The Tango Lesson

Jun 06, 2018 by Renee Linnell
Chapter 34
Tango Lesson

When I was learning tango in the United States, I was mostly taught crap. I had no idea it was crap, but it was crap—an American version of an Argentine social dance. I loved it and I danced it terribly.

Then, one day, a young Argentine couple from Chicago came to teach a workshop at the dance studio where I worked. They amazed me. He was so handsome, dressed in baggy, hip, multi-pocketed pants, with a chain hanging down the side, and big thick chunky silver rings covering his hands. She was gorgeous—tiny, with similar baggy pants, rolled up to her knees and sexy strappy little high heels. Her short hair was dyed a purple red, and she wore dark nail polish and red lipstick. And they danced the most beautiful tango I had ever seen: slow, sensual, rhythmic, yet with dynamic flashes of leg when you least expected it. He held her so close and with so much love. There was no “flash and trash” here. No sloppy, open embrace. No jabbing of his legs in between hers and knocking her off balance. No struggle. No fight. No tight sequined slit dress. Just love and rhythm and impeccable technique. When the song was over, they simply stopped in an embrace—no dip, no flip, no garish split. I had never seen anything like it. I had to learn. 

I took as many lessons as I could while they visited. And then I tried to practice, but I couldn’t. No one else danced that way. I went down to Argentina to practice, and no one danced that way there either.

At our next lesson, I asked the young man, “How can I practice this if no one else dances this way?”
He said, “You practice on your own.”
“Why would I spend so much time learning this way if I can’t ever dance it with anyone?”
He looked at me with his warm golden brown eyes and said, “Renee, now that you know tango can be danced like this, how could you dance it any other way?”
I was stunned. He was right. And so I practiced. On my own. I practiced and practiced and practiced. For years. And I went back to Argentina and danced there and kept practicing with all the old men, all the men with panzas (bellies), all the men who were more than happy to hold a young girl close and let her practice this slow different dancing with them while they wrestled with her and tried to jab their legs in between her feet and knock her off balance.

And then one day, years later, something miraculous happened. I was at my favorite milonga in Buenos Aires, after almost nine months of being away, and I danced my first set of tangos with a man who held me close and moved slowly—so slowly, in fact, that I could effectively dance as I had been practicing. It was the best set of tangos I had ever danced with someone besides that male instructor.

In Argentina, a man asks a woman to dance by making eye contact with her from across the room. If she wishes to dance, she holds his eye contact, and they meet on the dance floor. They do not talk; they simply dance. Once the first dance is over, they talk until the next dance begins. (Back in the day, this was the only time young chaperoned couples had to converse without being overheard.) However, if the woman does not wish to dance, she looks away when a man looks at her from across the room. In this way, the man’s delicate ego can be protected; he can say to himself, “She just didn’t see me.”

After the beautiful set of tangos with the new amazing dancer, I sat down and noticed a young, hot guy was looking at me. I looked back. We met on the dance floor. He held me close and danced exactly the way my young instructor had. I was in heaven.

When the song ended, he said in Spanish, “Wow, you are a beautiful dancer! Are you Argentine?”
“No,” I replied, “Norteamericana.”
He told me it was extremely rare for a young North American dancer to dance as I did. We danced three more tangos (the usual set), and he walked me to my table and thanked me.

I sat down and looked up: Another young, hot guy was looking at me. We danced. He held me close and danced with me in that same slow style. My night continued like this until my feet were so sore I could dance no more.

And so it happened. A magical door into an unknown world of young, handsome, incredibly talented tango dancers had opened for me. But the key to that door was this: I had to get to that level of ability in that style of dance before I even noticed them, before they even noticed me.
When I asked them why I had never seen them before, they said they had never seen me either, yet we had all gone to the same milongas for years. All I had seen were old men with large bellies who smelled like alcohol and cigarettes and dirty hair. And I was willing to dance with these men because I loved tango and I thought only old men danced tango. I had no idea I could dance tango with young, handsome men who smelled amazing and didn’t beat me up on the dance floor.

I also realized I had never watched; I had just been dancing with all the bad dancers. The bad dancers stay in the center of the dance floor, bumping into each other, while the good dancers dance around the outside edge. So all I saw from the center were the other bad dancers. I was so intent on improving my own dance that I never stopped to just watch.

My entire tango world had shifted from “hell” to “heaven” once I brought myself up to the level of “heaven” dancing. I had held the key to my own liberation in my lawsuit and here, in the world of tango, I held the key, as well.

Couldn’t this be true—mustn’t this be true—for anything in life? Finding a partner, finding a job, finding a house or apartment or even magical wonderful new friends—weren’t these the same? If I did the work, if I was willing to change and evolve and grow, to let go of behaviors and ways of being that no longer served me, wouldn’t I, in effect, be raising myself to a new level in life, be opening myself up to wonderful new possibilities?

Yes! I thought as I remembered this tango experience. Yes! I believe I would. Yes! I believe I will.