Why tango?

An Appreciation by a Leader

“Four legs, two heads, one heart.”

They face each other, assume the position, breathe in anticipation. The powerful music of the bandoneon swells for them to take in. The man initiates movement; the woman feels the direction and timing from his body. They are now mirror-image figures. He has her agreement to be led – and therein lies the balance. Without agreement and balance, there is no Tango.

How hard can it be for her to step then walk back three steps, cross in front, step back and close? Eight beats in all. So simple….yet excitement grows – the prelude to three minutes of exquisite communication between the sexes. The passionate song unfolds. You don’t have to know the person or even want to know them. It seems different with each partner. You learn about yourself through the partnership. The Tango has begun.

It takes your breath away.

So breathe. Relax.

You want to know about posture and how to move your body – not just how to do steps. How to be elegant and poised; comfortable with who you are.

Ah, this is about who I am. And who do I want to be? What mask shall I present as I find out who I am? The dancers seem to have no expression – except concentration – on their faces. The emotions are brewing within.

The heart is beating.

Someone has to decide what the steps are to be – that’s the man’s part. He must also be a strong support for the woman in her movement – because she is the focal point for the watchers. Her legs, in and out of his, tell the story. Their faces reveal only the mask. Everything of meaning is deeper.

Ocho atras; giro (sounds like “hero”) ’round to the left and right; cadencia; cadena; salida – some names of the steps and the lyrics of the songs are in “Lunfardo,” the Spanish dialect of the PorteƱos of Buenos Aires who invented Tango.

The music slows. The man stops his partner and they gently sway, suspending themselves somewhere without time. Her right hand in his left; his right hand on the small of her back. He uses his (body & mind) attitude, hands and his intentions to tell her legs what to do. She waits with him.

The music changes to a harder pulse. They move again in an expression that will never be exactly repeated, even though their feet are doing the same steps they have learned in class. This moment is how they feel right now – and it will never be precisely the same again. This is the dance that was invented for a universe of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. Dynamic. Uncertain and slightly scary. Personal.

We have dreams that might not be realized; problems eluding solution; desires life might not fulfill. In some way we are all immigrants seeking a home. But we have the answers for our troubles in this moment. We find them in Tango Argentino.

It’s our anticipated social dance, Toronto Tango’s Milonga. People from everywhere and of all ages move counter-clockwise around the room as the great Tango orchestras’ recordings play heavenly music. Bodies touch and relate, proving beyond all doubt that there is a humanity surrounding us, supporting us. The motion gratifies the physical need humans have to move rhythmically and in concert with another. Add the real intellectual challenge/satisfaction, and you know why you love Tango. Physical, metaphysical. The duality of nature.

With us in the milonga are the performers from Forever Tango – here dancing for fun after a hard week’s work on stage. They are incredible to watch; and they are incredible to dance with. This is as close as Toronto gets to being just like Buenos Aires.

Chan, Chun! The song has ended. Its emotions ran a gamut, constantly changing patterns in a surprising way that no other musical form attempts. In the last three minutes we have felt trepidation, excitement, joy, harmony, regret and satisfaction. We’ve been to other places and times and come back having shared without talking; gained without losing; experienced intensely personal feelings without being exposed or alone. It’s fantastic. Tango is more than you can say in words.

Argentine Tango has much to reveal and to give, but it does so only to those who will work to gain access. Social Tango looks much harder than it is, so almost anyone can learn to dance it; but there is always another level of difficulty. You can never learn all of the steps, because you can never learn all there is to life, and Tango is the great physical metaphor for life in a changing world where you are not quite alone. How you dance comes from who you are. So the more people you dance with, the more you find out about yourself, and others. And how to express yourself in a beautiful way, without the need for words.

Communication 101: it takes two.

Now Argentine Tango is becoming a rage again. In cities all over the world, ordinary people are drawn to the mystery; the sweet melancholy; the sensual pleasure and social satisfaction it gives. They want to learn more. In a world full of anxiety, its touch is a tonic.

We think: how long will be before our Tango scene is large enough for clubs to ignore the other music used to attract customers, and play solo Argentine Tango? Now our Toronto Tango. Full of heart.

Text by Keith Elshaw, a Toronto broadcaster and communications consultant who lives to dance Tango and help others experience the pleasure.This newspaper article was written in January, 1997.