Before Tango; After Tango

bandoneon

I began my tango journey at the end of October of last year, making today 8 months AT. In that time, there have been private lessons, group lessons, workshops, practicas, milongas, books, videos, forums, Facebook groups … YouTube pretty much assumes I only want to watch tango dances, and my Spotify playlists contain tango, the whole tango and nothing but the tango.

As for my schedule …

Taking June as an example:

  • Week 1: three group classes, a practica, a milonga and a private
  • Week 2: four group classes, a practica and two milongas
  • Week 3: nine* group classes, a practica and a milonga
  • Week 4: four group classes, a practica, a milonga, tango student drinks, and a private

*If anyone finds the fragments of my brain that week, please gather them together as best you can and post them back to me.

I’ve picked up a little tango in this time. But it’s also changed me in other ways.

Dance

To start with the obvious, there’s dance. Not just tango, but dance generally. BT, the closest I ever got to a dance floor was standing at the edge of it to photograph the first dance of a wedding couple. AT, I’ll happily do things that feel vaguely like dance and, who knows, may even look like it too.

I was watching a Foxtrot video recently (don’t ask me why; ask YouTube). What would previously have looked alien looked kind of familiar. The video was demonstrating the basic Foxtrot step and I was able to replicate it within 2-3 minutes. Having gone directly from the easiest dance in the world (Ceroc) to the hardest, other forms of dance don’t seem nearly so intimidating.

Music

BT, I’d hear tango music when Steph had her private lessons at home; I’d retreat to the office and close the door. Firmly. AT, I play almost nothing else. Walking down the street? Tango. In my office? Tango. In the winter garden, enjoying the view? Tango.

That used to be in no small part because I wanted to get used to the structure. In my early tango days, I had a very limited, very specific playlist that I used for all my lessons as all the songs had crystal clear beats and phrasing. Now I’ll happily dance to almost anything (the usual Piazzolla disclaimer applies, obviously), and I listen to it for pleasure, not for study.

Hugs

I’m a British bloke, and as such generally reserved physical contact for my partner. Ok, I’m a Londoner, and London is full of those Johnny Europeaner types who have somehow persuaded us that the double cheek kiss thing is the equivalent of shaking hands, but I was not a hugger. Hugs were reserved for a very few very close friends.

But when you dance in close embrace with someone, it seems kind of silly not to hug hello and goodbye.

Energy

I’m a sociable introvert. The best definition I’ve ever heard of the difference between extroverts and introverts is that the former are energised by socialising, while for the latter, socialising is an expenditure of energy. We can very much enjoy it, but we need some solitude afterwards to recharge.

BT, I used to aim for a good balance of time out and time at home. Around 50/50 was my limit. AT … well, you’ve seen my schedule above. I typically have one evening of downtime a week, sometimes not that. Yet it somehow works.

Priorities

Related to this, Steph pointed out that when it came to leisure activities with friends BT, there was cycling and then there was everything else. AT, there’s tango and … well, just tango, really, as there isn’t time for anything else!

And speaking of cycling, that used to be my normal way of getting around London. But I don’t want to arrive at a tango class or milonga even slightly sweaty, so I take the tube/DLR – something I almost never did BT!

My one other sacrosanct social activity is meeting up with writing friends every Wednesday evening. But even that has been sacrificed to the god of Tango in June, as I have a series of musicality classes which take place on a succession of four Wednesday evenings.

Comfort with slow progress

I’m an all-or-nothing kind of guy: very much of the ‘do something properly or don’t do it at all’ school of thought. (That much you figured out from my blog, you say?)

I’m also a quick study. Partly as a result of throwing myself into things whole-heartedly, and partly because I love learning, I tend to get pretty good at things pretty quickly. (The exceptions are things for which I have absolutely zero aptitude, like foreign languages.)

Tango isn’t like that. Partly because– well, tango. And partly because it’s a whole new world. I have no background in dance, so every aspect of it is new. Steps are new. Pivots are new. Dissociation is new. Lead and follow is new. The códigos are new. It’s all new.

Anything else with progress this slow, I would have given up. Concluded that it fell into the ‘zero aptitude’ category and moved on. Yet here I am, eight months in, still trying to get to grips with the basics of technique, still with pitifully few steps in my inventory, still working solidly. AT is a different world.

Image: Shutterstock

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