From the Tango Studio to the Dance Floor

I had read that the offer of a dance in a milonga is subtle, a raise of the eyebrow or prolonged glance, perhaps. I was worried I’d misread it, and end up flinging my arms around some poor unsuspecting man who was just squinting at the light. But when a well-dressed older gentleman stood square in front of me, looked me in the eye and outstretched his hand, there was no mistaking it, he was asking me to dance.

And so it began, my first dance in a milonga. There was no teacher to correct me, no nervously practising what we’d just learned in the lesson, just a series of varying steps while I tried to keep up and not tread on anyone. In my head, I went through the advice I was given in lessons- remember to keep your hips back, remember to keep your chest forward, remember to keep your shoulders down, your elbow fixed, your arms relaxed… A seemingly never-ending stream of criticisms ran through my head as I managed to somehow step repeatedly on my own toes.

In spite of my self-doubt, I relaxed and began to enjoy myself. It was difficult not to, given the setting. The milonga took place in a cobbled square, on a temporary dance floor lit by strings of coloured lights and surrounded by a crowd of onlookers. The dancers were bundled up in jackets and carrying their handbags. I couldn’t help thinking the place had an almost Christmassy feel, despite the mild night.

At the end of the tanda (a set of three or four songs), the speakers let out a quick burst of rock music to let everyone know to clear the floor. My partner courteously led me back to where we’d started, giving me a wide smile and squeezing my hand before moving on. I watched as people moved back to the floor in new pairings, and with great amusement saw two young girls partner up and begin to spin around, flicking their legs behind them and beaming as they copied the adults’ movements.

For tanda after tanda, partner after partner led me around the floor. The movements varied from person to person, some were smooth and flowing, some were rapid and stacatto. Some prefered the slow, sensual tango, and others the quicker, upbeat milonga (turns out “milonga” is also a dance style, who knew?!). Some were seasoned pros who had been dancing since they could walk, and others, like me, were uncertain beginners, picking up a few steps while visiting Buenos Aires.

Towards the end of the evening, the crowd of onlookers, who, until now, had been watching quite placidly, began clapping rhythmically. I watched, intrigued, as dancers lined the floor, facing their partners, and began a folk dance. With their arms in the air, they spun around each other, following complex foot patterns, clicking their fingers and waving handkerchiefs. The dance was enchanting, and the participants were smiling ear to ear as they moved in unison. As I watched, I grew increasingly eager to join in, and began to wonder where I could learn the steps. Or maybe I should wait until I’ve mastered Tango!

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