First Tango in Buenos Aires
Our eyes met across the dance floor of a dark and smoky milonga. Raising the brim of his fedora, he outstretched his hand towards mine, and pulled me close to begin the dance of love. At least, that’s how I pictured it.
The reality of my first tango experience was somewhat different. After a crowded subway journey and a wrong turn, I arrived late and out of breath to a small dance studio, where a group of 20 or so students were watching the teachers demonstrate the moves. True to the gender stereotype, the first thing I noticed were the shoes. From the legwarmer-clad professionals to the nervous looking newbies, every woman in the room was wearing a pair of strappy heels. I felt remarkably out of place in ballet flats and combat trousers. I echanged a nervous whisper with Elle, my recently acquired travel companion, who felt equally out of her depth, but at least looked the part, with flowers in her hair and a splash of red lipstick.
The female teacher, a tiny and stunning looking creature, upon whom I developed an instant girl crush, greeted me with a close embrace and, without letting go, led me onto the dance floor. Before our brief introduction had even finished, she had pushed and pulled on my back and hips to mould my torso into an unatural position, reminding me several times to keep my chest jutting forward (made all the more uncomfortable by the fact that her face was about my chest-height). As she moved me back and forth, I was pleasantly surprised to find my feet moving with hers, without a toe injury in sight.
After an announcement in rapid Spanish, followed by a helpful English translation, everyone changed partners (due to a shortage of men, this shuffle around took on a bit of a competitive edge among the ladies). The male teacher, an eccentric looking man with what can only be described as mad scientist hair, offered me his hand, and gave me what proved to be very complicated advice- lean forward. Two years of dancing modern jive had firmly implanted in my head the golden rule of “transfer your weight to your back foot”, and my brain now had to fight surprisingly hard to override this.
Everything I had read about gringos learning tango had one common theme- trying to get comfortable with the closeness. As I moved around the room, dancing with each of the men, I wondered at what point this discomfort would kick in, but it never did. I was too busy concentrating on keeping my chest forward and my feet out of my partner’s way. I guess I’m just one of those people who’s happy to be held by strangers (I should probably phrase that a different way). Next stop- the milonga!