(Published in Business Standard on October 6, 2012)
I committed, a few weeks ago, to spending one column telling you what’s so great about tango. This is that column—partly because I meant to think up some other ideas, but didn’t have time now that I spend all my waking hours looking up YouTube videos of debates and news clips related to the US election. It beats me why I’m so interested in the US election. I suspect that CNN has somehow found a way to whisper into people’s ears as they sleep about how the US’s choice will impact us all.
Sometimes it also beats me why I’m so interested in tango—usually when my feet hurt and somebody is shouting at me for having missed their birthday/anniversary/bypass surgery because I was at tango. First, it’s hard as all hell. Think of it as having a list of seventeen things to do simultaneously, a list that changes every second, and that you must complete before tackling the next one, else you can’t proceed in time or space. Second, as a woman you’re mostly dancing in heels, which means you end up spending insane amounts of money on shoes, efficiently hurting both your wallet and your feet and back in one fell swoop. Thirdly, as I have noted before, it takes over your life in much the same way as having a baby does—all of a sudden, and completely. Fourth, you can dance for years and never really be any good at it. Fifth, did I mention the shoes?
But it’s worth all of that. Among the fascinations of tango is, of course, the fact that it’s a beautiful dance, to beautiful music, that can express everything from I-won-the-lottery-and-here-I-am- -about-on-a-yacht-in-the-Caribbean, to My-husband-won-the-lottery-and-ran-off-with-my-sister-and-now-I-sleep-on-the-subway-and-drink-a-lot. But equally interesting is the thing it does to your head.
Tango is a leader’s dance, in that the man (or person dancing the leader’s role) decides what to do, when to do it, and in which direction. The woman (or person dancing the follower’s role) follows, though she has a fair amount of space for musical interpretation. If, like me, you’re basically a tomboy control freak, your kneejerk reaction to the idea of being led is to stick out your chin, dig in your heels and say: Oh yeah? Make me. But you have to suck up this fact if you’re going to get anywhere.
It took me several classes to stop resisting the basic premise, but as I discovered the skill and art of following, I realised that it is as lovely as it is difficult. You have few, but vital responsibilities: follow, don’t anticipate; connect to your partner to translate his energy into your movement; try and make every movement look good. Tango is about the only area in my life that is not gender-neutral, and I like it that way. Even tomboy control freaks must admit that there’s something deliciously pleasant about being taken care of, and they can allow themselves that luxury on the dance floor in a way that they can’t in the rest of their lives for reasons they haven’t completely worked out yet.
Leaders have it much worse, of course: they have to decide everything at every point, communicate their intentions to the followers, and navigate while doing so—all that, hopefully, to the music. As a follower you cannot but have some sympathy for your partner’s travails (until that inevitable moment when they lead your ass straight into the business end of a heel).
The addiction of tango, the greatest challenge, is ultimately the connection between leader and follower—seeing whether both dancers can understand each other and make it all work. Try it. You’ll end up getting shouted at too.