The impossible journey


‘Love music, can’t dance’ had had for so long been a part of my self-identification that the very notion of this not being an established fact seemed hard to imagine. And yet it was an illusion shattered with a single evening of ceroc.

I discovered, to my great surprise, that when you combine a halfway decent musical ear with some well-taught fixed steps, the result is something which looks not entirely dissimilar to dance.

In retrospect, it ought to have been abundantly obvious that this was merely step one in Steph’s Machiavellian plan to turn a non-dancer into some variety of tanguero …

Tango was an alien concept. A dance with no steps? Where the follower somehow divined the intent of the leader? Steph made several valiant attempts to explain, in much the same fashion as Stephen Hawking might attempt to explain the black hole information paradox to a cat.

I shrugged and mentally filed it away as one of life’s insoluble mysteries, slotted in just between ‘why women say they don’t want dessert and then eat half of mine’ and ‘why some people wait patiently in a coffee shop queue for five minutes but only begin the process of deciding what they want when it’s their turn to be served.’

Step two in Steph’s plan was a more subtle one: say absolutely nothing further about the subject until suggesting that I might perhaps want to watch one of her tango lessons. Well, there couldn’t possibly be any harm in that, right? So I watched. For about ten minutes. Tango still firmly labelled as one of those things that other people do, even if I lived with one of them.

Step three was to suggest that, for men, tango was ‘just walking in time to the beat.’

I’m not quite sure about steps four to fifty, but there must have been 46 invisible ones, because there is no conceivable way of going straight from casually observing ten minutes of one lesson to, a few weeks later, agreeing to try one. Even if it was just one wafer-thin lesson.

By the end of the lesson, I was able to do something not anywhere close to a tango walk but Steph was somehow able to figure out when I wanted to go and when I wanted to stop. This was about 5% signals from me and 95% telepathy, but the 5% part satisfied my curiosity, so that was that.

Except I’d been talked into signing up for a second lesson. This was blatant exploitation of a disability: I am incurably curious about How Stuff Works. So a hint here about tango being a great way to understand the structure of music, a word there about how geeks love tango because there’s so much to understand …

Thing is, if you have someone who loves understanding How Stuff Walks, then the tango walk is the perfect hook. It is, on one level, as simple as it was first presented to me: walking in time to the beat. And, of course, something the world’s most accomplished dancers continue to work on for the rest of their lives. As a topic, it’s weaponised curiosity.

So, my name is Ben and I’m a trainee tanguero. It’s been a week since my last lesson.

Image: Shutterstock

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