Untangling the Tango in Islington

London Event Reviews by May B

Anyone who’s watched even a sliver of Strictly Come Dancing must have toyed with the idea of going along to some dance classes so that they can emulate the grace or passion of the dancers on our Saturday night screens.

And so, this evening, I found myself leaving the office in the City and taking the Northern line to Angel to attend an Argentine Tango lesson. It’s a drop-in affair (£15 a go) which is just as well as my “partner” for the evening dropped-out at the last minute leaving me alone and clutching only a cup of coffee for moral support.

It’s a 10 minute along Liverpool Road to reach an archway with the words “Syracuse” above and a chalk board below – interesting that at the Moving Arts Base there are all manner of dance classes (including Egyptian Dance!) and more varieties of yoga that anyone would have thought possible. Apparently, there are also a number of talking therapies available here as well – I hoped it wasn’t for those who needed their egos bolstering after failing with their dance class.

The classes for beginners are on Wednesdays and Thursdays and run from 730pm to 930pm. Being early I chatted to Bruno, the leader and his follower, the petite and pretty Natalie. They have a passion for their subject and charmed the other early birds with the history of Argentine Tango – lots of European men went to Buenos Aires to earn money for their families back home. And such was the gender imbalance that they honed their dance skills in order to compete for the few women available as dance partners.

I must admit that I was feeling more than a little vulnerable – those who hadn’t invested in dance shoes (and apparently most don’t until they are sure the tango is for them after 4-5 lessons) were required to stand and dance in our stockings or socks to protect the studio 2 floor. I was envious of those who wore jeans or casual skirts whereas I was in a formal office dress. While we waited for the others to arrive, we watched as Bruno and Natalie warmed up. The graceful ease with which they glided across the room, their bodies in perfect synchronicity and their feet appearing as if glued together whilst tackling the most intricate steps made for compelling viewing. Whilst mesmerised by their movements, I was feeling increasingly concerned about whether I was going to be able to do anything resembling their demonstration. Gulp.

By 730pm there were about 24 of us (and pretty evenly matched male and female wise, even though only three had arrived as couples) and whilst there were lots of newbies, everyone seemed to start chatting quite happily to everyone else. Natalie led a brief introduction telling us more about the style of tango and the music (we were even given a hand out where the Spanish words and their English translation of one song “Jamas retornaras” appeared so we could connect with the emotion). The course rotates every eight weeks so people can dip in and out to cover all the classes – we were informed that tonight was the Courtado. The teaching method was outlined – Stepping. Posture. Embrace. Emotion. Dissociation. At this stage I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. But I was soon to learn.

We started by lining up against one of the walls and practising the tango walk (feet remain on the floor, feet and knees together, body slightly leaning forward…) – eight paces forward, eight paces back, weight shift from foot to foot a few times, a sideways step and back and so on…well, you get the picture. Most of us felt comfortable at this level. Bruno and Natalie then gently pointed out some of the improvements we could all make by exaggerating some of the inaccuracies that they had observed. So we did it again for a while. Although it took a lot of concentration, it was actually quite relaxing.

Then we had a go at dissociating our shoulders and arms from our hips by repeating quarter turns first one way and then the other. It was reassuring that they allowed us to become thoroughly familiar with these moves before guiding us along to the next element.

After having the etiquette of how to stand and hold your partner, we were paired up and allowed to practice the tango walk around the studio. And this we did. Nearly everyone was smiling as we all stumbled and tripped around the room – luckily there was no toe-treading although there were a few bumper car collisions as we navigated the corners and turns. But everyone was thoroughly good natured. There were a few more demonstrations and tips for the whole group and we set off again – with different partners this time. And all the while we were dancing, Bruno and Natalie stepped up to talk to various couples to gently answer questions and correct posture or demonstrate the steps again. No egos were harmed in the teaching of this dancing.

Everyone was trying really hard, but we were all having fun and being patient – and there was more than one fit of giggles and one lady was almost crying with laughter. It looks so easy – and then you have a go and realise that it well and truly isn’t!

The next stage was the men walking outside the “lane” of the woman’s steps – which looked graceful when demonstrated by Bruno and Natalie but turned out to be fiendishly tricky when we all had a go. Lots more practice followed. And a few more corner pile ups. At 830pm (how time flies when you are enjoying yourself!) they showed us the courtado. We were in shock. They then moved all the girls to one side of the room and the guys to the other while the broke it down into three component parts – a little more accessible to us mere mortals. And so we progressed, quite rapidly I thought, to this fairly challenging step. Success!

By way of incentive, we were told that a beginner’s Milonga (the name for a tango dance) was being held on 3rd December in Shoreditch. Further details of the classes and events are at www.tanguito.co.uk

And for those of you who are already tango experts, please note that this weekend (18th-20th November) there is the 6th London International Tango Festival (www.tangoinlondon.com).

Why sit at home on a Saturday night watching them dance on the TV when you could be out there dancing yourself?

Posted Date
Nov 16, 2011 in London Event Reviews by May B by May B
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