“Look at your body language,” exclaimed Paulo, a few minutes into my first tango lesson in Lisbon.
I’d barely set foot in the room and yet this suave-tastic teacher had already sized me up. Maybe he had a sixth sense for rabbits caught in milonga headlights.
I’ve heard people wax lyrical often enough about the power of tango to reflect day-to-day issues in their dance. Until now I’ve always brushed it aside as melodramatic and a sign the person in question sorely needed a hobby off the dance floor.
But tonight it seemed like tango was (without wanting to sound too wanky) a magnifying glass for my state of mind. You see, even when I’m cutting about in a pair of Toms rather than teetering on 8-cm sparkly Bandoleras I dread being the focus of stares or any form of attention.
As soon as I see a group of (attractive/young/any) men up ahead I’ll instantly take a zealous interest in examining the pavement. If I’ve ever spoken in front of a group, to contribute or ask a question, you’ll recognise me without being introduced. Yes, I’m the one with the pulsating tomato face of embarrassment.
Back in the microcosm of the tango class, my nose is pressed against Mr Suave-tastic’s crisp shirt while my haunches hop around helplessly to Canaro’s Milonga Criola. While the beat pulls his carefully pressed tango trousers to the right, my legs and brain feel the movement too late and are still springing on the same spot.
“Sorry,” Paulo graciously and genuinely murmurs each time – despite the fact he’s not the one messing it all up.
By the end of the track I’m certain my efforts have poor Canaro spinning in his grave. Now even more panic-stricken than when the infamous ‘ba-dum-dum-dum’ beat started echoing off the tiled walls, I ask Paulo what is going so wrong.
“It feels like you’re trying to make all your movements exact and beautiful,” he explains. “That’s why you can’t keep up. And you get so tense. You need to be heavy, go down into the floor. Don’t be afraid of being heavy.”
Eurgh. Go away, real life. I’m trying to switch off and have fun.
You see, whenever I’m worried people are looking at me, I overthink every action. What to do with my arms while waiting for the tram. How to sit while listening to someone give a talk. It sounds ridiculous on paper, granted, but I really do put that much thought into ‘prettifying’ my actions.
I can’t let them see I’m actually a bumbling, weight-paranoid, butch lady who frequently walks into walls and as soon as it gets above 25 degrees has hair that you could easily mistake for Randy Moss’s in his mega fro days.
But it seems tango doesn’t let you pretend. You may be able to trick the people watching, but not the one you’re pressed up against and sharing this moment with.
Maybe that’s what it all comes down to. The fact you’re never alone in this story. That you can only truly enjoy the dance if you work together, leave all the self-doubt in your shoe bag, give yourself up fully to the lead and let the ba-dum-dum-dum race through your veins.
How much that refers to life or just to tango I’ll let you decipher.