Learning to Walk: A Beginner Addict’s Account of Tango (Part III)

Nov 4, 2010 by

Part I
Part II

Installment writing isn’t for obsessive, nitpicky writers who can’t stop editing their work. Once published, even in a blog, the dirty deed has been done, the seal stamped. There’s no erasing the printed record of one’s words. Hence the dismay with which I look upon my last entry’s closing sentence, in which I declare that I’m now in Buenos Aires. Its unfortunate melodrama, devoid of any dramatic tension besides the cheapest Ta Dah!!! variety must now stand nakedly and honestly as what it is: a rushed and sloppy effort (not that it even deserves the dignity of that noun) to wrap up the NYC account of tango and shift location to Buenos Aires, which is where, according to the clichés, any tango account must end. In short I was lazy and uninspired. Unfortunately, I now realize that shifting the film set to Buenos Aires hasn’t changed a thing. I’ve lost none of my interest in dancing tango but alas have lost my ganas for writing about it, which also accounts for my taking the easy, dreary way out of writer’s block with this lugubrious opening passage about having nothing to write.

Two reasons for this loss of interest come to mind: 1) tango is far more pleasurable to dance than to write (or read) about; and 2) when you try to describe what’s appealing about tango – the connection, the conversation with the music, the improvisational challenges, the creative intricacies – you’re likely to come across as a bore, a smug insider or, even worse, one of the Newly Born Tangueras who gush over how tango transformed their lives and awakened their femininity and sexuality and throbbing womanhood and so on (the writers tend to be female since their male equivalents prefer the more hands-on forms of self-expression), all described in such gaudy, narcissistic and laxative prose that you wonder if they wrote the whole damn thing with a rose stem clenched between their teeth. [*For anyone interested in a reading list, Kiss & Tango is a good place to start, where you can read lines like “I was touching his soul and he was touching mine and we waited for a few seconds of eternity until they put the next track on.”]

Keeping the above two points in mind, and being of the conviction that the more solemnly and reverentially one approaches tango, the more it stinks of pomp and circumstance, I’ve decided to turn this third and final entry on tango into a laundry list of things tango social dances remind me of. I’ve opted for ridicule over reverence because piss-takes not only are entertaining to write and read (thereby resolving problem 1) but they also avoid the nauseating bogs of tango sentimentality (problem 2). Also, a dose of rib-nudging isn’t incompatible with true affection. Tango has enough wooers and sweet talkers in its ranks; it could use more jesters and bullshit detectors.

So, borrowing from David Letterman, here it is, the Top Ten Things Tango Dances Remind Me Of. Drum roll, please (to be played in 2/4 rhythm on bandoneones, of course).


Cool kids are on the dance floor, wannabes watch. Girls sit on one side, boys on the other. Some onlookers snigger in corners while others wait for their moment, full of self-consciousness and nerves. –Will he ask me to dance? –Why did he ask her to dance and not me? –Did he just look at me? He did. Oh. My. God. –Euh, gross, not him looking at me again. Just whatever you do, don’t make eye contact.


A few higher initiates wow entry-level disciples with ganchos and volcadas in the dance floor’s inner circle. Others sit coolly at tables on the periphery, some smiling slightly at the touching earnestness of the dance floor aspirants, others waiting stony-faced for the riffraff to clear out. Their haughty paternalism was hard earned. One doesn’t acquire esoteric knowledge overnight, you know.


Leggings are back in vogue.


Male primates prowl on knuckles for females, who flash their pink bulbous rumps in hopes of being chosen. Perhaps that is why tango is the only dance where you can see a woman’s face and ass at the same time: it facilitates the identification and selection process.


The man is jerking you around, sighing loudly with frustration and barking foul-breathed orders at you: Move your leg here, no, this leg! There is nothing to do but wait for the ordeal to end, as well as for the day when you too will have the right to vote.


Selected teachings include: “The tango is a reflection of what one is in life.” – “The tango is a sad thought that is danced.” – “We dance a solitude that we have inside us and cannot occupy with anything. This gap, that emptiness in which we put movement is the tango.” – “The tango can be debated, and we have debates over it, but it still encloses, as does all that which is truthful, a secret.”


The Quest: To find your Prince Valiant.

The Holy Grail: A lifetime of love and tango with your knight in shining a[r]mor.

The Revelation: Sir Lancelot is juggling several Guineveres.

Which leads us to:


*BaBs = ‘Buenos Aires bullshit’ (one-liners reserved for foreign women)

–      You follow well. You have a natural, close embrace.

–      Oh, thanks… Well, you’re a good leader.

–   You move beautifully. What a connection, I felt alive dancing with you. Perhaps we can go for a coffee? [BsAs code for another type of proposition]


–Why won’t anyone ask me to dance?  –Why is she avoiding my gaze? –Is she rolling her eyes over my shoulder? –Did he just make eye contact with the girl at that table? Patience, my child. View these humiliations as spiritual exercises for the subduing of your ego.

Or for the secularists:


– Would you like to dance?

– No.


Tango, no doubt, has its underbelly and a self-seriousness that often seems more like absurdist parody. But when the music is right and the connection is right, something happens that renders the above Top Ten list irrelevant. The audience and the baggage of self-consciousness fall away. All that remains is the music, the two dancers, and the play and exchange between the three. This, in the end, is why people continue to dance tango long after the high school dances and cult gatherings and catwalks grow tedious. This is what’s responsible for all the purple prose and syrupy rhapsodizing in tango memoirs. This is what turns some people into lifelong addicts. And this, finally, is why it’s a hell of a lot more fun to dance tango than to write about it.

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  1. Veronica

    My applause to you! Excellent post– especially no. 1, which had me rolling. Very hilarious! Also very true about the connection thing.

  2. .ME

    errr…’Perhaps that is why tango is the only dance where you can see a woman’s face and ass at the same time’… i wonder, how’s that happening in practice))

    • its called an ocho. and its Guillermo De Fazio’s line.

      Seldom? why don’t you take a tango class with me?
      dardo galletto studios friday nights nyc.

  3. seldom seen

    Ahhh, where to start?
    A fair part of this…post? article? essay? whatever it is, part of this travesty (mmm, thats it) deals with “loss of interest in tango…”. As it should. I believe i lost any ability to care about tango, and the authors apparent attempt to learn it, along about the middle of his first attempt to write about it.
    What has happened on our dear beloved fourthnight? Remember the days when everyone, all 30 or 40 of us, cared? And checked in daily or even more often? Those were heady times, my friends. Good times. And, honestly, not easily forgotten. Shit. Anybody heard from Olaf?
    Word to the wise, and its a term used lightly… “stick with what works.” Stop screwing around and what… resting? Recuperating? Please. Its go time NOW. 4 and 5 pounds to a trap and blowing hard, yes, but hey- the price is up and what else do you have to do?
    Eh, sorry folks. Quite a rant. Tango inspired….
    Yours in a better use of letters and words
    Seldom himself.

    PS- I once wrote for my high school newspaper. I too created a top ten list. I was 17.

    • i’ll pass on the message to olaf. i’m sure he’d agree with you. but in the meantime, i’d take amanda up on that offer. it beats hauling empty traps when it’s blowing thirty and, hell, maybe if you go in your oil gear you’ll be able to pay in lobsters…

  4. Gigi

    You slay me! Your three “Learning to Walk” posts just made me laugh so hard! So real.

    Your writing’s nice and punch-y, too –

    Thanks, Constantine.

    • Thanks, Gigi. I’m glad you enjoyed them. I assume you’ve been on the milonga floor so if have anything to add to that top ten list, feel free to make it a top eleven.

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