First Tango in London

Story | Opinion | denis svartz | 28 Jul 2015 | 0 comments

The most amazing thing in tango is when you put one foot in front of the other, and you realise, you’re part of a huge community. Suddenly the world seems to be closer and gives you a new reason to travel.


You know that everywhere you go you will hear the familiar sound of Pugliese or Canaro. In just a glimpse of your eye, you imagine connecting yourself to all those strangers, who don’t speak your language but share the same dance.


About England, I was more dubious. For us French, hundreds of years have shaped a sentiment of distrust for your country. Henry V, Lord Nelson and Maggy Thatcher being the most emblematic figures.


This opinion is strengthened by our chronicler, when they wear out the terms of: England, Great Britain and United Kingdom, thinking they are synonyms. They use this French and pejorative expression “la perfide Albion”. Don’t ask me where it comes from, but just retain perfidiousness.


Hopefully, it may reassure you to know that the Beatles and Susan Boyle have broadly counteracted this feeling. At your best, your deft mixing between rigidity and expansiveness escapes us French.


Coming to London, I admit having a certain number of ideas about British milonga:

  • Do they dance in the clockwise, the same way they drive on the left side?
  • Does “God Save The Queen” replace the traditional “Comparsita”?
  • How do they do for practicing the Abrazo?
  • What do you anticipate from people who hug you gladly by chat, email and tweet and, when you meet in person, shake your hand?
  • Do they dance with their fingertips at the top of their heel needle?


These are the sorts of questions I ‘m asking myself while crossing the honorable column of the Edward Lumley Hall, propriety of the Royal College of Surgeon. Some vast corridors of marble leading to huge rooms covered in precious panels of wood, where paintings were hung in golden frame. Some of them represent portraits of eminent scientists. One particularly catches my attention. The artist succeeds in representing, in just one painting, around two hundred members of this Royal Academy. Of course he has been obliged to compress the honourable gents, some of them seeming to be sat on the knees of their colleague. Unless they met, so many for the circumstance, to watch those split dressed and low necked, who might change their customs? My chance comes, contrary to theirs, and I follow a lovely creature leading me to the Milonga.


Taking a look at the dancers, I recognize my mistake. The British are able to dance Argentina’s Tango, and pretty well in fact. I feel impressed as much as if it were an embassy ball.


At this point, let me confide with you some small confidences of mine;


It’s about seven years that I practice Tango, however, in my case, it has been more than a seven year itch. I have learned lots of steps but I forget more than two-thirds. I always have this anxiety about dancing. I’m going to tell you what I love about Tango: The vals. Heaven. If the lyrics are as sad as the Tango and the speed of the music, just so, it creates a sense of lightness.


So there I was, waiting at the edge of the dancefloor, with detachment. My face, lightly tanned by my slightly Mediterranean origins, could, in this English context, pass for an Argentinian, but I knew that my first step would betray me completely.


Finally the first beat of a vals started. I couldn’t resist. But, jumping between envy and fear, with whom could I dance this tanda? I gaze, as with the Mirada, at a French woman, with as sharp an accent as mine. She blinks to accept. Surely a compatriot may make allowances for me…?


Here we are face to face. I applied myself to do the best abrazo I could, just as I had learnt. But in my mind, I have only one urgent wish: to step forward like a goat. Before I start, I sense a strange mood from my partner, a curious vibration, as if she wriggles. This impression is confirmed at the first ocho cortado, where she continues to twist herself, despite my shoulder return to the center of the track and asking her to come back in front of me.


I understand. She is doing an ornament (firulete). I never understood their usefulness exactly… It may give some plaisir to the ballerina, and let the women play her own part? Maybe it is to show oneself to the other dancers and ensure the next Tanda?


Obviously we were not dancing to the same waltz. I was wishing to turn and she wished to slow down. As all tangueros know, the first dance permits the partners to adjust to each other. The next one gets smoother and better. In this case I am not so sure. Our inception felt like it began as a struggle.


The second round was also catastrophic. I increase the speed to prevent her frivolity. With long legs, I find my natural tendency is to make bigger steps, so you can imagine her difficulty during a forced cross. Slowly our close abrazo slides to open, and then open again until we are wide apart.


In the third run, when I have thrown a spanner in my uncertain tempo, I might have danced this vals at five times, no, maybe seven times more out of time. Sometimes I ‘m staring at the DJ, hoping for the Cortina. My longing could have compelled me to even sing to him, with the quaver of Susan Boyle: “Help me if you can, I’m feeling down. And I do appreciate you being ’round” You know the next.


At the very end of the last dance, I succeed in getting the beat back in my feet and perform my best front cross, just on the last notes. In my experience, you can screw up the tanda, but at least make sure you have taken good care of the landing.


We regain our breath. I was going to respectfully bow to her, thank her for this tanda, and respect the common practice of not crossing our eyes again until the end of the milonga.


Remember, if the English are perfidious, the French are “courtois”, “diplomates” and two-faced…


Then she gives me certain proof of my perfect tango integration in London. Putting back a wick of hair that had fallen from her bun, she exclaims: “Oh! My god!”


I let you imagine the bruise I felt…


Well. I had other Tandas with English woman. I felt tremendous sensations and had great laughs together at our silly mistakes. After all, is that not the most important of all?



  • Milonga: Generic term for the “Tango Bal”, but also one of the three types of dance (Tango, Milonga, Vals).
  • Tanda: For or five pieces of music that succeed each other as a set.
  • Cortina: Music that really has nothing to do with tango but marks the end of Tanda.



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Published: 28 Jul 2015 @ 12:05


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