Thursday, August 21, 2008

Tango in Two Cities

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Two cities, two tango lessons, two very different teaching philosophies:


Wandering around the People's Fair at City Center Park in Denver this June, my boyfriend, Jim, and I happened upon a performance by a group called Tango Colorado. We liked what we saw enough to come back for the lesson that followed.

To begin, we walked in a circle in time with the music. Then we partnered up and moved together in ballroom position but without touching. It's a bit of work holding one's arms in the air without a partner's to share the weight, so I was looking forward to getting fully into position. First, though, the instructor had us switch roles; now I was leading, arms still in the air. When we finally were allowed to touch, the instructor emphasized that you don't have to be pressed tightly against your partner to tango, but can maintain a distance you feel comfortable with.

So this lesson was all about conquering one's fear of enforced intimacy, of being brought excessively close to a stranger. Not a bad idea, I thought, remembering dance classes in which one or two couples would refuse to change partners, perhaps not wanting to end up in an unwanted clinch.

New York

A few weeks later on a Friday at Chelsea Market in Manhattan, I took a very different sort of class--alone this time. As recorded tango music played faintly in the background, we were drilled at length on footwork in all directions--forward, back, left, right--then on arm positions, before pairing up.

Once we did, we were urged to press our stomachs together, then to put our hand over our partner's heart. "Can you feel your partner's heart beat?" asked our teacher. Solemnly we nodded. "Tango is all about the heart," she told us. I nearly gave in to an attack of the giggles, though I'd tangoed this closely before.

We changed partners frequently, sometimes after what felt like only a few seconds, so by the end of the lesson each follower or leader had a chance to feel heart and belly of every opposite number.

There was a brief break after the lesson ended. The tango regulars drifted in--high-heeled women, guys looking around for familiar partners--then the band began to play. Few of my fellow students stuck around for the dance. It may be that all that passion on display had been a bit intimidating.


Ah, those heels . . . . I'd been tempted to boo when the Denver instructor opined that women like to tango because it gives them an excuse to wear sexy spikes. Are there any milongas around that cater to wearers of sneakers and flats?

Where to Tango

For tango events and classes in Denver, see

You can tango in New York City any day of the week; see, or call the tango hotline: 212-726-1111.

The last tango evening at Chelsea Market, 9th Ave and 15th St., takes place August 22, beside the waterfall, with a lesson at 5 pm, and milonga with free champagne, 6-10 pm. Through the end of September, there's a free milonga in Central Park Saturday evenings, rain (in the Dairy) or shine (at the Shakespeare Statue), 6-9 pm, with a beginner lesson at 7.

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