A passionate dance brings out a great passion in its participants. Cate Foster puts aside her fears, feels the rhythm and signs up for tango lessons.
Why is it that certain places, pastimes or people come with impossibly romantic associations? Perhaps the answer lies deep somewhere within our cultural psyches and the answers are many and various, but one only has to think of springtime in Paris, fountains in Rome or dancing cheek-to-cheek in smoky bodegas south of an alien border, to be transported to dreams of sultry Latin nights.
Or at least that's how it felt to me as I pushed open an anonymous pair of high red doors between two shops in downtown Auckland and climbed the shabby stairs to Pasion Por Tango's premises on the second floor. Slightly nervous, definitely excited, I was going to begin learning that most Latin of all dances, the tango. I say "begin" because it takes about a year to learn social tango, and that is a completely different and much simpler beast from the theatrics of show tango, which anyone who has watched Dancing With the Stars will remember.
Marion Henton who runs Pasion Por Tango admits to a passion that, if not exactly ruling her life, has added a frisson that it didn't have before.
"There's something about tango. The complexity, the way it combines the movements of the body with the music. When it all comes together there is a moment of pure bliss. We call it a 'tango moment'."
It is that music, swooping and yet syncopated, that greets me when I push open the doors to the studio itself. A huge loft space meets my eyes, with bare brick walls, windows on both sides of the city block it spans and a beamed ceiling. Noir-like, it only lacks the smoke wreathing the lights to be a movie set. An intermediate level class is in progress with tutors Era and Stephan, and the air is tense with concentration.
All these pupils would have had about four to six months of lessons and yet it is obvious they are still learning hard. I begin to think about my two left feet and general lack of rhythm and wonder if I've overstepped my abilities.
When the beginners' class starts I don't feel quite so out of place. Some, like me, have never done it before, while others are still in the early stages. For a start, not all the women are wearing high heels as they were in the intermediate, and for this I immediately feel better. What does strike me is the wide age range. The youngest in both classes are in their 20s, the oldest perhaps in their 60s. Also, the genders are well balanced. Some are partners, some are friends or flatmates, and some have been matched up by Marion.
When the classes finish, with many of the intermediates staying behind to help out the beginners, everyone moves to a nearby bar in the Viaduct for a bit of social getting together and yes, you guessed it, more tango. A quick glance at the website shows me that this is a most social form of dance. Throughout the week there are milongas (Spanish for place) where aficionados meet and dance. Some take the form of tea dances, some are events at bars and restaurants. There is even Practica in the Park in the cricket grandstand in the Domain on the last Sunday of every month.
So what is the attraction that inspires such fierce loyalty? Perhaps it is because it is complex enough to be challenging but not so impossibly hard that only those with the bodies of adolescents and a decade's training can participate. Perhaps it's just a touch of that good old Latin romance working its magic.
Facebook page: TangoClub Auckland.