Learning to Tango

Cultural Insights — By on February 19, 2008 at 7:40 am

Do you love to watch the tango? If, like writer Joe Ray, you’re obsessed by the sultry movements of the dancers and want to learn to tango yourself, you might want to do what he did and head to Buenos Aires for some lessons. He wrote about his experiences for the Boston Globe:

It’s every male wallflower’s dream: walk into a hall of beautiful people, choose the woman you would like as a partner, nod confidently in her direction, and watch as she meets you on the dance floor. One caveat: In this country, when you take her hand you had better know how to tango…

My obsession with the dance began in Paris where, weather permitting, a tango group meets a few times a week in an amphitheater on the banks of the Seine. The music caught me first: somehow light, sultry, and full of longing, with the accordion-like bandoneón grabbing my heartstrings as I rode by on my bicycle. I watched, entranced, trying to understand it all, but it seemed beyond me – everyone was doing different steps, forcing me to watch one couple at a time, and even then, I couldn’t figure it out. No matter. Simply watching and listening was a beautiful way to spend an evening.

In Buenos Aires, tango fanatic and area native Silvia Guzmán agrees to be my guide and immediately puts a finger on what fascinates me most about the dance.

“It’s three minutes of connection,” she says as we watch dancers go ’round in counterclockwise circles at the Salon Canning “milonga,” or tango hall. “You’re always right in front of your partner, never next to each other.”

The sensuality is delicious. We watch instructors call out a few steps – “uno, dos, tres” “apart, together, apart” – as his feet scissor in and out between hers, which flare in circles. When the class ends and the floor fills, people aren’t just connecting, they’re smoldering. I zero in on one couple and while their feet flit about, cat-and-mouse style, their heads touch, and their chests are pressed together. I might as well be staring through a bedroom window.

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