Amazing! Last night Salem actually seemed interesting for a couple of hours.
We pushed aside the tables in the downtown Beanery coffee house and danced away on a nice wood floor while Tango music played over the sound system.
It took a San Diegan, though, to wake up sleepy Salem.
That would be Matt, the guy in the middle of the photo who distinguished himself by (1) being by far the youngest amongst us, and (2) actually knowing how to dance Argentine Tango.
The rest of us ranged from rusty beginner/intermediates (Karen, in middle, plus Laurel and me, on the right), to Tim and Jan on the left – neighbors of ours who claimed they'd never danced at all before, but looked pretty darn good after just a few minutes of Matt's high quality instruction.
Matt is visiting relatives here and emailed me after coming across my blog posts about Argentine Tango in Salem.
Which, after organized classes ended in 2006, is as hidden as many other exotic pursuits are in this town, whose main claim to fame is that it lies between Portland and Eugene.
So I told Matt that there wasn't any place to dance Tango. He responded that this was fine; he'd be happy to just get together for a Salem – San Diego Argentine Tango exchange.
Since this would be pretty much a one-way street, given his much greater knowledge of this challenging dance, I morphed his offer into an introduction to Tango.
I learned a lot in the three hours we spent together. Matt has a nice dance philosophy. A focus on simple basics rather than complex patterns. That's the authentic Argentine Tango way, but it's easy to get side-tracked.
You can look pretty darn good dancing Tango by just walking. In fact, "just walking" is the essence of Tango.
One of our instructors, Carlos, liked to say that it's all about a man walking with a woman so she will fall in love with him (for the duration of the dance, at least). He can't be too forceful, and he can't be too diffident.
That's the challenge of leading. Which is matched by the challenge of following.
Since Argentine Tango is highly spontaneous and improvisational, there are few patterned moves where the leader and follower can go on autopilot.
You've got to be focused in the moment, and the music, to make the dance work – staying connected with your partner, as well as your own center.
I enjoyed Matt's story about how he dances with a woman regularly in San Diego who started Tango classes about the same time he did. They know each other well, but there's always something new to experience with Tango (as with life).
Matt said that she usually dances in close embrace, with her eyes closed, as women often do in Argentine Tango. He can feel her heart beating, her breath, how the muscles in her face change when she smiles or briefly opens her eyes.
During one song he felt a "fire" in his chest. An energy. Outwardly he was dancing as he always did; inwardly he was leading with more Tango passion.
When they stopped, she said "there was something different about you." She could feel it, just as he could feel what she was experiencing.
Moments like those are the magic of Tango. I've felt them only a few times. But once felt, they keep you coming back for more.
Matt was asked if Tango dancers typically dance other styles, or if they concentrate on Tango. He said that usually Tango is it. The attraction to this dance is so strong, there's little or no desire to waltz, or swing, or fox trot, or whatever.
Understandable. Very much so. As you can see for yourself…