Monday, 9 July 2012

We're fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance…

A week in the life of an Irishman in love with a Tanguera

Tango - a ballroom dance of Latin-American origin, danced by couples, and having many varied steps, figures, and poses or music for this dance

Tanguero / Tanguera - people who live and breathe tango

Sunday: Just under three years ago, I was working in a pub trying to come up with a good lesson plan for one of my classes on my first placement as a student teacher. It was a Sunday, I was tired… and the quiz guy was wrecking my head. It was raining, the night seemed like it was going to drag on and, with a week of teaching placement and two more nights of working ahead, my next sleep in seemed a long way away. Just as I was about to write off the night, in walk two beautiful women. Little did I know that one of them would steal my heart and make me immeasurably happy but she would also introduce me to a different world: one of tango. What did I know about tango? I could have written a book about what I knew about tango and all it would contain would be a couple of pictures borrowed from Google. I don't have a TV, so besides the eternal problem of not knowing at what to point your couch, I had never seen tango performed on TV.To be honest I wouldn’thave watched it anyways. I will admit though I had one mighty night playing a judge based on Bruno at a Strictly Come Dancing night at school. But that was a long time after I had discovered tango. There was tango on every Sunday night upstairs but it never crossed my mind to go up for a look. Being an Irishman I come with the same default dance moves as every other Irishman. No man from Ireland has ever picked up a girl because of such moves and it’s fair to say they are pretty crap! No one cares though as the other default setting we come fitted with is to dance like no one is watching and sure if they are then even better! Before the arrival of these two ladies, one from Sweden and the other from Bulgaria, I did not give a passing thought to Sunday being a tango night though the dancers that came down were always nice, polite and up for a chat. This now changed as even though I did not think I had a snowballs chance in hell of going out with the young lady from Bulgaria I very much looked forward to her smile and conversation. What I did not realise at the time was tango was not just a dance, not just a once a week social meeting but as Kapka Kassabova best put it; 'a world-wide tango community made up of hundreds of thousands of people of every language, passport and cultural complication under the sun who breathe tango, laugh and cry tango, love and hate tango. That’s right, to the initiated, tango is like a religion without a god. The true tango addict will spend every last penny on multiple trips to Buenos Aires, expensive shoes, lessons with stocky maestros and their sharp-bodied women, and endless CDs and downloads of tango tunes.' People get addicted to tango - I am not addicted yet but I am sure it’s only a matter of time. It is a full time occupation as you will see and it is a very international community with Argentinians on top of the tower and Buenos Aires the mecca of all dancers. My girlfriend has already been there twice and if given the chance to go again for a month in exchange for her boyfriend, she would have to think very long and hard before hopefully saying no!

Milonga - The meeting place to dance tango or a fast paced form of the tango with a 2/4 beat

Tuesday: For us Monday is the day of rest and there is no Milonga (which is the tango equivalent of a ceilidh) but you could do classes on Mondays and for those that need their fix, or just for enjoyment, there are always YouTube videos to watch. I started taking classes in Tango last October after accompanying my lady to Tango events for well over a year. Tuesday was the day to join a class, there was no conflict with rugby coaching at school, the two Argentinian teachers are very nice people and to get better you need to take classes. It is a very gradual learning curve though. You start off thinking how hard can it be but OMG its no easy pal! Tango seems to the untrained eye just another form of dance where you learn moves and move your partner around the floor. Nothing could be further from the truth! What they don’t tell you is that the leader has to learn to find the rhythm of the music, watch out for the navigational hazards on the dance floor, develop a strategy on the spot for dealing with them, choosing from a range of movements you have hopefully learned, then lead the woman to move in the intended direction with the right speed whilst maintaining connection, and then… he has to follow the woman’s response to his lead to determine his next move (within a millisecond) and take responsibility for whatever goes wrong! The phrase 'if it was easy everyone would be doing it' never had more meaning. A friend of mine started dancing at the same time as me but gave it up due to the slow learning curve and tango rage! After classes there is another Milonga so off you go and try and put into practice what you learned.

Thursday: No dancing on a Wednesday for us but again you could if you wanted. On Thursday there is another Milonga and off dancing we go. One of the social aspects I love about Tango is that the people are generally always good people. You meet all kinds, all there for the dance, and from many different countries. During the Edinburgh International Tango festival (festival for everything in Edinburgh, I know!) I went out to dinner with eleven other people and in our group were representatives from twelve different countries and mighty fun was had. There is no set criteria for being a tango dancer (slightly crazy might help but the jury is still out!) and because of this you meet people from all different backgrounds. You first could be with a beautiful Slovakian student and you’re next with an equally stunning Argentinian who makes teapots out of clay. The downside for them is that they could end up dancing with a tall lanky Irishman with about as much rhythm as a teletubbie! C'est la vie!

Práctica - A casual practice session, different to a milonga in that dancers help each other out and work on their technique

Friday: Off to a quaint church hall for some more classes and a práctica to try to slowly improve. When I worked in Ullapool I came down most weekends to see my lady and often we would go to a milonga in a beautiful dance studio in Stockbridge. I still had no interest in dancing but found it a nice place to chill out after the week and have a chat with those that danced. The first year I went out with my girlfriend I never saw her dance: it turns out she is amazing (not my words though I would agree) but she was shy. After that I spent a year going to a milonga once a week just relaxing and enjoying the atmosphere and the company, as I said. Now, as you can see, there is a little more tango but I have to say I enjoy it. I am not ready to pack in teaching and move to Argentina but I have got a pair of shoes specially made in Poland, got for me by a renaissance man I met at tango. I play tango music to the students sometimes and they love it. I am still useless but very slowly improving and one day I may be an alright dancer.

Saturday: On semi regular occasions there is either a tango brunch (tango during the day where you first have your breakfast and then dance or vice versa) or a milonga in the evening in another part of town. As you can see you can dance almost full time in Edinburgh and other cities and towns around the world are no different. A funny Kiwi friend (he thinks he is witty but more funny looking!) of mine went to the back of nowhere in Finland and found tango. Every time my girlfriend goes away for work she finds a place to dance, to meet people and to socialise. Now we are back to Sunday and it starts all over again. It might seem silly to some and weird to others but as a wise man once said we're fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance…


  1. Only just picked up on this. Great stuff. Er... muchos gracias?

  2. tango rage indeed! sad times. thankfully I think I've found my calling as either a singer (c'mon now, give credit where credit's due) or as a screen writer of inappropriately themed plasticine epics (soon to be posted on youtube).