Musings, UK

Dancing the Tango in Ireby


It was always going to be awkward. Creeping downstairs in my PJs in a stranger’s house, pushing through the living room door and sitting down in front of our host for the first time. But awkwardness settled quietly onto the sofa beside me and morphed into something lovely as we began to chat. I was being welcomed into a stranger’s house, on little more than an internet profile and a long distance vibe. There was something beautiful about being entrusted with cottage and cats as the owners jetted off to Argentina to dance the Tango for four weeks. There was something soothing about being accepted, exactly as we were . . . PJs and all.

But the unexpected peace of that first meeting engulfed and eluded me in the four weeks to come. Like a Tango of rejection and acceptance, under a perennial blanket of grey. The insecurities that had haunted me up until we left home, returned with a new passion, and I was overcome by my thoughts. What the hell had we done? What responsible late-thirty-something couple quits their jobs and jets off to the other side of the world for an indefinite period of time? Leaves their beautiful sunburnt country for the land of eternal winter? With no income and no long term plan?

And in the first whole month we’d managed a grand total of five rides, visited one museum and done not one Fell walk. (We hadn’t even made it to a Peter Rabbit attraction!) Our van was still filled with a mountain of suitcases and bike parts; I’d failed to establish a regular blog; and we had no idea where we would be heading once our hosts returned. In short, we’d spent four weeks in the spectacular Lake District, and all I had to show for it was a suitcase full of cat fur and an incessant frog in my throat. So with no job, no home to keep, and our meagre belongings in one disorganised mess, what the hell was my purpose?

Reflection on my failings was interrupted by an email from our lovely hosts asking if we’d like to stay a little longer and join them for a Tango lesson on their return. Now I have no sense of rhythm and no idea when it comes to dancing, yet I jumped at the chance. If for no other reason than that this answered my perpetual question. This was the purpose: to meet new people; try new experiences. And face old fears.

Sitting in the corner of the country pub, I clung to my chair and stared out at the deserted dance floor as my hosts set up for the lesson. Involuntary tears of terror welled behind my eyes, and again I asked myself: What the hell had I done? I didn’t dance. I’d never even floundered around in nightclubs after a few too many drinks. A foot taller than my friends, I’d known I’d only look like an uncontrollable, crowd surfing octopus. So being expected to dance was scary enough, but with Colby still laid up with the flu, I was surrounded by strangers. I would be dancing ‘alone’!

Not only did I not dance, but I was haunted by the prospect of being completely useless! After fifteen years working as an engineer in a man’s world, it had become essential to only ever put my best foot forward. To choose my battles carefully and bury my insecurities beneath my skills, lest I was judged incapable, ignorant, or incompetent. But somewhere along the line, I’d become a complete control freak.

So as my host held out his hand to show me the ropes, I was being asked to be completely vulnerable, in the arms of a stranger . . . and it was terrifying.

Fifteen years of festering control freakery went into the concrete statue I just couldn’t shed as I was dragged from one side of the floor to the other. My feet moved only when there was no other choice to stop me from falling on my face, and no amount of coaxing could move my shoulders from around my ears.

“Tango was originally danced between men and men . . .” my teacher began to speak, his voice soft, his eyes fixed sympathetically on the terror exuding from my own. His words did little to reassure me, or remove my sense of ridiculousness as I swayed above him. I cursed my decision to wear the only pair of smart shoes I’d brought – a pair of 6” heels.

Nonplussed, he continued, his voice soothing. “. . . back on the working-class streets of Argentina in the 1800’s when the Europeans had gone there to make their fortune.” I focussed on moving one foot after the other, like a robot, grateful his words were focussed on something other than my lack of co-ordination.

“Tango is about talking. About listening and telling.” He explained, his words drifting off, as I yearned for a merciful end to it all. “You tell, and I listen,” he said, opening up for me to take the lead. I stumbled around, letting my feet fall wherever they landed.

(Note – Not an actual photo of the night. )

“Then I tell and you listen,” he said, gently changing our direction. “It is about talking. Communicating. Being flexible and going with the flow. There are no rules. We’re just talking.” The ‘talking’ stopped with the music, thankfully, just as another group of students entered the room and I slunk back to my chair in the corner.

My relief was short lived however as the group dance began, and a partner-less gentleman approached to ask if I’d like to ‘give it a go.’ I immediately admired this man. He’d seen my substandard dancing, and at 6’1”, 75kg and in a pair of killer heels I could do some serious damage! Torn between leaving this poor man without a partner, and making a complete fool of myself again, I opted to ‘give it a go.’ And as I unfolded from my chair and towered over him, he showed only acceptance.

I’m not sure exactly when my shoulders finally came away from my ears, but at some point I managed to relax. My partner didn’t care that I didn’t know the steps. That I jerked around like a robot. That I towered above him. The only person judging me was myself. Suddenly, something changed and I found myself dancing. Proper dancing. I was going with the flow. Open. Vulnerable. And having fun!

Looking into the origins of this intriguing dance, I find that it tells the story of relationships, emigration and the search for identity. Everything my teacher had said was so relevant, and not only on the dance floor. The Tango is about letting go . . . and so is this journey I am on. Letting go of having to be ‘perfect’ and learning to trust. People. Instinct. The direction of life.

If I can survive my nightmare of making a fool of dancing ridiculously in front of strangers, maybe I can start letting go of the need to only ever put my best foot forward. To trust, be vulnerable, have fun, and go where the road leads without fear and judgement. To dance the Tango with destiny.