Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Time To Tango

Everyone has a music that fits them—a rhythm that beats in time with their heart, a melody that makes their feet move, a soundtrack that accompanies them when they dance with a broom in the kitchen late at night after everyone has gone to bed.  It turns out that mine is tango.  All along, those years swaying down the sidewalk humming, my steps were being led by the poignant melodies and wrenchingly piquant rhythms of a music formed by years of European influence in a land of South American passion and drama.   
On Monday, I was treated to my first formal introduction to the dance style that haunts cinematic dreams of Argentina when some friends and I visited the PPAA for their Monday night “Noche de Buenas Aires.”  Though the building is plain from the outside, once we crossed the threshold of the dance floor, we were transported back in time to an era when partner dancing was a pastime and a form of socialization, not simply a thing to do to pick up or romance a date. 
The music for tango is a blend of classical styles; intricate piano passages, lush strings, playful counterpoint, sultry accordion, and a steady emphasis on the downbeat that outlines a dignified step slightly slower than the normal walking speed.  Dancing to this music is a transcription of melodies and subtle rhythms with your steps, interpreting the music as a responsive duet with your partner.  
The instructor, Robert Hauk, was excellent.  He began by teaching us not the steps and turns, but how to walk properly.  Essentially, the basic tango is synchronized walking, a smooth placing of feet and shifting of weight.  Once we had mastered this, he had us stand, uncomfortably close, chest to chest with our partners.  Without touching in any other way, we were to walk around the room, maintaining contact.  In order for this to work, there has to be an equal give and take, a meeting in the middle—if one person is in the other’s space or too distant, their partner will inevitably feel tense and off-balance.  Graduating from this exercise, we were taught the gentle embrace that adorns this wordless connection and were set loose to enjoy the endless diversion of listening to the music and our partner’s movement and responding accordingly. 
At the PPAA, songs are danced in sets of four with one partner, then you are given the opportunity to dance with another partner.  It is the ultimate social mingling—learning the movements and styles of each person in the room, sharing a wordless conversation as you move through the complex rhythms together, listening to the music and the other person’s body as you circumnavigate the room.  By the end of the evening, I felt an intimate connection with quite a few people there, though I scarcely remembered their names or their faces—they are the details that are forgotten as you learn the more important features of how a person hears the music and turns it into a movement.  
Although we were the ultimate novices in the room, the regulars at PPAA are a gracious sort and invited us all to dance the entire night.  When we weren’t dancing—which wasn’t often—the room was a bouquet of lovely couples who were obviously accomplished dancers, each with their own distinctive panache and style.   It was a remarkably exquisite evening, hopefully one of many.  I look forward to returning and highly recommend this venue for all potential tango-lovers!

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