A beginner reviews ‘Our Tango World’

Our Tango World.jpg

Our Tango World, 1: Learning and Community is an oddly prosaic title for an extremely poetic and impassioned book. I couldn’t help but feel that it deserves something more akin to Twelve Minutes of Love.

But the fact that I’m writing this review a little over 24 hours after taking delivery of the book is testament to the fact that this was my sole disappointment …

I’ve written before about being inspired by Iona Italia’s blog, so when I saw that she had a book on the way, I ordered it the moment I saw it was up for pre-order. (And in doing so, robbed Steph of one of her planned xmas presents for me; she sent me the link, intending to judge from my reaction how interested I would be in reading it, only to find that, 30 seconds later, I’d ordered a copy.)

Iona devoted a decade of her life to tango in Buenos Aires; I’m a three-month-in beginner. Parts of OTW are like hearing tips for constructing the Large Hadron Collider while I’m still trying to construct a lever using two pencils on a desktop. But it’s testament to her communication skills that almost all of the book is accessible to someone who had to Google some of the terminology.

When she talks about feeling a leader’s smile as she wordlessly draws his attention to a violin part he’d never before noticed, that is something so far beyond my imagining that it might as well be written in, well, Spanish. And yet, rather than making me feel depressed that I was three feet from my front door on a walking circumnavigation of the globe, I felt inspired to see just how far the tango journey could take me, should I have the desire, dedication and deftness needed to reach such a level.

Part of that is perspective, of course. Remembering, as someone recently commented on an earlier post, that tango is a journey, not a destination. But much of it is in the way Iona makes you view the infinite levels to tango as an opportunity, not as a series of steps that must be climbed.

It’s full of advice that seems equally useful to a beginner as to an intermediate dancer. I’ll give just one example of many. Dissociation is one of the harder challenges for beginners – or British male ones, at any rate. Understanding how is key; but Iona’s simple description of the ‘why’ is one which really helps me think about what I’m trying to achieve – the sensation I’m aiming to create.

In tango, everything begins with the intention of embracing. Dissociated, spiralling movements start from a desire to reach around and encircle your partner.

My copy of OTW is not yet 36 hours old, and is already full of turned-over corners, highlighted sentences and vertical lines alongside paragraphs. On a second reading (for this is not a book to read only once), I’m sure it will acquire more of each. It’s written so beautifully, part of me feels like I’m defacing a work of art. But, for me, it’s testament to the quality of a book.

This has always been my approach to books with things to teach me. They are tools which demand to be used. There is so much value that would be lost if I relied on the optimistic idea that these ideas will somehow seep into my dance at just the right time. Iona talks much of the value of practice. This is no different. These are nuggets which need to be revisited and consciously infused into my tango. Letting these things go forgotten would be so much uglier than yellow streaks on the page.

I will be photographing each of those highlighted passages, and pasting them into my tango notebook. Picking out one at a time to act as a second focal point for my lessons each week.

In some ways, OTW is a textbook. There are thousands of words of practical advice applicable, I suspect, to dancers of almost every level. It’s a guidebook to the tango world. But it’s also a poetic journey into that world, lived through the observant eyes and thoughtful mind of a devoted traveller.

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