choice." ~ Neo


What do you do with your head in close embrace? And the follower's head for that matter?

For a long time I liked the idea of the follower looking over my shoulder.

She can act as my "wingman", and warn me of impending collisions, especially as it's a massive blind spot for me.

Then, women started closing their eyes when they followed me. The problem was I had no way of knowing if their eyes were open or closed, and so whether they were doing wingman work for me, or not. Which if you think about it, is much worse than knowing for sure that the person has their eyes closed.

Also, my neck would ache at the end of an evening. I didn't mind too much at first. Frankly most of me was aching anyway. But as my technique has improved, the other aches have gone away, just leaving this literal pain in the neck.


"In Buenos Aires, you would already be dead"

So, I enquired of someone more knowledgeable and experienced.

Apparently in Buenos Aires, the men frown on women looking over their shoulder. They might be working out who to dance with next, instead of concentrating on dancing with them! Plus they're wonderful, so the women should have their eyes blissfully closed anyway...

What they prefer is for the women to have their head slightly facing towards them.

When I say "prefer" they embrace the woman in such a way as to get this angle. If the woman still goes ahead and turns her head to her left, some men may actually take her firmly by the jaw and bring her back!

"Don't let your head cast a shadow on your chest"

Look around most dancefloors, and you'll see most leaders have their heads bent forward. I think it comes from the whole "hugging" analogy. If I hug someone, I do lean my head forward to the side of their head.

If you lean your head forwards several things go wrong. Take another look at the picture from above.

Firstly, the further you lean forward, the more you both deflect each others' heads, causing them to turn to both of your lefts. Secondly, instead of your temples touching, you now end up more temple-to-ear; at which point you start getting the other person's hair in your face.

An exercise

Start in close embrace. Both relax your necks. Lean / bow your heads forward and allow them to deflect to the sides. From this position bring your heads back to vertical and allow your heads to turn back until the leaders is facing forwards, the follower's is slightly turned in towards his and you're temple-to-temple.

Now for obvious reasons you don't want to get into a kind of head wrestling match trying to find the right position. You need to practice with different followers so you know where the right position is and you can go straight into it as you embrace at the beginning of the dance.

Quick fix.

There are a few solutions while you're getting the hang of this though.

The first is pivots or ochos. If you realise your head is too far forwards and turned to the left, open out the embrace in a forward ocho and as you close it again have your head further back and let the woman re-establish the temple-to-temple contact.

You can also make a very small adjustment in the embrace, but generally it's easier to just do the above.


Some "helpful" followers will compensate by leaning their heads even further forwards! You have fairly limited options in this scenario:

  • Just accept it
  • Switch to open embrace
  • Keep leading ochos and trying to get the position you want


Obviously in tango there are many variations of embrace.

This is my own personal preference. Try it, see if it works for you. I definitely wouldn't recommend physically moving the woman's face with your hand though.

You can really mess with the woman's balance, axis, posture in this kind of embrace. If she doesn't want to do it, don't force her. It's also worth practicing the difference between turning your head while keeping it vertical, and leaning it slightly to the right, as they feel remarkably similar.

 - Cristopher O' Shea, 20th January 2011

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