Midweek Tango

What started out as a standard ‘meet for a birthday cocktail’ midweek took a different turn, as we rounded the corner from Coco500, headed for the Vima dance studio on 3rd, near Brannan. The birthday girl has been taking the Argentine Tango lessons for the past month or so, and so I decided to drop in and observe.

I’ve been an infrequent dance classaholic for years, and my SF experiences have run from Rhythm&Motion funky exercise classes to adult ballet at Shan-Yee Poon. While it’s safe to say that I don’t have two left feet, Tango is still one of the intimidating genres of partner dance. First off: it’s PARTNER dance. When our parents’ generation had a social ‘mixer’, they likely all stood, gender divided, at opposite ends of the rec room until some brave kid broke the stalemate and asked some girl to dance. And back THEN, that dancing might well have involved one-hand-up, one-hand-on-torso positioning. And the partners had to be on the same beat. At least. That’s not so much the case with the current dance scene, and it only takes ONE tango lesson to make that point painfully clear.

We arrive at Vima in time for the Intermediate/Advanced Tango class, and I immediately park myself solidly on a side bench in the tidy, well-lit dance studio. Apparently the beginning classes get a fair sampling of students, but by the time the Intermediate class has convened, the beginners have taken off, and the 12-15 remaining students are NOT beginners, clearly, and they each have the aplomb and acumen of seasoned performers. I sit meekly to the side.

I can’t help but mentally run a 4-8 count in my head, as the paired-off couples glide past me. But Tango is not necessarily that way. As opposed to a rigidly defined beat-count, Tango is a very fluid dance. The music sets the pace, clearly, but the man sets the course. Er, or not.

I watch the skilled instructor, Marcelo, demonstrate segments and expertly perform the segeway between what the class had been repeatedly engraving, and a new twist, complete with cross-steps and weight-shifts. Again, I am happy to be ensconced on the side. But this is not meant to be.

After the 45 minute class has wrapped up, the music continues for the students to linger on, practicing their basic steps with the lesson’s more advanced combos. And I am pulled up by one of the intermediate students. You ought to try, he says.

My basic salsa background kicks in, thankfully, and I am not uncomfortable with the partnered-stance. I don’t get the least bit of actual lesson before the tango strains propel us across the floor. I keep the beat – thank goodness! – but find my Franco Sartos dragin’ and my fluidity, well, not fluid. A pause in the music brings a welcome reprieve and a quick 1-8 count lesson on how NOT to trip your partner and send them reeling, head-first, towards the full-wall-mirror. And I succeed in that department. But just barely.

Another brave intermediate student requests my hand, and the whirl around the floor continues. These guys are good, there is no doubt, and a few turns along the floor later, I learn why.

Marcelo, their instructor, is VERY GOOD. In his firm clasp the gliding step comes to me almost naturally (almost!). He talked me through the steps, clearly and succinctly, and his smooth, suave (in a good way) accent relaxes me. By evening’s end, I’d joined the ranks, and we’d slid, cross-stepped, and (in my case) death-gripped* our way in slow, sensuous circles around the ballroom.


* my apologies to the gentleman who’s hand I crushed while getting used to the cross-ankle, weight-shift move. Your personal sacrifice of future manual dexterity to keep me upright was greatly appreciated!

btw, Vima holds a wide range of dance classes, including Ballroom, Tango, Rumba, Salsa and Rueda.

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