A few months ago a group began offering free tango lessons in Curtis Hixon Park. I have a friend who enjoys tango and even went to Argentina late last year to study it. When Tango in the Park showed up on my Facebook newsfeed our past tango conversations came to mind, and I knew I wanted to go. At the same time, I was very busy when the classes first started. As my birthday approached, I decided to make the class a priority. What better way to celebrate a birthday than by learning something new, challenging my comfort zone, and meeting new people? My birthday shenanigans were delayed by a week because of work, but me and a few of my friends went to Tango in the Park last night. I’m really glad I went.
It was definitely intimidating, but the instructors started us with the basics: by teaching us to walk. Walking in tango is the basic step. Our instructors reminded us that while walking, your leg can only go one of three directions: frontwards, backwards, or to the side. Sounds simple, and a birthday seems the perfect time to learn to walk all over again! Until you remember that once upon a time even walking was difficult. We stumbled, we faltered, and we fell down.
That’s how it felt last night, though no falling was involved. (I achieved my one goal for the evening!!) Since I was a follower (vs. a leader), I had to learn to walk backwards. I had to try to feel the energy my various partners were conveying to me, so that I knew which step to take next. It did not feel natural. I was trying to listen to the music and to let my body move with it, but I found that I was concentrating more on what my body was doing. I apologized a lot for fumbling the steps, but I laughed at my mistakes at the same time. My partners laughed with me.
I’m very proud of that fact: that I was able to laugh and have a good time while struggling with this new thing. In the not too distant past I would have become very frustrated and angry with myself. The event would not have been fun. I struggled, but I had a great time!
This class was also challenging because the instructors had us dancing in close embrace with our partners. I am not a hugger. In recent years I have been more willing and able to hug my friends when I see them, but even that often feels challenging to me. Early in the class we were given an exercise to hug our partner. My partner was a man I had never met before, in a class I had never attended before, and the instructors had us maintain the embrace for – ev – er… I felt incredibly vulnerable and uncomfortable during this. I made it through, and it was really Ok. And I did learn the importance of the close embrace, because it demonstrated how we should be interacting with our partners. Too, it was easier to dance in close embrace, because it was easier to feel where my partner was leading me. Overall, if I keep this up, I’ll be dancing with a lot of different strangers, so it’s good to get more comfortable with that specific physical aspect of things early.
As the class progressed, we switched partners regularly. The instructors walked around and danced with us too, giving us pointers. We practiced performing a “sandwich,” vocabulary (other, fancier steps that you do while walking) that was introduced the previous week. We were introduced to a “cross,” vocabulary that we’ll work on next week and certainly something that I did not master during this class.
Well, I didn’t master anything during this class. It was my first class! But I did noticed that I stumbled and faltered less as the class went on. Tampa Bay Tango describes Argentine tango as the Everest of social dances, and my instructor said that if you practiced tango for 20 years you *might* be considered a master. (This, of course, makes me feel much better about my stumbling, faltering, and also my improvement!) This is because Argentine tango isn’t like other ballroom dancing (not that I would know). My instructor described it like this: In other ballroom dances they give you sentences. You learn sequences of steps, and then you put the different sequences together to create a paragraph. In Argentine tango, you are just given words. You learn basic steps, and then you can put them together however you like. “Tango is like writing a poem,” she said. I really like that idea.
The grand finale of the class was a birthday tango. Apparently there is a nice birthday tradition where people who want to dance with the birthday girl line up for the honor. So I got the honor of dancing with everyone one last time. I definitely felt on the spot, but it was good fun. I think I like that tradition more than the stupid “Happy Birthday” song. It would be interesting to have waitstaff in restaurants line up to tango with you instead of singing “happy birthday” at you.
After the class, we all went and grabbed drinks and dinner at Anise Global Gastrobar. My current friends, who came to the class with me, and I continued making new friends with the tango folks. I’ve done a number of things in celebration of my 36th birthday, and tango in the park was a nice ending to the celebration.
And it’s one that will continue. I had a great time. I’ve wanted to learn to do some form of ballroom dancing for awhile, but I’ve put it off because it’s intimidating to me. At one point I bought a Groupon for salsa lessons, but I ended up giving it away… Now I’ve met a group of people I felt comfortable interacting with on the first night, so intimidation isn’t really an excuse anymore. I also have a secret ulterior motive: I think tango might be a good way to meet men. There were more women than men at the class last night, but once I feel comfortable attending larger events I figure my odds can’t be any worse than with OkCupid.
A final birthday toast: Here’s to living life step-by-step, always testing the boundaries of our comfort zones. Cheers!