Why you should dance the Argentine Tango, and how to go about learning it.

How to turn yourself into James Bond, or his femme fatale, in two words.

What’s all the buzz about Argentine Tango and why should you care?  It’s simply the best legal way to enter a world of fiery passion.  Anyone can do it.  Young, old, fit, round, man, woman, tall, short…anyone.

“Let’s Tango”

Those two words raise the ambient temperature, turn a man’s blazer into a tuxedo jacket, and transform a woman’s little black dress into a long satin number slit to the hip more surely than ever did, “shaken, not stirred.”

Excited yet?  You should be.  Read on to learn how you, yes you, can learn to undergo that metamorphosis at will.

First, we need to clarify a few things.  The Tango represents a class of related dance styles, all characterized by drama and passion.  Even within Argentine Tango specifically, there are a number of different styles, and the names and characteristics can be confusing to the uninitiated.  Not to worry, you’ll soon find that it doesn’t matter.

Now, on to learning to Tango:

All dance is an expression of its music, so pick a couple of pieces of Argentine Tango music, close your eyes, and listen to it.  Don’t over-think this, just do it.  Now do it again.  Now put the CD in your car for later.  What you want to do is get the feel of the music, so that you start to understand it and can follow along, even if only by drumming your fingers. 

One thing you’ll notice while doing this is that the music will vary quite a bit in its tempo and emotion over the course of a single song.  Tango dancers are expected to follow suit.  This differs from most ballroom dances in which the tempo is always in a certain, fairly narrow, range regardless of the song and doesn’t vary over the course of the song.  Further, the emotion in a typical ballroom song tends to vary only a little – you get crescendos and the like, but you rarely get a song that starts out sad and expresses excitement later.  Argentine tango is more like great sex: one song and therefore one dance can roam from slow and intense to fast and fierce to humorous to light and gentle.

There’s a lot of improvisation, and it’s also a dance in which the lady will often take a more active role – that is, the leader will suggest, the lady will follow and sometimes respond with a  suggestion of her own.  Again, like good sex.

It is a “smooth” dance, which means that it is meant to move across the floor in walking steps like Waltz and Fox Trot, as opposed to a rhythm dance like Swing, Rumba, or Cha Cha, which can move around, but are intended to be danced in place.  Note that “smooth” and “rhythm” have nothing to do with “slow” and “fast” in this context – there are fast smooth dances and slow rhythm dances.  Argentine Tango is a smooth dance of varying speed.

It’s one of the only dances where you spend the whole time looking down, but for goodness sake stand up straight while you do it.  Many a dancer takes that too far and looks like the hunchback of Notre Dame.  Have your eyes express down more than your neck and keep your back as straight as possible.

It has foot leads!  That is, the leader may actually move his partner’s foot with his own foot.

So now you’re getting into the music, and you could describe the dance to someone…how do you go about actually learning to do it?

It’s simple – you take lessons. There is a pervasive myth among those who “can’t dance” that those who can were somehow born with it in their blood.  This is simply not true.  There are only two ways to become a good dancer, particularly when we’re talking about a dance involving leading and following: you either grow up surrounded by it, or you take lessons.  Neither is a guarantee – there are plenty of Argentinians who can’t dance anything, much less the Tango, and there are plenty of people who’ve taken lessons who’ve completely forgotten what they’ve learned.  You have to take it seriously.

The good news is, if you take lessons, and you take them seriously, you will become a good dancer. Whether you spend your time at a big Arthur Murray Dance Center, being taught half a dozen different dances so that you can dance anywhere, or you specialize in Argentine Tango, googling for local group classes and taking private lessons in someone’s house, you will have opened a door to an exciting life you never believed you could have.

In a few short months, you’ll be in a crowded club, exchanging a smoky glance with your partner-of-the-moment, hand slipping into hand, bodies into an embrace, feet, calves, and thighs slipping past each other as you start to dance.  Your partner’s breath cools the sweat on your neck as it thrills you to connect with another human being in this way. The other couples are forgotten as you move together, swept along dancing to a song that may be sharp, fast, and staccato one moment, and the next so s-l-o-w it aches.

When the dance is over, smile and say thank you – never mind that you’re a little breathless.

What are you waiting for?

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