When I watched the new Howcast video series on How to Do the Argentine Tango, the part that most impressed me – besides the sheer beauty of the dance – was how civilized tango dance parties are. Called Milongas, they have an unwritten rule about how people approach one another for a dance, and it removes a lot of the anxiety from this social convention. Here’s the deal: The guy scopes the room until he finds someone he’d like to ask to dance. When he does, he makes eye contact. If the woman gives a little smile or an affirmative nod, he knows it’s safe to approach her to escort her onto the dance floor. If she quickly looks away, she is signaling that she will not welcome his invitation for a dance. Civilized, right? No one has to be embarrassed; no one has to embarrass anyone. Women can initiate eye contact as well. And, once on the dance floor, you needn’t worry about someone interrupting your dance: Cutting in is a no-no in tango.
J.R. Heffelfinger, the producer who shot and edited the tango series, found other subtleties about the Argentine tango that he liked. “If one partner sees that they’re about to collide with another couple on the dance floor, he or she gives a gentle tap to their partner’s back, and that person knows that some deft footwork is in order.” J.R. also liked that the tango is very much about being in tune with your partner’s body. “The guy holds the woman in a way that lets her know which direction he’s taking her in; it’s about being aware of your body and your partner’s body, which is very sensual. The tango is all about feeling connected to your dance partner; it’s a very sexy and romantic dance – almost like making love on the dance floor.” Maybe that’s why marriage therapists in Italy have begun assigning tango lessons to estranged partners as part of their couples counseling (well, they do say that dance is the vertical expression of horizontal desire….).
Learning how to tango is providing unexpected benefits to people with physical and mental challenges as well. People with Parkinson’s Disease who took tango lessons achieved better balance; Alzheimer’s Disease patients showed improved memory. When a group of senior citizens was divided into two exercise groups — one began a walking regimen, the other took Argentine tango lessons — the dancers outperformed the walkers in balance, posture, motor coordination, and the ability to multitask after just 10 weeks. Researchers believe that learning to tango could help reduce a senior citizen’s chance of falling, preventing a lot of the broken bones that are the bane of old age. And it’s not just any ballroom dance that will do: The tango has been shown to be equal to or substantially better than other ballroom dances in improving memory and mobility.
Diego Blanco and Ana Padron, the professional tango dancers featured in Howcast’s Argentine Tango dance lessons video guide, have seen firsthand the power of the tango to improve people’s lives. “We’ve taught children who are visually impaired, and people over 80 with Alzheimer’s,” says Diego. “Good posture is very important in the Argentine Tango, and we’ve noticed that when people improve their posture, they carry themselves more confidently and that makes other people perceive them in a better light. Straight posture also makes people feel better physically: Musicians who have learned the tango tell us it helps them to play their instrument, and people who sit at desks all day say they feel less body strain.”
But what if you were simply born with two left feet? Diego assures me that anyone who is motivated can learn to do the tango; it just takes practice.
“But people enjoy practicing because the tango is a fun dance,” says Diego, adding that tango is one of the sexier ballroom dances. “People love the close embrace of tango, where you dance chest to chest and cheek to cheek. In many ballroom dances, people unite at the hip. In the Argentine tango, partners unite at the heart.”