Valentine's Day tango classes
It takes two
It’s bucketing down on Buchanan Street with all the maudlin misery of your traditional Glasgow winter. However, if you divert up a side alley, local dancers are generating the sort of heat and wild, sensual rhythm better suited to the backroom of an Argentinian saloon.
Tango has been steadily, stealthily infecting the city since the mid-1990s, but took off properly in 2002, when the Tango Bar, a weekly milonga or social dance, started up in the space below Blackfriars. Now there are two, including ‘La Bordana’ in the gilded ballroom of Sloan’s Bar, and classes for all levels of experience on almost every day of the week.
This being an absolute beginners’ class, we’re just going to concentrate on walking, Mike, one of our instructors, tells us. There are a few disappointed faces – perhaps we’d all half-expected to be spinning off into passionate, leg-flicking clinches, clenching roses between our teeth, at the end of an hour-long session. This is the first lesson to take in – we are learning Argentine tango, which is as far removed from the petted lips and mock flounces seen on programmes like Strictly Come Dancing as the Black Eyed Peas are from proper, raw hip hop. Unlike the choreographed ‘ballroom tango’, Argentine tango is all improvised, the couples responding to what they hear in the music and building a dance around that, an accumulation of steps, and the connection between their bodies.
‘The music is the soul of the dance,’ says Stuart McCartney, who coordinates Glasgow’s tango enthusiasts. ‘It’s what makes people leave their seats and agree to a momentary seduction, which traditionally lasts three dances.
‘A famous old maestro came across from Buenos Aires to give a class a few years ago. I remember him saying to one Glasgow couple: “There are three of you in the tango: you, your partner and the music. If it’s just you and your partner, this is not tango. You may as well go home and go to bed together’’.’
Tango dancers are separated into leaders and followers, or ‘men’ and ‘women’ as they’re more commonly known. ‘Tango is a very macho dance,’ one very eager ‘leader’ tells me later. ‘It doesn’t know about the women’s movement.’
The trick, we learn, is to maintain a connection between leader and follower, which is channelled through a very sensual energy between the dancers’ chests and kept taut in the circular arm-grip. The most important thing for a ‘follower’, I learn, is not to look at what the leader’s feet are doing. Laura, Mike’s partner, dances with her eyes half-closed, responding immediately to Mike’s smallest movement.
After the class, as the milonga stretches out into the night, people come and bring their partners, and perhaps don’t dance with them for most of the night – as McCartney says, it’s traditional to change dance partners every three dances, and each dancer brings something different out in the music. The tango itself is an act of love – that ‘momentary seduction’ only works through the connection between dancers.
Afterwards still walking in rhythm to remembered music, my partner and I have a small, slow tango under the street lights, making up the moves as we go.