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¡Tango!

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...

“¡Tango!”)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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...

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twice.

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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...

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2 thoughts on “¡Tango!”

  1. My sides are hurting from laughing....but its at your words not your dance. I would love to have seen it all, so maybe you two should prac­tice up for when I visit next.

    Really, glad your having a good time.

    Love.....Mom

    [Reply]

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