Chasing Thirty: Learning To Tango

Andrea is on a quest to check off a bucket list of items in her 29th year. You can read more about her adventures at her blog, Thirty-Things.

Oh Flavio. I’m glad it was you. You were commanding yet gentle; firm but kind. I was afraid but you showed me what to do. We had a moment you and I. We laughed. We cried. Well, I cried on the inside anyway for my disastrous amateur tango. Yes, tango. What did you think I was talking about?

Let’s backtrack to what I was even doing in that milonga making an ass of myself in front of all of these painfully cool Argentines.

Tango had long been on my list of things to learn. I’m an avid salsa dancer and I’d probably do nothing but take dance classes during the day if it wasn’t for pesky facts like having to work. Both Tango and Salsa can be said to be sexy dances but in exactly opposite ways. Salsa is cheerful and quick, a party dance; the connection is light and flirtatious–kind of like the best first date ever. Tango is a dance full of longing and romantic desperation; a dance of people who have either missed their chance to be together, or know they will never get one at all. You don’t know the meaning of dancing together ‘as one’ until you’ve done tango; you must be close enough to the man to know what he will do before he does it.

Ninna and I took tango classes every weekday we were in Argentina in a studio down the street from our language school. The other people at the tango classes were the a mix of ages, nationalities and professions – something that I’ve come to expect in classes like this. Half the fun is speculating about what brings people there. Are they trying to meet someone? Get some exercise? Did they OD on Dancing with the Stars? Or do they have a list of things they always wanted to do and this happens to be the moment? And there are always those men who have NO idea what they’re doing but don’t hesitate to offer you instruction.

One rainy Tuesday morning before my Spanish class I took a private class in a studio across town. The lesson was with a couple who were elegant and kind, they asked me if I knew any other dances and I said ‘why yes, I salsa.’ They could tell, they told me and I beamed. They lulled me into a foolish sense of self-confidence these two. I remember catching a couple of glances of myself sliding around the floor and thinking ‘holy shit, I am totally doing the tango!’ I felt completely prepared for the excursion to the milonga that Ninna and I had promised each other we’d make that Thursday.

The milonga was not quite what I had pictured. I had been lead to believe that it would be full of older, mercifully slow-moving, heavily after-shaved men who would communicate via some subtle code of lingering glances and eyebrow raises. But in fact, the place was full of attractive, hip looking young people who were all gliding around the floor like they’d come out of the womb doing the tango.

I sat nervously on the sidelines with Ninna, simultaneously hoping someone would ask me to dance and praying that they wouldn’t. After a while, a thirty-ish guy named Flavio who’d been killing it on the dance floor for the better part of an hour came over and held out his hand. I was so nervous I was shaking. I danced with my eyes closed, not so that I could feel the music, but so I wouldn’t have to see the snickers I was imagining on the faces of the many, many people watching. It felt as though I’d forgotten every thing I’d learned, like one of those nightmares where you show up to an exam you’ve not studied for.

When you dance with someone in a milonga, you stay with them for four songs. Four songs! Do you know how long that is? What a commitment that is? Poor Flavio. But he was so nice, “you have the idea” he said. The idea maybe; the steps, the posture and the rhythm not so much.

“Was it as bad as I thought?” I asked Nina after the eternity that was those four songs had passed.

“I thought you looked pretty good for a beginner.”

Reader, she was being kind. By ‘good’ I’m pretty sure she meant ‘you didn’t actually fall down, so there’s that.’

A little humiliating? Yes. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.

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