January 22, 2006

Argentine tango

Writing about web page http://www.thetangoclub.com/index.html

I went to tango today for the very first time, and it was a very interesting experience. Largely because I felt I learnt a lot (or rather had my attention drawn to certain things) outside the realms of dance.

The dance itsef is all about tuning in, paying attention, making a connection…all the things Londoners don't do in the day to day commute. Unlike ballroom tango, it's not choreographed and is a much more subtle dance, sort of a sensual walk? I'm not sure that's the right description, but it's amazing to watch two people dancing in harmony that's a result only of cues that the leader is giving with their body, and that the follower can FEEL (as opposed to a visual clue or a recalled step). I'd imagine that people that have been doing it for a fair while can quite literally do it with their eyes closed.

The first lesson (being as were beginners) is all about tuning in to each other's smallest movements: you learn both as a follower and as a leader so you need to know how to give those cues as well. Unlike choreographed partner dances (salsa, waltz etc etc etc), you don't know what's coming next, which I think actually makes it LESS likely that there will be toes trodden on: you have to either relinquish control or, conversley, be very clearly decisive.

Those're the bits that are difficult to explain (although the teacher, Liz, does it very very well). Now for the bits that really fascinated me and made me think!

Firstly, there was a really interesing mix of people there. I was really impressed at some people that had come alone and appeared to be really quite shy. They'd had the guts to leave their comfort zones, not only by being there but by overcoming their blushes and really getting involved in the lesson. Then there was a couple planning to go to Buenos Aires (lessons a christmas present from wife to husband…and perhaps a "pretty please can we go to Buenos Aires" nudge :) ), someone going to Argentina soon and wanting to learn a little bit, some people there out of curiosity (partly, for me) and a mixture of others: I didn't get to talk to everyone about why they were there.

The first task was to partner up with someone, and play "simon says" but without the words: a mirror game. One person was leading and one following. This task taught me that I'm actually quite sensitive to other people's actions and emotions (I think). It was interesting to see how people mirror the leader. Some people seemed to need to look directly at the part they had to mirror (leg/ arm etc), and then think about doing it, whereas some people could just take it all in an reproduce it without too much bother.

The rest of the lesson is the bit that really made me think. In the practice embrace (holding each others shoulders), the aim was to tune in to the other person's movements: to feel when they were moving, which way and on which foot. It was so interesting that whenever the leader (whether yourself or someone else) had even a fleeting thought about moving in a certain direction on a certain foot, by the time they'd changed their mind and made a different decision, the follower would've already responded to a thought so fleeting that you're not even sure if you thought it at all. I'm not sure if this is the same for ballroom style dances. I think it's a good sign though, because it means your partner's connected enough to sense that thought and act on it. It's all about tuning in enough to feel shifts in weight about your axis: this goes back to the no trodden toes! The leader should be able to 'tell' the follower where to move, thus creating a space for their foot.

Another thing I really thought about was tactility: I'm wondering if I might have become a lot less tactile than I ever have been before. Resting my hands on various strangers' shoulders wouldn't have created any panic at all for me before: physical contact was so frequent that it never felt anything but natural. Today it occurred to me how many months have passed by with very little physical contact. Even when I go back to university to see friends, hugging them feels slightly awkward, as opposed to the comforting norm that it used to be for me.

London just isn't a very touchy feely place: a hug takes me by surprise! In the commuter rush, everyone stands rigidly in the hope that they won't touch against anyone else. Even walking in London is like an obstacle course: everyone desperately concentrating on avoiding walking into other people. All this happens in loads of other towns and cities, but it seems so constant in London and is such a negative attitude to perpetuate. I wonder if it's conditioned people to be anti day-to-day physical contact on a platonic level: the odd comforting hug and numerous other slight touches that can communicate more than words ever could…see the link to tango?

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  1. I only noticed how impersonal and negative the Newcastle commuting experience really is on Friday evening. Normally I don't notice other Metro passengers as I'm either reading or talking to someone I know. But on this journey home, those of us living for the cash machine/working for the weekend were accompanied by a scruffy man, who – judging by his bottle of Sprite half-filled with a dark liquid – was presumably drunk, played a acoustic guitar and sang The Blues. He was quite good actually, and his songs made nice background noise to my reading of the paper. I couldn't help grinning at this pissing on the conventions of the public transport system. When I looked up from my Guardian I noticed maybe a couple of people smiling, clearly sharing my amusement/appreciation. But the vast majority were sitting/standing in stony silence, with really grumpy looks on their faces as they tried to ignore this maverick troubadour. The Metro (and I daresay the Tube) should give vagrants guitars, get them off the streets and let them loose on their system, just to force commuters to lighten up and be a bit nicer to each other.

    Mind, the guy might've had BO and all the miserable people – who were sitting nearer to him than me – were enjoying the tunes but equally felt uncomfortable by his stench.

    22 Jan 2006, 12:21

  2. Have you ever done Salsa Shall? I'm just wondering how similar it is, it sounds like it might be. I want to find some sort of dance class where I don't have to constantly change partners, much as it's a nice social thing to do I can't get the hang of it unless I keep practising with one person (I'd be the one being very slow with following what the other person is doing… left foot there… no that's my right, your left… no there, not there etc etc)

    22 Jan 2006, 16:13

  3. Ricky

    Aww Shalinee…hugs!

    DWC - I recently had a similar experience in the big smoke, on the circle line (which buskers tend to jump on and off more than any other line). This guy played a passable rendition of Ashes To Ashes by Bowie, then broke a string and carried on regardless. Most people didn't mind him, and were fairly happy to throw some loose change his way. That was until he got on his soapbox and started spouting some home truths about Blair and Islam, at which point people turned up their noses.

    Funny how commuters feel comfortable listening to a busker's guitar, but not his politics.

    29 Jan 2006, 18:44

  4. thomaso

    For anyone interested in tango the nearest workshops are in Birmingham and Oxford. If there are any at Warwick next term let me know.

    28 Jul 2007, 17:01

  5. Hi there:

    Just to let you know that there is a tango scene about to begin in Coventry. Check our website for further information (at the mo I worked literally 10 minutes on it so it’s as basic as it can get).


    11 Oct 2007, 01:12

  6. This is the right website!

    30 Apr 2008, 19:04

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