Curiosity and obsession …
I get curious about anything and everything. I flirt with understanding everything from the construction of modern skyscrapers to how DLR trains know where they are. But every now and then, I take an intellectual lover.
My bookmarks were packed full of articles on everything from floor-craft to musicality. Our cleaner was bemused by my practicing my walk in my home office before work. YouTube had virtually stopped recommending anything that wasn’t a tango video. From flirtatious glance to tango leaving her toothbrush in my bathroom had taken but a few weeks …
Tango is not one for monogamy, however, and I met a group of her other lovers at the People’s Vote march. And promptly found myself getting an impromptu tango lesson … on the grass. A drum accompaniment also turned our part of the march into something of a dance.
Mariano is a superb teacher, and four lessons in I was managing something which – if you squinted a bit and applied a very broad definition of the terminology – could look something like an ocho and an ocho cortado. (Technically, I reached that stage in lesson three, but as I couldn’t figure out how to transition into or out of one, I don’t think that really counted.)
Much reading, and joining a tango Facebook group, had made one thing very clear: the walk is everything. So I decided I wanted to devote lesson five to just the walk. Getting that as solid as is possible at such an early stage. Walking and pausing to the phrases. That was a great lesson.
Newly licensed as a trainee apprentice junior deputy tango walker, the next step in Steph’s evil plan was to take me to a practica. Specifically, the one at Tango Garden.
Which was indeed a fine plan in theory. A bit more space to play with, and the opportunity to watch some dancing at the milonga at the same time. The reality was a little different. A speaker the size of a cigarette packet and a volume knob that went all the way up to 1. The practica room was also unusually busy, which meant that the whispering speaker was competing with the assorted discussions of about a dozen people.
Which was when Steph came up with the idea of practicing in the milonga instead. Yep, letting loose on the dance floor a man with all of five lessons behind him. What could possibly go wrong?
We did stick to the centre of the floor, and only attempted it with songs where I could locate the phrasing without needing to consult Google Maps. Which was the first collision between home lessons and reality: the music Mariano chose was carefully curated to have a clear beat and obvious phrasing. The music at the milonga, not so much. There were only two tandas where I felt I stood a chance.
The dance lane at Tango Garden turned out to be a semi-theoretical construct. Some dancers reliably circulated around the floor, others made random visits to the centre of the floor. My attention dollar was split about 50 cents trying to track the phrasing in the unfamiliar music, 40 cents trying not to get mown down or wander outside the centre – leaving about 10% for, you know, the tango part. I didn’t attempt anything more ambitious than walking and pausing, occasionally even coinciding with the phrasing of the music.
But there were no fatalities. And it was useful to see just how much there was to learn.
A friend, Bridgitta, was kind enough to risk life and limb by allowing me to lead her in the second tanda. My brief Brexit grass excursion aside, this was the first time I’d led anyone other than Steph or Mariano, and as basic and as tentative as my walk was, it was a great confidence boost to find that we both had all our limbs intact at the end of it.
I did come up with a cunning plan for the next one. Mariano is DJing, so I sent him three Canaro songs I now know reasonably well and asked whether they might perhaps form one tanda at the event … With familiar music, I might be able to liberate a bit more of that attention dollar.
I’ll be the one mostly sitting at the edge avoiding eye contact so nobody mistakes me for a dancer – and then leaping enthusiastically to my feet when the familiar music hits.