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Thursday, 4 November, 1999, 10:11 GMT
Forever Tango
The mystery of tango lures dancers across the world
The romance of tango lures dancers across the world
By BBC News Online's Jane Black

"It's an addiction," Anna, a young German lawyer who lives in London, admits shamelessly.

The others gathered round the small table nod in agreement.

Like almost everyone present, Anna is dressed in black. Her dress is stylishly low cut. And as she leans across the table, she uncrosses and re-crosses her legs, flashing sparkling seamed stockings and high-heeled black pumps.

Tango by the Seine
Tango by the Seine - a romantic vision from "The Tango Lesson"
"The first time I danced tango," she whispers, "I was hooked."

With loyal fans like this, it's no wonder the tango is making a comeback across the world. From London to Los Angeles and Berlin to Buenos Aires, tango aficionados are dancing the night away at local milongas. Many tangueros dance as often as five times a week.

The tango's allure needs little explanation. The Argentine writer, Jorge Luis Borges, captured it best when he wrote: "The tango is a direct expression of something that poets have often tried to state in words: that a fight may be a celebration."

Even to those that have never tried it, the tango connotes passion and romance, dominance and surrender, a femme fatale with a rose in her teeth.

Tango postcard
Fulfilling your fantasies is what tango is all about
"The tango lets people fulfil fantasies," one London tango student told me. "Older dancers can be what they once were - or never were. Through the dance, short men are transformed to gallant suitors; older women can justify wearing inappropriate sequined, black dresses."

What to expect from your first tango in Paris ... or anywhere else

The reality of learning tango is often less romantic than its reputation would suggest.

Milongas, from San Francisco to London to Paris, are no longer held in luxurious high-society clubs but small, and sometimes tacky, out-of-the way dance halls.

The dancers are mostly middle-aged. The men dance too close, the women's dresses are too tight and everyone's smile is a bit too bright.

"We've lost all the young dancers to salsa," an Israeli who lives in Paris complained.

The tango also is extremely technical, and therefore frustrating to learn.

"Don't be afraid to make a mistake," my first teacher warned me. "Even if you dance every night (which I didn't), you still have a year's worth of mistakes to make."

Tango inspires passion but it's not as easy as it looks
Tango inspires passion but it's not as easy as it looks
And that is before you even begin learning the embellishments and kicks that make the dance sexy.

It seems that most people simply don't have the patience. To reach the intermediate level, most instructors say you must take lessons for one to two years.

But those that love tango argue that the dance's difficulty increases its attraction. Perfecting it becomes the obsession.

Sally Potter, director of the new top-10 film, "The Tango Lesson", can surely attest to that.

"What began as something on the sidelines of my life - something done for pleasure, for fun - gradually became an obsession," she says of her inspiration for the film.

Almost everyone I talked to agreed. Peter, a man who his friends described as a pillar of the London tango community, says that "there is just nothing like the tango".

"First, I think it is the music. It literally haunts you," he said. "Then there is the way you feel: It's unique. You meet someone you don't know on the side of the dance floor and dance - it's intimate, it's romantic, it's a bond like no other."

See also:

04 Jan 98 | Tango
04 Jan 98 | Tango
04 Jan 98 | Tango
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