You do not choose Tango. Tango chooses... me.
– Chris Beauchamp
My wife Laura is an amazing dancer.
She’s grown up in dance classes. Jazz. Ballet. Ballroom. Belly dance. Hip hop. She’s done it all. On stage, even. Musical theatre? Dance clubs? No sweat.
Think you can lead? She’ll follow, easily. Hell, she’ll lead. She even took a Capoeira class when we lived in Calgary.
The woman can move.
Which makes it all the more amazing she married me, a spastic fool of the highest order. Sure, I might have some spirit when the mood strikes just right, or when the beer is cheap, or when the doors are closed and the blinds are pulled tight. But what I don’t have, at all, is rhythm, grace, coordination...
And while that hasn’t always stopped me from giving it my all on the dance floors of the world, it has frequently stopped me from looking cool, or sexy, or, you know... human.
Seriously, I’m a terrible dancer.
So when we chose to visit Argentina, the birthplace–scratch that–the very soul of Tango, you better believe she wanted to get out there and see (and do..) some dancing.
And I wanted to go to bed early.
Or hand-wash my underwear.
Or maybe throw myself from the hostel’s rooftop bar.
Anything other than subject myself to the abject humiliation of public dance, especially of the highly-ritualized, gender-role-defined, high-art form that is ¡Tango!
Side note: you really need to say this word out loud, enthusiastically, in your best bad Spanish accent–and relish it. Go ahead, I’ll wait...
Feels good right?
Anyway, when she bought us two tickets to a Tango show (Complejo Tango, booked through our hostel at 640 Argentinian pesos each–about $70 CDN), I smiled enthusiastically, nodded like a good husband, and died a little on the inside.
Oh well, I thought, she puts up with my interests all the time. I can survive one night so she can enjoy some sort of Tango experience. I’m sure she’ll get to do some dancing with a Tango pro of some sort. Show off her skills...
Little did I know the universe had other plans for us. Twisted, sadistic, hilarious plans. Plans which included a surprisingly public and enjoyable ¡Tango! experience for me, the spastic sub-humanoid non-dancer, while Laura was relegated to mostly spectator status.
The tickets included pickup from the hostel, an hour of touristy dance class, a three-course dinner, drinks, and a Tango show to round the evening out.
When we arrived onsite, the large air-conditioned tourist coach disgorged us and we filed into a second floor room that looked like a lot of dance studios. There were nervous titters and awkward laughs from the 40+ group as the instructor Alejandro split us up into men and women to teach us a few extremely basic steps. It was a relief to know I wasn’t the only one feeling like a gym-class reject, but Alejandro kept the mood light and funny, teaching us three basic moves over the course of an hour, and interspersing things with three or four mini dance sessions, where he would call out for us to change partners.
Each lesson was punctuated with a short public demonstration, where Alejandro would randomly pick one or two guys to show the whole class what we had learned, with the stipulation that we had to choose a partner we didn’t know. A natural performer, Laura would relish an opportunity like that, and I’m sure she was one of the only people in the room thinking “pick me, pick me.” But of course, for the third and final demo, it was I that found myself standing in front of the class, forced to show off the complete set of steps we had learned, culminating in the silly “Tango picture” pose Alejandro taught us for the final flourish.
And of course, Alejandro encouraged everyone in the room to get their cameras ready for the big moment.
Panicked, but with an air of false confidence characteristic of good Tango students, I selected the first partner I could find that I hadn’t already danced with: a sweet older American lady on holiday with her husband. I few decades of age difference and a few feet of height difference don’t mean anything to the true Tangoist.
As I held up my hand to invite her to dance, I saw panic in her eyes as she whispered at me “don’t do it, don’t do it,” but if fate was forcing me into this position, I certainly wasn’t going to let her off the hook. Besides, there were 40 sets of eyes on me now, and to be rejected in my moment of Tango glory would be too embarrassing, so I reassured her that she would do fine, and we took to the floor.
I wish I could say my blood ran hot with the passion of the dance, but I was really as ungainly as ever, focused more on counting out the steps than feeling the flow of Latin love. Either way, our performance went fine, and the room burst into applause and flash pops as we ended with our silly Tango faces turned to the audience.
The irony continued, as the class finished with one final mini dance session. Seeing my chance, I grabbed Laura and we had one shot at putting it all together. Although I again succeeded in the steps and form as taught, Laura, dance genius that she is, messed up the very last bit of the dance. Proof of my complete Tango superiority? Probably...
I had survived public Tango, and I felt confident my performance had earned me a nice dinner and a fare share of wine, not to mention several jokes about my Tango superiority. I think everyone in the room was glad the embarrassing part was over and we were ready to move next door into the performance space.
A tasty dinner was served, and although the wine left something to be desired, it didn’t stop us from choking down a few glasses and really enjoying ourselves once the show began. The performance took us through a century of Tango history, with three couples swapping partners and costumes in a dizzying array of dance styles down through the decades. The dancers used the whole room during the performance, including balconies, stairs, the bar, and the main aisles. A great male singer and a live band on the balcony (violin, accordion, piano and cello) set the mood. The show alone was worth the price of admission, and the skill was impressive all round.
Tango purists turn up their noses at these types of tourist shows, and it’s a far cry from the actual Tango on display in milongas (Tango halls) throughout Buenos Aires, but that doesn’t make the acrobatics, light show and fancy footwork any less impressive. Our teacher, Alejandro, was in the cast, and the ladies in the room were unafraid to give him the biggest catcalls and applause.
Dinner eaten, wine consumed, I felt smuggly proud that I had survived dance class unscathed and was safely in the audience where I belonged. I should have known my ordeal wasn’t over. Of course they were going to grab some audience members and make them dance during the show. Of course it would happen to me...
Luckily, the professional female dancers know how to make a putz look good, subtly taking the lead, stepping deftly in and around my stupid feet.remembering at least one part of my training, I made my best Tango face as Laura snapped a cell phone pic. As I sat down from the first dance, sinking low into my chair, Laura had time to reassure me that the woman made me look like I knew what I was doing, before I felt a tap on my shoulder from the other side and was whisked back up and into the flow of Tango.
You’d think I would be getting the hang of things by this point, but my feet were even more disjointedly uncoordinated the second time around. Thankfully, it was short-lived and after another quick snapshot, I was finally free of Tango for the evening.
The show ended with an impressive climax of twirls, leg kicks, flips and spins, and though Laura didn’t get a chance to show off her stuff, we were both giddy on the ride home, laughing our asses off at the irony that Tango had chosen me.
And though I’m still a terrible, terrible dancer, it hasn’t stopped me from declaring my Tango superiority every chance I get. It’s nice in any relationship when one evening out can spawn a whole new legacy of inside-jokes and giggle fits.
The best part of the whole thing might just be the 40 digital cameras–each with a photo of me, my ridiculous Tango face and my septuagenarian dance partner–that are even now traveling home to every corner of the globe, forever immortalizing my Tango legacy.
If you make your way to this part of the world, do yourself a favour and go see a Tango show. You might discover that Tango chooses you too...