The Tango

You all know me as the resolutely non-athletic, sedentary, bookish type that I indeed am, but I’ve always had a soft spot for dance. I spent a lot of my childhood in ballet class and loved it there, and much as I can’t hit a ball or run a sprint to save my life, I can hear the rhythm of a piece of music as if it were my own heartbeat. So that’s how come I ended up in an intensive beginners’ tango class. My husband, however, is a different matter. If I’ve had a long-term love affair with dancing, my husband fell to a moment of sheer romance. A couple of years ago I read tarot cards at my college’s May Ball, and one of the shows staged in the marquee right below the windows of my room was a ballroom dancing spectacular. One of my close friends had come up to attend the ball as well and I came off shift to find them both watching a troupe of really excellent dancers strut their stuff. It didn’t take long to notice that my husband was transfixed by a tall, blonde male dressed head to toe in a black spangled catsuit. It is true he was of similar build to my husband, but he was lithe and panther-ish with a million killer-watt smile and an opinion of his own beauty that Narcissus himself would have envied. Oh boy, did he ever think he was the cat’s pajamas. ‘That could be me,’ my husband murmured, irony, astonishment, self-ridicule and something almost like raw desire jostling for position in his tone. Tempting as it undoubtedly was, my friend and I did not contradict him, which just goes to prove that my mother’s rule, ‘if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing’, is an excellent one. For here he is, too, in tango class, wiping the dance floor with the competition.

So, for the past six weeks or so we have been attending a drop-in class on a Tuesday evening. Essentially Argentinian tango builds up from a series of interconnected movements and it’s the man who choreographs the dance at all times; the woman simply follows his lead. That’s why we’ve got to get good at second-guessing and why our partners have to get good at imperceptible leading. It reminds me of learning to drive, in the way you have to think about absolutely everything in an impossibly demanding sort of way, so that when the time comes to do it right, you are not thinking about anything other than the direction in which you are headed.

So much for the theory, what about the practice? It will not astonish you to learn that if I had a penny for every time someone in the room has said, ‘oops! Sorry!’ I would be a rich woman. You may well be right in thinking that his chest is not necessarily the first thing a man instinctually leads with, and if I tell you that we are obliged to swap partners regularly, you might have some inkling of the level of confusion that reigns in the room. On nights when we have an excess of one or other sex, we have what’s known as ‘the exchange corner’; it’s a designated point in the room which, once you pass it, you must shed your current partner and accept a new one, attempting all the while not to grimace or cheer at the choice fate has decreed for you. Men have it that bit easier because they are going forwards and can see who awaits them, often resulting in a sudden burst of acceleration or a confusing series of time-wasting side steps. Regularly it is the case that no one is going anywhere because the circle of dancers has snagged up and we are all in a big traffic jam. The worst partner I ever had the misfortune of accompanying was a small elderly gentleman whose glasses, I suspect, were not strong enough to allow him a clear vision over my shoulder. He repeatedly rammed me into the heels of the man ahead and then, while we stood wedged back to back he would demand querulously ‘Why have we stopped? Is it part of the dance?’ Some partners are a pleasure to accompany, not necessarily because they are wonderful dancers but because they are prepared to discuss what is happening with you, and what is happening in the room behind you. One gentleman simply grunts at me when he requires me to change direction, and I’m not too fond of dancing with him, either.

So, in an attempt to raise ourselves out of the pot-luck drop-in class we signed up to an intensive beginners’ course. Three weekends with six hours of tango dancing in them. Who could believe something so simple as walking slowly backwards could be so strenuous? It’s also a good way to start seriously disliking your shoes. I was obliged to remove mine for the last half hour of Saturday’s session. This had the effect of instantly crippling a whole series of partners who dreaded standing on my bare toes. I was pretty confident by then that I could get them out of the way of any oncoming feet, but to one poor man (whom I enjoy dancing with) I ended up saying, ‘look, why don’t you just step on my foot right now, before we’ve gone anywhere; why not just get it over and done with and then we can do some dancing?’ The other thing about these classes is how close we are being taught to hold our partners; the dance embrace we will eventually learn is more like a hug than a hold. Now this brings up interesting problems of unusual proximity to strangers. Hovering a few inches away from any number of unfamiliar male chests is not as much fun as it may look on paper. I find the easiest thing to do is to close my eyes, which helps with the clairvoyant following in any case, and adds a layer of distance to what is not always thrillingly intimate. As a consequence, the ten or so couples who are learning have all got to know each other very quickly. Well, I say know, although I couldn’t put a name to half the men I dance with, but I do know who has a natty line in necklaces, and who is over fond of aftershave, and who has a lot of chest hair. I mean, it may not be the kind of knowledge I would particularly choose, but as you are no doubt aware, my curiosity is boundless, and so I’ll do the best with what I’m given.

But still, the main news is, we are definitely making progress. With no small thanks to the boundless patience of our teachers and the goodwill and hard work of all concerned, we are starting to look like we are dancing, rather than fending off particularly slow-moving attackers. The only concerns I still have are that all this dancing is ruining my reading time, and that tight-fitting black lycra might suddenly become a really enchanting prospect to my husband…. Someone tell me: can you really get catsuits to fit a six foot four frame?

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22 thoughts on “The Tango

  1. For some reason, the phrase “catsuits to fit a six foot four frame” strikes me as completely, wonderfully hilarious. Perhaps because I’m the same size? Maybe it’s the cyclist in me–we, too, wear a lot of tight black lycra. You know that’s going to be some sort of weird googletrap, don’t you?

  2. Oh how funny, Hobgoblin! It’s been a long time since I had a decent googletrap on this site! And yes, I can remember how tall you are from the occasional photo you’ve posted. I’m not sure I can explain it, but that lycra just looks better somehow on cyclists…

  3. What a beauty of a post. Being up close and personal with other men’s chest hair would make me a bit anxious too. My husband and I have a little dance problem: we both like to dance, he is good at the steps but not the rhythm, and I have rhythm but like to improvise. As a result we tend to look as if we are fending off “slow-moving attackers” and not as if we are having a productive and fun time on the dance-floor. I’m sure you two, however, make a wonderful pair.

  4. Oh Hobgoblin, that is absolutely hysterical! I’ve never been frightened by a piece of clothing before but that is… well, how often do words fail me? I can only say that it redefines the word ‘extraordinary’. Oh thank you, thank you, for my best laugh of the day. Charlotte – if only you and your husband could come and join our class! At least you both like to dance – the rest is just negotiation.

  5. The dancing may be cutting into your reading time, but it isn’t cutting into your great writing. Tango lessons sound fun, but it would be hard for me to get past that comfort zone of sixteen inches of personal space. But I suppose it depends on the partner. Sorry about the guy with too much after-shave.

  6. Oh, how fun! All my life I’ve harbored a desire to dance too — I haven’t had much chance to do it, but I do know it can be quite athletic. Six hours! Your descriptions of your husband are great …

  7. Sounds like fun, despite the strange encounters. Big feet and no rhythm would be my downfall, probably literally. You should, of course, ask for a Sandie Shaw tune for the shoeless part, if she’s not too before your time. Loved that suit hobgoblin found – tango in the aquarium, I wonder? I suppose it would stop the feet squelching. Lucky it’s not clog dancing! Enjoy it, whatever, as long as it’s not a feet of endurance. Sorry!

  8. As much as would love to tango, it’s ceildh dancing that really gets me going! I’m lucky in that I get to go to a ceildh every couple of months. We have them as our conference socials at uni, and there are some ceildh clubs throughout central Scotland. You don’t get so many men dressed in lycra, but you do get a fair amount of men dressed in kilts. IMHO, you can’t beat a man in a kilt! Thanks for such a lovely post, and keep up the dancing.

  9. Pingback: The Tango - John Baker’s Blog

  10. Ian – thank you for the lovely compliment! And I know what you mean about that comfort zone. It does help me enormously once I’ve had a chat with my partner. The more they talk, the more at ease I become (depending on what they’re saying, of course). Dorothy – it’s even funnier if you met him – he is the most self-effacing person! And I’ll bet you’d be a lovely dancer and more than fit enough after all your cycling. Kimmie – hello and welcome! You know, high heels reduce the amount of foot on the floor considerably, and it’s just a question of timing. I’ll bet you’d be great if you felt like having a go! Bookboxed – I’ve seen footage of Sandi Shaw and certainly think she had the right idea! You know if you liked that catsuit there’s still plenty of time to buy it – very good for gardening in the rain, I should think! Harriet – I know! I’d never seen anything like it! I had no idea it was even possible (let alone desirable) to manufacture hoods that were the equivalent of a plastic moulded bag!! Amy – I’m sure ceildh are lots and lots of fun. The only one I went to, I was 8 months pregnant and thus disqualified! Kilts are ok – I’m all for men wearing skirts if they want to. John – thank you so much! and thank you for the great link too!

  11. I know that I could never, ever dance the tango, but this makes me want to give it a whirl (well, with the exception of all that “up-closeness” with strange men. I have a hard enough time on a crowded subway or bus). So funny!

  12. Oh my! What a great post! I would love to learn how to tango/ballroom dance, but my husband isn’t exactly the type! (Then I saw the black catsuit and I KNOW he’d never go for that! I almost ended up spitting pepsi through my nose when I saw it!)

  13. What fun! The intimacy part of dancing is rather uncomfortable sometimes, isn’t it? My poor husband is only 5’4″ which sometimes places him at an awkward height when dancing with tall women (who also always seem to be well endowed) in a group class. Does your husband have the high heeled Latin shoes to go with the catsuit? And do you have an appropriately slinky dress and spiked heels?

  14. This sounds like so much fun! I’ve been hearing from blogroll game players about your tango post, and finally got here myself. Have you seen Shall We Dance? Don’t see the American one! It’s awful. The Japanese original is so much better.

  15. How sad is it that when I saw the word tango my mind flashed to Dorothy the Dinosaus and Wags the Dog dancing the tango to the Wiggles singing “He likes to Tango. It rhymes with Mango…” Damn those Wiggles! I’d much rather have word associated to something more grown up like the slinky tango dance in one of the (can’t remember which) James Bond films

  16. Emily – LOL! Yes one does suffer a bit from crowded bus syndrome, but you could do the tango if you tried. It’s very simple to understand the steps; it’s just executing them that’s the problem! Stephanie – I am so sorry about the pepsi, but it’s given me a most amusing image to consider! That catsuit really is amazing, isn’t it? Stefanie – he’ll have a lovely sense of balance then, your husband, on the dancefloor. Oh the thought of mine in stack heels is just too, too funny. I could use a slinky dress but I DO have appropriate shoes! Dew – I have only seen the American version – I can see I shall have to get hold of the original! Ms Make Tea – I’m grudgingly impressed that the producers managed to find anything that rhymed with tango – and I can also see how that tango thing would stick in the mind…

  17. What a nice husbad to do this! I think it sounds like fun even though I could never contemplate doing something like this! :) So, now that you have podcasted, when do we see the video (online) of you guys dancing??

  18. Pingback: It’s My Fantasy, And You’re In It « Charlotte’s Web

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