Emerging from the basement of the Globe bar on George’s street earlier, the evening settled powdered and blue across Dublin’s sky. Silken dusk scarves pulling themselves across the city for the night brought a certain peace to the moment. Half turning back to say goodbye, I moved off the kerb. This, I knew, was going to be awkward. The people in whose company I had just spent the last two hours were also finding the moment a little strained. My shuffling certainly didn’t help.
A strange sight you might think. A group of acquaintances saying goodbye with one looking upwards as though utterly entranced while twitching away from them down the street. Having witnessed the occurrences of our last dance class however, they knew it wasn’t strange at all. Rather it was required to alleviate all of our embarrassment. Sky focusing helped avoid their eyes. It was goodbye and we all knew it was for the last time. I wouldn’t be back. Both brief and tumultuous, my flirtation with tango has definitely come to an end. It was enjoyable at times but for once, I can safely say this relationship is over.
Tango requires poise, rhythm and a certain confidence. Most of all however, tango requires that your have two feet at the end of your legs unrestricted by dyspraxia. Your feet that is should understand simple instructions like leave the weight on your right foot and swivel, and swivel until the lead urges you to swivel in the opposite direction. That, apparently, is all it takes to perform a backwards ocho in Tango.
Trust your weight on your feet and turn on the ball of your foot. Look poised. Now, pull your breath from your stomach. Lean in towards your leader. Push against him. Only move when urged to do so and read his movements. His movements, a body map, let you move through space together. Keep your legs loose. Move from your hips. Lean in. Not out. Lean in. Strike a spatial equilibrium between you keeping your embrace rounded and firm. Hold your hands in the centre. Relax. Forget that both of your palms are sweating profusely. Swivel. Extend your leg backwards. Keep your weight on the other foot. Turn, extend, move, swing, straighten up, breathe, listen to the music, so on and so on. Poise, rhythm, a physicist’s capacity to interpret space and turn it into action are all the skills required to perform the basic moves of tango. Their absence however, brings embarrassment, extremely sweaty palms and the awkward collision of bodies. That simply isn’t tango!
Failing to dance opens up lots of possibility however, and not dancing tango in Dublin is just as interesting as dancing tango in Dublin. Just beware of the risk to your pride. Saving face is certainly important to the established dancers of whom there are many but they actually can dance. However, throwing all pride aside lets interlopers like myself become briefly privy to the politics of a well networked niche that has had people dancing across Dublin’s basements, bars and society’s for the past 20 to 30 years. Fleeting but fascinating that insight has now come to an end. And it is all a little disappointing. Rather than being an inability to accept that I will never really tango across a wooden floor in Buenos Aires, the disappointment towards my dyspraxic feet is more to do with the ending of this look into and at tango fanatics.
Lessons and melongas (social meets) in the Globe are just a small suggestion of the movements and interactions of Dublin’s dancers. Indeed, the capital’s tango fanatics meet five nights a week in places like the basement of the Globe, the Turk’s head, Wynn’s and the Pillar Room. The Pillar Room, a secret room tucked away behind the Rotunda Hospital on Parnell square, draws a “classy crowd”. This information, passed in whispers and with the confirmed confidentiality of a hand squeeze, suggests layers of hierarchy and a thinly veiled snobbery at work. Being poised and classy, it seems, is of central importance. The regulation and control demonstrated on the dance floor stretches across this network. This, after all, is tango, not rock and roll. The push and pull of resistance dominates this dance rather than what looks like the suggestion of tantalizing moves and sensuous chemistry that could explode at an given moment. It is a dance of control.
Knowing this of course does very little to quell the mortification of your patient leader moving you to the right with yet another ‘okay we can start again’. Tango bliss, a state far beyond any existential knowledge of our being, is further away than ever. Indeed, my encounter with tango has drawn out an inner child tripping around in her mother’s stilettos. It is back to rock and roll for me. It may be a short cut to a point outside ourselves but the slide of rock guitars and the safety of dancing boots are easier to trust. Sophistication and control may induce bliss but this woman knows when she’s been tangoed…