A man was put into a potentially awkward situation a couple of nights ago. You know the one, when he’s at a formal dinner and a skilled professional dancer asks him to dance. This however wasn’t one of those normal situations. This was Barack Obama, husband, father, POTUS, and now, tango dancer.
All the world’s press ‘eyes’ were on him, with reactions and micro-expressions being analysed in minutiae as he accepted the invitation. At first he politely declined, but then rose from the table and got ready to tap into his dance reserves. Facebook was filled with social tango dancers excitedly sharing videos of the dancing, “first Pope Francis and now Obama!” read the comments. Some gave critique on his performance, posture, walk, others talked about how the finish was, his salsa moves knocking her tango poise off balance, her back-leading (well they were ‘performing’ and he wasn’t doing enough). A few teachers jokingly (some not) said that if he needed lessons they could come to him.
The thing is, he was lucky. Few people have the chance to ‘try’ with an experienced dancer and with so much space around them. The tourists who visit milongas in Buenos Aires wanting to dance thinking they can ‘wing it’, without actually having an idea about how the dance and more importantly the social setting of tango works, end up causing more chaos for others than the fun they have. No one ‘wins’ at the end of the day and tango remains one of those dances that is too difficult to attempt but interesting enough to bring up in small talk “you know I’ve tangoed in BAs”.
But the other thing is this, tango was lucky. Whether it’s the President of the United States or your friend who has just seen an old Saura film and wants to dance, it’s moments like these that bring tango up on someone’s radar, and possibly inspire them to try. I’m grateful for those moments because tango doesn’t scream at you to start, it burns bright and captivates, then it’s up to you to find it. Whether it’s one of the academies that has sprung up in Buenos Aires now multi-million pound tango market or you are able to find a local teacher who is passionate about the social side, the craft and practise, not steps and certificates, the thing is to start. Yes you can.
I first heard about the Sunderland practica in Villa Urquiza from a friend talking about amazingly elegant and clean dancers. Curious, I went to see what it was all about. I arrived in this large room with stripes marked on the floor trying not to feel totally out of my element but after 2 minutes felt welcome.
The practica starts in the same way each week, an hour of individual practice, walking and then ochos. Men on one side of the room and women on the other. Like any practice it took me a while to settle into it. Distracted, I wanted to dance, stretch more. “No” said one of the young assistants, ‘too much stretch is exaggerating your walk…”
Slowly, with each step I began to get into the zone, concentrating on different elements of my movement, my weight, how I would start, finish, how I felt, trying to remember the different feelings, just walking in time to the music. There was so much there walking by myself that the hour flew by, I found myself wanting to carry on when the dancing part started.
There was a mature elegant lady who with her assistant was supervising us girls whilst the boys were under the watchful eye of her husband. Both of them were so welcoming and friendly, they invited me to join the group of dancers left at the end for a spot of dinner. After I learnt that Carlitos Perez and his wife Rosa are teachers and dancers with a wealth of experience and they have been running the pratica at Sunderland for years, producing champions of the salon competitions but more importantly amazing social dancers who have beautiful smooth walks and rich turns. Yes I’m talking about the likes of Sebastian Jimenez & Maria Ines Bogado, Dante Sanchez & Ines Muzzopappa.
To open the first day of the advent calendar, here’s a picture of the practica at Sunderland, courtesy of Frank Seifart. Bottom right you can see Carlitos at work
via Cristina Diacono