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Fragments of Tango Lessons


Buenos Aires, Birthplace of Tango

Foreheads pressed together. Strength is focused in the core with abdomens firm and held in check the dancers must connect at the chest and allow the hips and legs to move gracefully, smoothly. The back arches slightly to accommodate. Concentration is fierce. The upper body is almost rigid while the hips and legs execute controlled fluid movements. There’s no swaying in tango.



That’s what it looks like. During a tango show.



In classes it looks quite a bit different.



You have women like me who don’t know how to follow, going backwards doing a sequence of steps they don’t know yet (or is this merely a symptom of my unwieldy independent streak?). You have men still learning to lead, stopping every few steps to catch the rhythm again. I felt so badly for my partners who had to manage me. Close contact with unfamiliar men is something I haven’t done in a very long time. No worries about the rigidity part, I have that down. It’s the moving part that has me completely undone.


There’s a music that’s unfamiliar with a rhythm that is frankly hard to find. That’s what the walking in a circle is for. Classes start with all the students walking in a circle, like horses pacing the ring before a big race, walking in hopes that you’ll start stepping to the beat. Feeling the rhythm and letting your feet learn to step to it. Easy, graceful steps is the objective. Whatever it’s supposed to look like, it’s fun to do.



Later, at night in La Catedral, the students look more like they are on an evening promenade in some Etruscan town in Italy, chatting animatedly, not exactly noticing the beat. Also, they are swaying. A lot. Alas.


Classes seem always to be much, much, too large for the space they are in. Once the lesson progresses to actual dancing, people wear masks of intense concentration as they focus ardently on the steps, the music, their partners. Focus is zoomed in – set to macro – such that the other dancers only enter their consciousness when there’s a collision. Dancers move every which way. It’s a friendly mayhem. Very Un-tango.


Very fun, especially if you like your partner.

Originally published March 3, 2013

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