Tango with a Twist
I returned to Sydney in 2006 after spending seventeen years in Europe and prepared to embark on the next chapter of my life in a city that now seemed foreign to me.
One Sunday afternoon when I was feeling quite down, a friend convinced me to give same sex tango a try. The tango had always struck me as a rather cliched metaphor for male/female sexual dynamics involving rapid-fire leg flicks and back-breaking dips that had the potential to cause irreparable spinal damage. Nevertheless, the idea of learning to dance it with a woman was both incredibly daunting and deliciously exciting…
Our teacher, Anne-Maree Therkleson, immediately put me at my ease with her warm welcome and positive attitude. Here was a straight woman from New Zealand who had always dreamed of creating “tango without borders”. Her same sex classes attracted a small but loyal band of gays and lesbians, as well as straight women who wanted to learn how to take the lead.
Each lesson with Anne-Maree raised new challenges but she always gave me just enough encouragement to keep hanging in there, despite my awkwardness and my two left feet. Focusing on my body and the energy connection with my partner helped me to leave the worries of the world behind for an hour and to become more centred and calm.
In many respects, the tango is a perfect metaphor for human relationships.
It’s about listening, trusting, giving, communicating and sharing.
There can be sexual chemistry sometimes but the joy of connecting with another human in movement and music is more encompassing than that alone.
Traditionally, the man leads and the woman follows but Anne-Maree’s weekly tango get togethers, (known as “milongas”) reflected her unconventional approach to the dance. Couples of all persuasions playfully exchanged roles from leader to follower and back again, creating a more egalitarian version of this endlessly versatile dance as they glided around her Paddington patio.
It took me about 3 months to pluck up the courage to ask Anne-Maree whether she would let me make a short film about her and her unique vision of the dance. Luckily, she was open to the idea and the possibility of making a full-length documentary emerged when she announced that she was taking her first tango tour to Buenos Aires, Argentina in May 2007.
With the help of Screen Australia who provided some funding, I decided to follow four of my fellow students who had been drawn to Anne-Maree’s tango classes for a variety of reasons and had signed up for the tour with differing expectations.
Like me, Blinky, Liz, Phillip and Sally thought the trip to Buenos Aires would provide the perfect opportunity to experience the passion of the dance first-hand and hopefully learn from the masters in the birthplace of tango.
Each “character” saw the dance as a means of expressing their individuality and affirming their identity and I hoped that by following them on their intense, two-week odyssey, interesting personal revelations and developments might occur.
Gay, straight and bi. Beginners, intermediate and advanced.
No doubt about it, we were a mixed bunch but all of us felt a shudder of excitement as we put on our new dance shoes in the home of tango, Buenos Aires, the (slightly dilapidated) “Paris of the south”!
Most of our daytime hours were spent attending classes uptown before changing into our black, formal wear and venturing into a variety of old tango dance halls late at night. The faded red velvet curtains and slightly unhinged chandeliers hinted of glory days past as we admired the simple elegance of the elderly Argentine couples dancing past us. We wondered if we might pick up their graceful ease of movement by osmosis as our clumsy bodies seem to have the capacity to do it on their own…
Gradually we began to dance somewhat sheepishly alongside the real “tangueros” at these evening tango dances known as “milongas”.
Some of us made progress, some felt they went backwards and some remained blissfully ignorant of their total lack of etiquette on the dance floor!
As a lesbian, it was interesting to experience the traditional milongas where the men do the asking by staring at you from across a crowded room. Some of us didn’t even get a first look and probably wouldn’t have known what to do with a second one.
The highlight of the tour was our night at La Marshall – a gay milonga that takes place once a week in a narrow back street near the Avenida Mayor. The venue was nondescript but the atmosphere was vibrant and friendly and the dancing adventurous and inventive. Opportunities for flirtatious leading and following kept us floating on air until sunrise.
I wondered what effect the tour would have on the lives of my characters back in Sydney. Would it affect them on a deep, personal level? As it turns out, it did create some powerful but subtle ripples in the months that followed.
People take up tango lessons for all kinds of reasons. Some like the feeling of being more grounded and in touch with their bodies after a lesson.
Then there’s the social aspect and the exciting possibility of finding romance.
Just being held in someone’s arms in a safe environment was enough to seduce me.
For Blinky, Phillip, Sally and Liz, taking up the tango offered them new hope, consolidated old love, affirmed their identities and opened up interesting opportunities for the future.
It’s helped all of us to build our self-confidence and enabled us to make more intimate connections and deep friendships with people.
I hope that Tango with a Twist conveys at least a glimmer of the sense of connection, joy and solace that the tango offers to all who fall into its seductive embrace, regardless of their sexual orientation or their standard of dance.
© Copyright Tango with a Twist 2009