Partners in tango or in crime?
"You have to have a regular partner to really get on in Tango" - if I had a pound every time I heard that, I'd have, well, a few quid at least. It's a common refrain - usually used as an excuse by someone for not starting to learn.
It's not true, of course, as most people don't have regular dance partners and they still manage to progress just fine. But, what are the benefits - and the problems - of a partnership? Is it worth it?
I wanna hold your hand
It can be a scary world out there - tango venues are not always welcoming, if you go on your own, But if you have a partner, you always have someone to go to new venues with, and to dance with at those venues. Basic emotional suport is not to be underestimated.
But then, you don't get the sense of self-satisfaction that you receive from achieving something completely by yourself, you don't have the incentive to talk to people and make new friends, and you don't have the freedom to choose exactly where and when to go; or not to.
The wind beneath my wings
It takes a lot of self-discipline to push yourself into practicing by yourself - it's hard work, it's no fun, and there's always Eastenders on the telly instead. But a partner allows you to set regular and frequent practice sessions, to force you both to actually work on your dancing. You can spur each other on, and hopefully you can provide constructive feedback to each other.
On the other hand, this also can mean that you re-inforce each other's bad habits. Doing things wrong and then practicing to make you better at doing them wrong. In addition, careless criticism from someone close can wound more than comments from a stranger, so you've always got to be careful not to wound each other's delicate egos.
An experimental relationship
A partnership allows you to experiment with variations and difficult steps - volcadas, sacadas, and so on - and work to the point where you get those steps integrated into your dancing. It's far more difficult to focus on single areas without a partner to help and support you; not many strangers are likely to be keen to work with you on kicking their legs correctly for an hour at a time...
On the other hand, just because you can lead your partner in a wonderful and flashy move, that's no guarantee that you can actually lead that move. There's a good chance that you've both simply subconsciously developed a body language "code" that each of you understand and respond to, but which will be useless as a general lead on a stranger.
Dance partnerships can overlap with other kinds of relationship. If you spend a lot of time cuddling someone, the boundaries can get blurred - let's face it, you're unlikely to commit to a dance partnership with someone you find physically repulsive. You see this happen all the time in the dance world. Which is fine if the relationship is fine, but if the relationship breaks down, the entire thing can go pear-shaped. Look at Vincent and Flavia.
On the other hand, that's life. We meet people, we connect with them, and then we drift away from them.
So is it worth it?
I don't know.
Like a lot of Tango, there are simple "laws", which then turn into more complex "rules" and then finally become optional "guidelines". The more you find out, the more you realise that there are few simple answers. Again, that's life. Hopefully, however, this article has provided you with some food for thought.
- David Bailey