what is it?
The most sensual dance in the world - if you happen to be Argentinian and enjoy better balance than the national economy. Louis and I were British and balanced only in the sense that we both had two left feet but we thought we’d give it a whirl anyway and dragged ourselves off to Dance For All’s weekly class for tango virgins.
how does it work?
Invented in the bordellos of Buenos Aires in the 1890s, the tango is a fiery exchange of feeling - and frenzied footsteps - that requires a pampas-worth of dedication to master. It also attracts the unlikeliest of followers (Clive James and Alexei Sayle for starters), so I wasn’t surprised to find that Ricardo, the centre’s regular tango teacher, had been temporarily replaced by Jessie, a genial middle-aged woman in mushroom-coloured leggings.
Before any dancing was attempted, we were asked to stand in a circle, addiction clinic-style, and announce "I’m Caroline and I’m an absolute beginner". But thankfully there were only about 12 in the group (just three were men) so we could move quickly on to a demonstration by Jessie.
"It’s really all about walking," she said, telling us to stroll in time to the sedate Argentinian sounds straining out of the studio’s speakers. "In a circle please," she cried, pushing Louis back into line from his freestyle stroll across the room. Clive James said he wouldn’t recommend men learn to tango unless they have an unusual capacity to survive humiliation, so the odds weren’t looking good for Louis. James also said there’s nothing more frustrating than dancing with a woman and not giving her a good time. Judging by Louis’ worried brow, the odds weren’t looking good for me either.
As we progressed from walking forwards to backwards and, finally, pairing into couples, Jessie’s constructive criticism seemed to be ricocheting off the mirrored walls directly onto us. "Don’t step heel to toe, slide your feet smoothly along the floor," came a command to Louis, as he led me, admittedly with a certain panache, into the couple in front. "You have to lead your partner - show her the way and she’ll follow."
Determined to master the moves, we stood facing each other, arms locked together. Slowly, we began stepping in time to the music, trying to focus on "communicating through our hands". We’d just about got the basics (back, back, forth and back, plus a few impromptu side shuffles) when we were ordered to change partners. While I was swept confidently round the room by Frances, an expert tango-er, Louis fell under the unforgiving glare of a more selective partner. But, shuffling back together for a few final circuits of the studio, Jessie even congratulated Louis on his progress.
what’s in it for you?
Great for breaking the ice before a date, it’s definitely a stylish way of getting to the holding hands stage.
what’s the damage?
5 per person.
H (done properly this is hot stuff)
Beginners’ tango lessons run from 8.30pm to 9.30pm on Mondays at Dance for All, 106 St Stephen Street, Edinburgh (0131 226 5533). Or, visit www.edinburghtango.org.uk