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Bewitched by Tango

Bewitched by Tango

Murdoch Mactaggart explains his passion for Argentine tango and how you can learn in Bridport

They say about Argentine tango, tango te espera, “tango waits for you”. Sometime, somewhere, while you’re dancing tango you’ll feel the change, that you’re not just moving to music but that you’re at one with tango, that tango is dancing you.

It was Susie Wreford of West Compton who introduced me to Argentine tango about seven years ago. She and Angus Handoll, from Askerswell, had started a group near Dorchester and I went along, stumbling about and in the early stages not really grasping how tango differed from other dances. Dorchester Tango has closed but I repay that introduction by running a group in Bridport on Wednesday evenings in the Conservative Club in North Street from 7.30pm.

Forget Strictly Come Dancing! Forget ballroom tango! Argentine tango is something else entirely — exciting, sensuous, deceptively simple but never-ending in its possibilities and a dance for all ages. John Balfour, for instance, was 89 when he came to Bridport Tango and got so enthused that he and his wife Valerie took an exciting tango trip to Buenos Aires last summer.

Argentine tango is unique in being entirely improvised and with no formal steps, as is the case in most other dances. It’s a dynamic conversation driven by the music and empathy between the partners and no two dances are ever the same. It’s complex, sophisticated and compelling — be warned that if you take to tango, it can become a passion, as it is already for many. But if you learn how to dance tango properly, something both simpler but ultimately more challenging and more satisfying than learning dance steps, then you’ll be able to dance well with others who can do the same, anywhere in the world.

Argentina, long a complex mix of nationalities and ethnic groups in many combinations including native Indians, Spanish conquerors and African slaves, began to expand rapidly from about 1895. Buenos Aires in particular added Italians, Czechs, Poles, Cubans, Brazilians and many more. Music had always been important and out of this vibrant mix of Afro-Argentine rhythm, native folk dancing, and European waltzes, polkas and mazurkas came tango. Initially a dance of the indigent, the working classes, of the brothels and the ports, it was frowned on by polite society before becoming central to the culture. It became a Paris craze in 1912, raged through Europe and north America in the 20s and 30s, was repeatedly suppressed by dictators and right-wing regimes, but survived and is now danced all over the world from Buenos Aires to Bridport and beyond.

When you dance tango you become an extra member of the orchestra. You dance for yourselves, moving to and interpreting the tango music you both hear. This demands empathy between and respect for each other and is deeply satisfying, contributing as it does to the magic allure of the dance, quite different from any other I’ve tried.

Dancing tango really well is not easy but it’s worth it. And we’re a friendly group. Begin the bewitching! Tango te espera.

Inspiration for Argentine tango is spreading in the South West
Inspiration for Argentine tango is spreading in the South West

Bridport Tango ran an intensive tango event over the bank holiday weekend, 23/24 May

The event took place mainly at the Conservative Club in North Street from 10am to midnight on the Saturday and to 11pm on the Sunday. Alfredo Martín Espindola from Argentina and Emma Lucia Reyes from Chile and London, both experienced tango teachers, ran workshops during the day. Then in the evenings, there were milongas, public dances, with live music and a home cooked Argentine-style buffet supper. The pianist was Tim Sharp, who studied at the Guildhall and in Havana and Lima and has become well-known for playing tango and Latin music. He and Martín have played together at the Royal Festival Hall and provided live music here — voice, piano and bandoneón, the characteristic tango concertina. There were also tango demonstrations.

For more details about Bridport Tango, email murdoch@tangobridport.org.uk, or call 01308 897231

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