Or, you can see a rambling, scruffy line of pale-faced young men shuffling forwards in clear and present embarrassment. Tango lessons in Buenos Aires are not for the faint-hearted.
“The most important thing to remember…..,” our petite instructor’s translation fades out; her master has orchestrated a dramatic pause. He stands to attention, dressed in tar-black shoes, trousers and shirt that meld to his skin. He sharpens his beaded eyes before completing his sentence. “Never kick the mujer.”
His partner hesitates, her hands fluttering in a bird-like gesture. “You should never kick the woman.”
Deep in this dusty underground hall, I am relieved.
“Pression,’ the lesson goes on. “You must have pression. You must have control. You must look as though you are in control. And you must be in control.”
To illustrate this point, the men must practice walking around the room. Not dancing. Walking. While projecting the impression that they are in control.
The music crackles, thumping out a slow, almost military beat. Our lead berates his blushing students in denim and trainers. Chin up. Look manly. Stride. Breathe. It is one of the funniest things I have ever seen.
Two or three tracks later, he commands us girls onto the dance floor.
“When you take the woman,” the dainty senorita translates, “you must pression against the hips, with your hand in the small of her back. She must never forget,” she adds, “that you are in control.”
Four minutes later I’m being introduced to Brad. He sweeps his fringe away from his eyes and offers me an apology before we even begin. Hand in clammy hand, he tries to teach me how to walk. My heels scrape along the polished wooden floor, an erratic match to the striking rhythm that surrounds us.
Brad limps away and an even thinner, more awkward American, Brady, takes his place. He cannot look me in the eye and in return I gaze over his shoulder to watch my husband. Paired with the professional dancer, his face radiates fear, as this taut, tight five-foot-two bundle of muscle urges him to take control.
My stage-side ruminations don’t last long, however. Soon, Brady steps aside and in the gap between thundering soundtracks I realise that it is my turn with the master. With a loud snap, the music starts and my back cracks in two. I never realised I could bend this much, although it doesn’t seem to be within my control.
According to the lesson, we are still only walking. But with my pelvis grazing his, my hand clasped tight and my centre of gravity displaced far behind my feet, it dawns on me that it scarcely matters what I do.
I’ve never shared so much surface area with a stranger and through the subterranean heat of Buenos Aires, my British manners kick in….. I lift my eyes. I try to offer a self-deprecating shrug or at the very least forge some small talk.
No way. His eyes lock mine with more intensity than his body. There’s no space to turn my head. My cheeks flame and I can see nothing other than his fixed determination.
Legends describe tango as a dance fermented in Argentina’s underworld, a tradition derived from prostitutes and gangsters, an outlet to express a bitter and beautiful interpretation of life. In a flash I understand it all. The passion, the violence, the views towards women.
With cold concentration, we cross beneath the spotlights. Then I am released. Without a second glance, he selects another woman from our bumbling, floppy-haired crowd.
I gasp for breath as my thoughts catch up with my pulse.
We were only walking; the tango is yet to come.
Names have been changed to protect the embarrassed.
Update – the accordion is in fact not an accordion. It’s a bandoneon, an instrument with buttons instead of keys on the side. Thanks to TangoAna for the update on Tango.