“Would you like to go to a tango class?” Stefan asked me, actually he asked me in French so it went something like “Ça te dit d’aller dans un cour du tango?”
“Sure, why not? Um, what’s tango?”
and so it began…
the world of the CitéU
1999, Paris, the 14th arrondissement to be precise, I arrived with 3 large suitcases to study at Paris V for a year and was lucky enough to get a room at the Cité Universitaire (or CitéU for short), a student residence with a global feel. The complex stretched out from it’s grand entrance opposite the RER with large ‘houses’ representing countries, institutions and people of note from all over the world. Some were constructed with an architectural reference from their home nation. The Japanese house had sliding doors, a large roof and deep eaves. The Moroccan house had beautiful mosaics and you could eat couscous there every Friday. The Swiss house was a jewel at the Cité that architecture lovers would come to admire as it was designed by no less than Le Corbusier. Rooms were firstly allocated according to nationality and after that wherever there was space. Stefan from Belgium, lived in Fondation Biermans-Lapôtre (the Belgian House) and I lived in the College Franco-Brittanique with its red bricks and bay windows conceived by French architects as a nod to the entente cordiale. Tango classes happened in the Argentine House, naturally, well, I found that out when Stefan told me.
Off we went one evening when winter’s darkness hadn’t quite yet released its grip on spring. Walking into this room the first thing I noticed was the music, old but new to my ears, comfortable yet different, there seemed to be complex but identifiable layers, a group of people were dancing, the music stopped and the teachers started speaking, we were late! I hurriedly took off my coat and waited for my equally wet behind the ears partner.
Watch & do…
The class was watch and do. Watch, I did and when the teacher Edgardo came to us feel, what was going on. I spent the first half fighting poor Stefan in the embrace. Twenty odd years trying to be an independent woman and now I was expected to just follow a man? ‘You’re not doing it right’ I grappled, ’Not like this, like this’, I instructed, back-leading as after 5 mins of watching, I was clearly an expert on the matter. I thought I was trying to be helpful, I was being a pain in the arse. He on other hand had the patience of a saint. Really.
Edgardo’s dance was something totally different, I could understand, he was clear, it didn’t feel like following him, just being there for the conversation. I got back to Stefan and this time tried to listen to what was going on. It worked much better. Not perfect, quite rough actually but the exchange was there, it was real. I could feel where we needed to go and my grappling turned into more of a hug. It was a start and I loved it. ‘Ok so we’re going here, I’m coming with you, I want to make this more comfortable for us, my balance, oops, sorry!?! yes that was my foot, don’t worry…wait I need more time here, oh, that was your foot, sorry!’ and so it really began.
A taste memory
Can I remember what we did in that first class? Absolutely not. Can I remember how it made me feel? Totally. I wanted to do more, that there was lots to learn, it would take time, patience and more than likely be never ending, but I definitely wanted more. I’d had a taste and was going to start collecting them.