The Original Dirty Dancing

11:59 AM
HOLY WEEK is not exactly the best of times to be lost in a dance described as “the original dirty dancing.”

But I was going on holiday to Buenos Aires, the birthplace of the tango – and I was not about to pass up the chance to live out the romantic fantasy conjured by that tango sequence between Gabrielle Anwar and Al Pacino in “Scent of a Woman.”

It has always been one of my all time favorite movie scenes – when this retired blind lieutenant takes the lady in his arms and they are lost in the swell of the music and the sway of their bodies. I fell in love not only with Al Pacino’s fearless character but also with the idea of how a dance like tango could make even a blind man see. Since then, I’ve been intrigued by this dance, which began around the 1800s.

It wasn’t just Pacino that infused excitement into the scene, I soon realized, for apparently in Buenos Aires, the tango was indeed considered more like foreplay to what could happen later in the evening. Lonely men would frequent bars and gambling houses, socializing, drinking, gambling and looking for “romance” in the company of women of ill repute by trying the steps of the new dance. Experimentation, regardless of taste, lewdness or even obscenity was the order of the day in terms of “dance steps.”
The tango broke a lot of taboos. In that era, it was considered risque for a couple to dance in front of each other, with the man’s right arm touching the woman’s back. Here was a dance that incorporated a close embrace, cheek to cheek contact, chests touching, legs invading each other’s space, seemingly in a long conversation of love and passion. Along with flirtatious looks and caresses, it was the ultimate example of promiscuity and sin!

But it all sounded so exciting – and I was more than ready to be whirled in a dance which, I’ve heard it said, could be “thrilling” with the right partner or “nasty get-your-filthy-paws-off-me” with the wrong one.

My sisters describe me as independent and willful but also incurably romantic. I wondered which of this was me when I dared to be drawn into a dance of “four legs, two minds and one heart.” Could a semi-cynic like myself actually allow a total stranger to take control over my body, or even my heart?

“Dancing tango is like learning to speak a foreign language,” says Marion Krauthaker, director of Caminos de Tango Ireland. “At the beginning it feels awkward and you don’t really know what you are saying, nor do you understand what people are trying to tell you. Then you master some basic sentences and you are just thrilled. Being able to share these precious words with other people is so rewarding. Later on, you can have more philosophical conversations – and the feeling is just pure delight. But then again it’s all a question of personality. With some people you never want to stop talking, with others you run out of arguments, and with a few you just don’t get on.”

The “language” needs to be relearned with each new partner, I also discovered. The experts say the tango takes a lifetime to master as it is full of subtle emotional nuances and gestures that alter even the basic eight steps that make up its core choreography. A person’s tango repertoire is only limited by his or her creativity and emotions.
Maybe that explains in part why it’s a dance that appeals mostly to older people who have the patience and time to explore its many subtleties. This is not a dance for everyone.

Ambassador Rey Carandang, our gracious host in Argentina, has a vast collection of tango music, ranging from deeply sensual to furiously angry. He claims there is a tango song for every mood and personality.

They say when you first hear tango music, you don’t immediately love it. But when you start dancing to it, you can’t help but get lost in it.

My first attempt to dance the tango was with my high school classmate Carmella Gana, to the tune of “Fernando’s Hideaway.” Suffice it to say that it was all drama with no actual dancing involved. Later I learned that this is the way most women and men learn, by dancing among themselves. Only later, when they have enough skills not to embarrass their teacher, are they brought to dance with the opposite sex. In Buenos Aires, the top tangueros spend the first six months of lessons just learning to walk the right way.

So tango I did in Buenos Aires. And I’ve had mixed reviews regarding my partnering skills. On the one hand, I’ve been told I have the makings of a dancer. On the other, I’ve been called “stiff” due to my tendency to lead. Believing that the truth lies somewhere in the middle, my favorite compliment was when this very good dancer/acquaintance of mine whispered that I have the makings of good dancer – all I needed was a strong partner.

I admit I was thrilled. I wondered about the double entendre there. But then, as I’m as quick learner, I realized that after all, that’s what the language of tango is all about – “innuendo.”

Is the language of tango for me? Can I let go and, as they say, “Lead from inside the body and not just my head…?”

Typical tango, it’s a question that pertains not only to the dance but to life as well. Like most women, I enjoy getting swept off my feet, so I guess I’m ready to tango. And like any independent strong-willed person, I’m just waiting for a strong partner to lead the way.

By Leica Carpo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 20:01:00 05/15/2010

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