I am not sure what delusions possessed my wife Patricia and I to sign up for tango lessons. Certainly, neither she nor I anticipated the life-altering implications that simple dance lessons would have.
We were celebrating our engagement at La Boheme, a romantic Heritage Inn in the elegant Highlands neighbourhood of Edmonton, Alberta. After passing the night in the Da Vinci room, decorated in nineteenth-century European decor, we rose the next morning for breakfast, basking in the afterglow of our romantic excursion.
At the bottom of the stately, brocade staircase was posted a picture of an attractive young woman seductively draped in a silky dress, clinging to her dashing partner. Tango lessons, Thursday evening, in the Moroccan room. We signed up immediately.
What was the lure? Did we envision ourselves transformed into the slinky, sexy couple on the brochure? Patricia and I rarely danced and our bodies were far beyond the slinky stage. Perhaps we were in the mood to do something impulsive and risque. Maybe the raw sensuality steaming from the poster sanctioned the primal instincts we recently entertained.
Whatever the reason for permitting ourselves to be drawn into the seductive allure of tango, our early lessons were nothing as envisioned. Our attempts at tango were neither elegant nor erotic. It felt more like a stylized version of all-star wrestling.
To translate what was being instructed into actual movements was excruciatingly painful for both of us. I would often just stare at my feet bewildered, unable to discern my left from my right, let alone command them to move in a particular pattern. We would come away from our lessons overheated and underwhelmed, despairing that we would ever capture that romantic feeling that had first inspired our journey.
Every once in a while, Patricia and I would catch a wave of symmetry. Mostly we persevered.
On a drive home from one of our more frustrating lessons we are listening to a CBC radio documentary about Claude Debussy who, when he was young, was chided by his teachers for regularly not following the prescribed form or technique. He pronounced boldly in defiance, “Il ny a pas de règles. Il n’y a qu’un plaisir.”
I Look over to Patricia. She responds with a knowing grin. Pleasure we can do.
Some things change. Some things never do.
Fast forward some fifteen years.
La Boheme is no longer the romantic hideaway that we frequented weekdays and weekends for tango rendezvous. The owners moved to Argentina and continued their passion for hospitality by building a lodge in the Patagonian Andes.
After several years of relative proficiency on the dance floor and a ton of fun - and romance, Patricia has given up on tango, except for the occasionally turn around our living room floor. A night of pivoting does not do her knees any service. As a consequence, although I have continued to dance, tango understandably no longer affords the same passionate rapture of those mid-years.
What hasn’t changed is that still, every time I take a lesson, I find myself in the same stupefying predicament of blankly staring at my feet, unable to translate the instruction into an appropriate response.
Still, Tango continues to hold some deep intrigue. Much of my exploration through blogging and teaching is to uncover the source of that fascination.
Stay with me through the next few blogs. Perhaps you might discover something of your own journey in them.
(photo “Every picture tells a story.” Late night Milonga in San Carlos de Bariloche, Patagonia. Our favourite trip of all time when the only limit to what we could do was our imagination and desire. Photo credit, Marcel Lajeunesse.)