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“Buenos Dias” I chirp as I climb into the back of the black and yellow taxi cab, escaping the merciless Buenos Aires sun.

I tell the driver my destination and wait for the inevitable “De donde sos?” (“Where are you from?”). I have been speaking Spanish every day for the last 12 years but Iʼve never been able to hide my accent. Disappointingly, Iʼm usually caught out at “Hola”!

But this time, the taxi driver seems more interested in talking about the weather: “Que se nuble! Que se nuble!” (“Let it cloud over! Let it cloud over!”) he groans. I smile as I think of my envious friends and family back home in cold, wintry London and say: “Now thatʼs something you donʼt hear too often in my country!”

From then on, I pretty much know which way our conversation is headed. Iʼve had the same such conversation in almost ever taxi journey Iʼve ever had in Buenos Aires. And believe me, thatʼs a lot of journeys!

The script usually runs along the following lines:

Taxi Driver: So where are you from?

Me: England. London

Taxi Driver: What are you doing here?
Me: Just on holiday. My husbandʼs Argentinian.

Taxi Driver: How did you meet?

Me: I used to live here and we met then.

Taxi Driver: What were you doing here?

Me: Iʼm a tango dancer and I came to study tango.
Taxi Driver: [Incredulous] An English girl dancing tango! Why would an English girl want to learn tango?!

It might seem strange to you that this should be the typical reaction in Buenos Aires. Yet, most Argentinians find it difficult to believe that around the world people in their thousands are taking up their dance. Especially when the reality is that the vast majority of Argentinians have never danced a single tango step!

Contrary to popular belief outside of Argentina, it is simply not the case that most Argentinians dance tango. Yes, there is a wonderful, thriving tango scene in Buenos Aires - bigger than anywhere else in the world - but those that dance are a tiny minority of the population. To many Argentinians, tango is something that was danced by their parents or grandparents and rejected by the young. Tango fell out of fashion around the same time as couple dancing also went out in Europe and the USA at the end of the 1950ʼs.

And so it comes as a surprise to them to hear that tango is back! Itʼs alive and kicking not just in their own country but around the world.

Yet still they are resistant to the idea. Tango belongs to Buenos Aires! It is as much part of its culture as Big Ben and double-decker buses are to London. How could someone who is not from Buenos Aires understand it? Tango is something that they seem at once fiercely proud of, yet somehow also dismissive of. Hence amazement that a foreigner should take such trouble to learn it.

Thereʼs no doubt that tango as a dance is intricately and inescapably entwined with its rich, cultural heritage. So how do I answer my driverʼs question? Why would an English girl want to learn tango? (Or even - ahem - dedicate her life to learning tango?)

And the answer seems clear to me. Because if you strip away the history, the lyrics, the culture of tango, you will find aspects of tango that are of universal appeal. Aspects that transcend tangoʼs place of birth and make it a dance that the world will fall in love with over and over again:

Universal Truth 1

TANGO IS A BEAUTIFUL DANCE TO BEHOLD: the harmony between the couple, the strong yet elegant masculinity, the wholehearted femininity, the aesthetic lines, the fluid movements, the intricate footwork playing with the musical nuances.

Universal Truth 2

TANGO IS A BEAUTIFUL DANCE TO EXPERIENCE: when we dance tango, we tap into fundamental human needs: to escape from the daily grind, to let go, to express ourselves spontaneously through music, to play, to create, to be held, to connect with another person.

And it dawns on me that there are some things that we all think of as uniquely part of our culture but which in fact happen everywhere. Taxi drivers the world over will talk about the weather. And the world over, a man and woman will feel moved by music to hold each other closely and dance.

Thatʼs tango. It belongs to Buenos Aires and it is embraced by the World.

Every year, a small group of Tango Movement students get together a few months before our Winter Ball to start preparing for our Student Show.

The Tango Movement Student Show has gone from strength to strength since its start in 2010 and has become known as the best of itʼs kind in the UK! It has also become one of the highlights of our Winter Ball.

Rehearsals take place around 2-3 months before the ball. The group meets just once a week (twice a week as the Big Day draws closer) and have the challenge of learning a choreography - a surprisingly difficult thing for dancers who have spent years learning to improvise!

The group needs to absolutely together so a great deal of effort goes into making sure that they all move as one ... and donʼt inadvertently kick each other!

The training is not always easy. There are often a few emotional wobbles during the rehearsals. But there is also amazing sense of camaraderie, focus and anticipation.

D-day always generates different emotions amongst the students. Some become incredibly nervous beforehand, only for calm to descend when the moment arrive. For others the exact opposite occurs!

And just as nervous as the performers themselves are their teachers - David & I - watching from the sidelines.

But however we feel before or during the show, the sense of euphoria once the show is over is shared by all! And the champagne can start to flow!

This year, our group comprises students from our Advanced, Intermediate and Improvers classes. There will be both veterans from previous years and brand new faces. We are incredibly excited about their performance this year and we are so looking forward to cheering them all on!

GOOD LUCK GUYS!

Watch the Video of Last Yearʼs Show with Backstage Footage

 

A few months back, we were teaching at a Tango Festival outside of London, where tango aficionados travel long distances to take part in workshops and dance the night away in the festivalʼs “milongas” (tango nights).

The atmosphere was electric and the dancers warm and effusive. One guy, however, stood apart.

I recognised him from our previous years at the festival. This year, as in the past, his expression throughout our classes was stormy. It seemed that however much he tried and despite our guidance, his movements were awkward and robotic. I admired his persistence but felt his frustration.

Saturday night was the Festivalʼs Grand Milonga and it was well-attended. Couples glided and twirled around the dance floor, torso to torso, cheek to cheek, to one beautiful tango tune after another. At the end of the night, as the tired but contented dancers began to drift off the dance floor, ready to return to their rooms, the DJ started playing some rock and roll. The mood changed and the festival-goers, mustering up one last ounce of energy, started to fling themselves around to the 1950ʼs beats.

One dancer, again, stood out. A natural dancer, he could give Elvis a run for his money. Yes, it was Mr Stormy from our classes. It was incredible to see his transformation. He was the centre of attention and we all watched him with a smile on our faces.

The next day, in class, I saw him battling away again. I decided to mention to him that I had seen him the night before and that I knew he had it in him to dance. Something lit up behind his eyes. He said, “I donʼt know where it comes from - it just kind of happens”.

I remember the same feeling when I started to dance tango. Deep down I felt I had it in me to dance - and I knew I could from dancing at parties - but the movements were unfamiliar to me and they felt imposed and unnatural.

As time passed and I dedicated more time to tango, the movements became part of me, my outlet, in fact my only way of really expressing the way the music made me feel.

I told Mr Stormy to trust that things would start to work for him. Everyone feels robotic to begin with. How can it be otherwise when we are trying to programme our body to do things it has never considered doing before? And the body, feeling that it is doing something new, automatically tenses up, exacerbating the situation.

Feeling robotic is not necessarily a bad thing. OK, it is not exactly what we had in mind we decided we would learn to dance! But I like to think of it a little like painting by numbers. At first we learn the movements, working out their path, not necessarily understanding why we are being asked to do things in a certain way. By the end of the process we have created a beautiful drawing, and it begins to make sense to us. Then we add the paint (in my mind the music and the expression), and suddenly we have a work of art.

The process of programming our body to do new things will feel a little mechanical, but it is important that we clearly instruct our body what to do. It is when we do this that we can really begin to feel and express ourselves through the movements.

So whenever weʼre learning a new movement, we should expect (and embrace) the robotic stage. It may feel awkward but, with time - and maybe when youʼre least expecting it - the movement will settle and soften until it feels like a part of you.

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