There's a lot of reasons to like Argentine Tango. And dancing in general. Letting go, embracing your inner whatever, freely flowing – what's not to like?
Last night Laurel and I went to our first class being offered by the Argentine Tango Salem community. We took up Argentine Tango in 2006, but never felt comfortable dancing what we'd learned (a blog post sample of our initial Tango journey is here, here, and here).
So we're making a fresh start.
Laurel likes American Tango more than Argentine, a style we took up last year. But I'm intrigued by the unique spontaneity and intimacy of Argentine Tango, in part because it appeals to my Tai Chi soul.
Both arts are founded on what Tai Chi calls "listening skills."
You've got to shut off your mental chatter and get attuned to what's going on with people in the room. This centrally means your partner. Also, those close to you. Most importantly, yourself.
Elizabeth Wartluft is teaching the Tango class. One of the first things she did was ask us students, "What's the job of the leader?"
People threw out answers. "Lead!" "Not bump into other dancers." "Protect the follower." I didn't say anything. Then Elizabeth said, "What else?"
Instantly "Interpret the music" popped into my mind. I almost blurted the thought out. Then I wondered whether I should let someone else answer. Or whether this was the best answer. I hesitated.
In a few seconds Elizabeth answered her own question, when nobody else did, with "Interpret the music!" (or words to that effect) Right away I said to myself, "Geez, why didn't you follow your instinct and speak out?"
For me, that moment was the most instructive part of the class. I'd frozen myself with over-thinking.
That's a no-no for both leaders and followers. In dancing you've got to go with what you feel. A leader has to be decisive in his leading; a follower has to be confident in her following (usually men lead and women follow, but not always).
Most of the rest of the class was aimed at learning basic leading and following skills, including feeling comfortable maneuvering in a crowded room – since Argentine Tango often is danced in close quarters.
Elizabeth had us play some dancing games, one of which gave me an "uh-oh" worry at the beginning. We were supposed to walk around randomly on the dance floor by ourselves when she said "solo," then link up with someone next to us when she said "couple."
I knew that in Argentina, men often dance with each other. But this isn't on my list of favorite things to do. To me, two women dancing together looks perfectly natural (and often hot!). Two men, though … not the same.
So I'd spend my solo time hoping that when the "couple" signal came, I'd be standing next to a female. At first that happened, in part because I was angling to make it so.
Then I started to relax into a whatever mode. A few times I grabbed a guy and led him around. At least once another guy looked at me and I said "go ahead and lead." He did. I felt fine with it.
Salem is sort of an uptight town, compared to Portland and Eugene – which have thriving Tango communities. I'm expecting that as Tango takes off here, this will help produce a looser vibe.
It did for me last night. I'm looking forward to more.