I first attempted a tango lesson in Buenos Airesa few years ago. It didn’t go well, although I picked up some useful tips. One was don’t tango in flip-flops. Another was don’t tango with an erstwhile boyfriend with whom you’ve just had a row.
‘M’ had arrived for the holiday from New York with no money, no credit card and no intention of that spoiling his trip. After a week, my resentment beat my British reserve, and I broached the subject on the way to our tango lesson. He said his credit card didn’t work abroad. When that didn’t fly, he said that the air hostess had stolen his card when he bought fags on the flight. The row ensued, not least because of the insultingly sub-standard excuses.
At dinner after our tango lesson, we had another one. He berated me for being selfish, asking ‘I mean, what do you even do for charity?’. ‘Apart from you, nothing’ I snapped. He stormed off. I rolled my eyes at the American couple next door. We introduced ourselves and I said, ‘Sorry about that….quite humiliating’. She said, ‘Honey, until you’ve sold toilet bowl cleaner door to door, and you’ve been on your knees demonstrating the cleaner on someone’s toilet, and they still don’t buy it, you don’t know the meaning of the word’. Tension pricked, we drank creamy red wine till the early hours. ‘M’ never returned to the hotel room, I left for the beach early the next morning, as we’d planned, and I never saw him again.
So one of things I like about this private lesson is that I’ll be dancing with a professional dancer, Rafal. I’m not sure what he thinks about it. I’ve borrowed some tango shoes for the day from Jenni Kravitz, who fell in love with the tango and set up her company offering dance classes like this after seeing Jill Halfpenny tangoing on Strictly in 2006. Private lessons are £75 an hour but Jenni offers group lessons from £35 an hour in studios all overLondon.
Rafal and I start by walking back and forth. But my elbows, stride and timing are wrong, and I’m finding it hard to balance – and I’m only walking. We try more steps. I put my hand primly on his shoulder, but he moves it to his back. He tells me frequently that the man leads, but I don’t wait for his lead, and anticipate, wrongly. When I do let him lead, he gently steers me in the right direction and it works well. Hmmm, are we still talking about dancing?
Over the ensuing hour we attempt to join a few moves together that sound simple; crossing one foot over the other, sweeping one foot in a figure of eight. But there’s a lot to remember: posture, pressure on his hand, being attentive to his lead. Rafal is precise, fluid, and patient. Me, less so, but I’m mad keen and I think I’ll fare better at night, after a few drinks, with other beginners.
I feel really self-conscious being the only beginner, in broad daylight, with music quietly emanating from an i-pod. ‘Normal’ dancing for me usually means drinking my body weight in alcohol, a near pitch-black setting, the irresistible sound of Beyoncé, and the classic mistake of dancing to the words not the beat. And of course, deep regret, shame, unquenchable thirst and desperate need for a bacon sandwich the next day. On reflection, perhaps this tango lesson is a better way to do it after all.