Culture | Save the last tango

A writer tries to find her footing

My first encounter with the McGill Tango Society was an unexpected experience. The student-run dance organization at McGill is back in full force, but put aside all dreams of being the next So You Think You Can Dance winner. I arrived inexperienced in the realm of tango, in fact, generally inept in the realm of dance.

The tango is a traditional Latin American dance of Argentinean origin, notorious for its exotic moves, distinct and abrupt rhythm, and characteristic sensuality. Tango competitions occur worldwide at the professional level as well as recreationally at institutions like McGill.

Lo and behold, we didn’t start with typical moves like side steps and twirls. Instead we began by walking with “passion” and “intention,” as we were told by our instructors Pooya and Stephanie, two passionate “tangoers” from Montreal Gotan, a group of professional tango performers and teachers. The first tasks were to gain an awareness of your partner by having them lead you blindly across the room, to keep your feet as close together as possible, and to “slide” instead of stepping. While this may sound easy, I noticed that many of us were in the same boat – shy and stumbling and stepping on our partner’s sore feet. We were next encouraged to sway in rhythm and to learn to predict the leader’s next step, and eventually, to have our partner lead us in an open embrace across the room. Our instructors said you often just “know” when and where your partner is going to make his or her next step. Unfortunately, I do not possess this admirable sixth sense, as I constantly trampled my partner.

Our instructors invoked food analogies, making us all more hungry, through instructions such as gripping our partner’s shoulder’s with a “tomato touch” and moving toward each other with a vigour like there was a “chocolate between us,” which was highly distracting, I might add.

While we didn’t actually dance in this introductory session, I learned that tango is more than dance, it is a way of presenting and conducting oneself and of achieving trust and intimacy with a partner, no matter what gender (relevant, given the unfortunate lack of guys at this event).

In an interview with The Daily, Tango at McGill executive Sabina Roan pointed out that the organization is not only a class but also a taste of another culture, and a way “to use other parts of your being” than your academic skills. Fellow executive Morgan Crowley discussed how, while at first it may feel awkward, tango brings you closer to people both literally and figuratively. “You feel more comfortable with others [and] more conscious of your body and steps,” she explained. While I agree with this, I personally felt uncomfortable, as normally I’m used to leading, tomboy that I am, and letting my partner do this for me felt bizarre.

Morgan joined on a friend’s recommendation. I joined because I volunteered to write about it, and now I’m encouraging all McGill students to join. It is a fun, engaging workout, and a way to meet friends. Beyond the lessons, there are also weekly practicas held on Friday nights from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., with dancing, viewings of films about tango, Latin American snacks like empanadas, and live bandoneón (similar to accordion) players. The organization also plans periodic tango dance evenings at milongas outside McGill in the Montreal community. Even if you’re not sure that Latin American culture or tango itself interests you, come out because it is a hilarious experience, especially if you’re a first time tangoer like me.

Lessons for beginners (level I) are held Thursday from 6:00 to 7:15 p.m. in the SSMU Breakout Room. Intermediate level classes are held after from 7:15 to 8:00 p.m. “Tango at McGiIl” offers nine further sessions over the course of the semester, for $35 altogether, or $6 for a drop-in session.

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