(The original appeared in the CharlestonMercury Newsletter).
Even the heat of a Lowcountry summer seems a bit brisk compared to the sultry Argentine tango. Image in public domain. (Ed)
Having been asked by the Mercury to write a little bit about my experiences in the mysterious world of the tango, I thought it appropriate to address the most common questions I receive. Such questions are perfectly legitimate and I’m always happy to answer them.
The decorous expectations of the “salmon sheets” restrict me from writing some of my more colorful thoughts … but there is a good-humored difference between what I think and what I say. So here goes the Q&A … if you have additional questions, please feel free to contact me through the Mercury.
Q: “Wow! Eleven years! You must be an expert?”
A: “No, but I’m average,” is what I say.
What I’m thinking: “You play golf? Wow, 11 years! You must be as good as Tiger Woods!”
Q: “Oh, I’d love to do that, but I can’t dance.”
A: “We have weekly lessons. Tango is a walking dance — if you can walk, you can tango.”
What I’m thinking: “Yep, I was born with the “Gene Kelly gene” and one day, when I was four years old, I pulled away from my mother, snatched a hot blonde out of a convertible and recreated the dance number from Singin in the Rain on King Street in front of the old Kerrison’s Department store. Dude, you’re looking at a short, obese middle-aged guy who was always picked last for any sport from first grade through ninth grade gym. That’s why you take lessons. And practice”
Q: “Is it hard?”
A: “If you can walk, you can tango!”
What I’m thinking: “While you’re taught some steps, Argentine tango is a completely improvised social dance using all non-verbal communication in which the leader must maintain their own axis and balance, know at all times what foot the follower is on, communicate direction, distance and speed with energetic communication and musicality all the while dancing to the ability and heart of the follower. The follower is reading these subtle and energetic forms of communication so as to move, almost in any direction, at any time, without anticipation or expectation, backwards, in high heels almost always on one foot. Yep — it’s a breeze.”
Q: “Do you have to have a partner?”
A: “No, some couples do come regularly and some dance mostly with each other, but most people dance with everybody.”
What I’m thinking: A delicate analogy works better here than anything else but, alas, my filter has kicked in again. A good tango friend summed it up this way. “If you’re in a relationship and only one of you dances tango, that’s a problem. If you’re in a relationship and you both dance tango, that’s also a problem.”
Q: “How did you hear about it?”
A: True story. I attended a meetup event in a group that I had been attending for quite a while. A new woman walked in and sat down, so later I walked over to make her feel welcome. As we were going through the usual “what do you do/where are you from/what brings you here, blah, blah, blahs, I became obsessed with the four packs of breath mints next to her purse.
“Ok, I can’t help it,” I say, “What’s the deal with the breath mints!?!? Is there something we need to know about your breath? Or were you expecting a problem with our breath?”
She burst out laughing. “No,” she said, “I dance Argentine tango and when you’re that close to people, breath mints are a must. Maybe not four packs.”
My head turned to the side like a German shepherd who hears a high-pitched sound no one else can hear but he doesn’t recognize.
“What the hell is Argentine tango?”
There’s a free class every Tuesday at MUSC and the rest is history. And I always carry breath mints.
[That free class is now five dollars and still is every Tuesday … except during global pandemics because tango, if you think about the whole cheek-to-cheek thing, is mildly out of accord with social distancing rules. Anyway, you can find us as the Charleston Argentine Tango Society (C.A.T.S) on Facebook. Before attending, I recommend you visit YouTube and search “Argentine tango” and at least take a peek down Alice’s Rabbit Hole. ]
Last Q: “Why do you do it?”
A: “We all crave connection. When you get on the dance floor with a perfect stranger, chest to chest, cheek to cheek, heart to heart and the music starts and your breathing synchronizes and you move in perfect harmony, with the music, with the beat, in what tango calls ‘two bodies, four legs, one heart’ and you lose all sense of time and space till, at the end, the music stops and you stay in the embrace a moment or two longer … that’s why.”
Lawrence Laddaga is partner at Laddaga and Garrett, a leading local provider of legal services for the health care industry. And his breath is minty, minty fresh. (Ed)