Trip Start Jul 12, 2011
Trip End Dec 19, 2011

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Flag of Argentina  , Capital Federal District,
Friday, September 23, 2011

My good friend Nacho introduced me to a piece of heaven on earth a week and a half ago (I'm writing this on Oct. 3), also known as the Academia Nacional de Tango at the Piedras station of the Subte Línea A. For ARS$300 you can get 20 tango lessons in a relatively small group from two fantastic instructors. Each lesson lasts about 2 ˝ hours too, so you definitely get your money's worth.

If ARS$300 sounds like a lot for a set of tango lessons, doing the math will help you understand how affordable it is. ARS$300 x (USD$1/ARS$4) = USD$75 for 20 lessons x (1 lesson/20 lessons) = USD$3.75/lesson = WIN!!!!! My high school algebra teacher would be proud. Let me restate that: I can get a 2 ˝ hour tango lesson from good instructors in a small group for under 4 bucks.

I have fallen in love with the philosophy of the dance itself. The instructors quickly steered us away from trying to learn a long series of steps or anything of that sort; rather, they worked to help us learn how to "caminar" (“walk”) in a freestyle dance that we could steer in any direction we chose and modify with any moves that we wanted to modify it with. How does that work with two people who have to know what’s coming next in the routine when there’s no routine?!?!?! It works like this:

The man leads. The woman follows. It might sound a bit machistic at first, but that’s actually how it works. Tango is designed for the man to think and for the woman to follow, and when you get a good leader and a good follower paired up on the dance floor (or on a street corner in La Boca) the results are breathtaking. I was quite startled to learn that, as a man trying to learn tango, I didn’t have steps to memorize for the most part; instead, I had to learn how to guide my partner through the dance that was in my head by communicating that vision to her via nonverbal signals.

It is worth noting here that, in respect to tango, some women, and some men, unfortunately do not understand how the basic rule of cooperation and mutual consent plays into this. When they first begin to learn they actually can end up dragging their partner through several steps due to their impatience. This happened to me during class, and the result simply doesn’t look pretty. This is especially hard to watch when you see a man who is unwilling to listen to the nonverbal cues of his partner, and simply drags her through half of a song! In these situations, no communication occurs between the two dancers – one simply tries to do the right steps, but fails to guide his partner, resulting in the dance equivalent of a train wreck. It would seem that such a relationship on the dance floor would perhaps mirror a couple’s relationship off the dance floor.

Herein lies the beauty of tango: although the man leads, he has to learn his partner’s personality and rhythm, and she has to consent to let him lead. The two dancers can only move as one unit, and for that to work they must move together. While the first few steps may feel a little awkward for two people who are new to dancing with each other, once a rhythm and relationship have been established, they can then dance for hours! : ) In each moment, there is the signal, the consent, and then the move together as a unit. Also, in the case of the woman, she doesn’t even have to have practiced tango very much to really shine! She just needs to be a good follower. Nacho showed the whole class this when, during the showcase time at the end of the class, he asked a young woman to be his dance partner who had not danced tango for very long. She resisted at first because she was scared she wouldn’t do well, but finally agreed. The result was absolutely breathtaking. We all watched Nacho guide her through the steps like a master dancer, and she really shined! After 6 weeks of lessons every day, he’s a real pro! Get a bad leader, however, and it doesn’t work the same.

If you head over to a milonga somewhere in Buenos Aires (group dances that occur in cafes, parks, etc. where you go and dance with random people), take note that the couples who are dancing well likely didn’t memorize any steps, or plan out any sort of routine, before they began. Instead, they learned how to communicate with each other, and they are free dancing as they communicate “sin palabras”. What a beautiful thing!


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