No One Taught Me To Tango

Anglo-Argentinean Memoir by Trevor Grove (Black Spring)

Sometimes my past seems a bit unreal! Especially when I read about it in other people’s books and memoirs! Trevor Grove is a best-selling author and a renowned journalist, who was an editor of the Sunday Telegraph.

Ok, his portrait of me is rather generous and kind (and this post may seem like a shameless plug!), but the book is a good read, and I recommend it if you are at all interested in Argentina, it’s history and tango seen through the eyes of another dancer between worlds.

As for me, reading Trevor’s kaleidoscopic descriptions of that dungeon-like Boston Arms pub we used to, every week, diligently, turn into a haven for the tango aficionados from all over the world, felt so real, I was truly back there again!

Besides that, I do feel incredibly touched that due to our lessons, Trevor and his wife Valerie went on trying to learn, and visited the city of Trevor’s childhood, Buenos Aires.. after which, even this book was born!

Here is the excerpt:


To say the tango is a kind of walking makes it sound easy. But that is because normally we walk without thinking about it. The moment you do give the matter your full attention, it is extraordinary how awkward the process becomes. For each of your limbs and extremities you are suddenly faced with a range of options. Take the foot: should you place it on the ground toe first, heel first or flat? What angle the ankle? How bent the knee? It is like being told that life is a kind of breathing, which is true but could lead to a panic attack if contemplated too deeply.

The caminita, the basic tango walk, must be smooth and relaxed. The upper body remains level, the sole of the foot skims the floor. You must not hop or skip or jump or wag your head about. At our first lesson my wife and I weren’t even allowed to attempt the salida until we had spent half an hour doing lengths of The Boston Arms’s upper room. Biljana, the Serbian tango teacher from Sarajevo, a sylph in cargo pants, walked with us. Or rather she glided along- side, her trainers padding across the beer-stained boards as stealthily as a cat’s paws. We, by contrast, might have been wearing flippers.

Biljana Lipic had been recommended to us as the best tango teacher in London by our friend Clive James. Author, wit, poet and TV host, Clive was also an accomplished tango dancer. In fact, being stocky and barrel-chested, he was the ideal build to make a woman feel confident in his arms. ‘Don’t even try any fancy stuff,’ was his sage advice. He had taken to tango when writing about Argentina for the Observer. On his return, he had fallen for Biljana, as did we when we entered the upper room of The Boston Arms for our first lesson. But for her radiant presence, we might have turned tail at the door. There were a few cheap chairs and tables around the walls and a primitive bar. Otherwise the room was dingy, cheerless, dirty and smelt of Jeyes fluid. Most evenings the place was called The Dome and hosted club nights of the nastiest, noisiest kind for north Londoners of our children’s generation. But then on Wednesdays it became Zero Hour, named after an album by the coolest of tango-composers, Astor Piazzolla. Red cloths were draped over the shabby tables. Candles were lit. There were vases of flowers. Men unzipped their anoraks; girls got out of their puffa jackets to reveal slinky dresses or tight jeans and changed shoes into strappy high heels. The character-less room was now transformed into the nearest thing to a Buenos Aires tango salon anywhere in London.

The lessons with Biljana were an early 60th birthday present from Mrs Grove. As she once wrote: ‘I knew T was that rare creature – a man who loves to dance. It was part of his appeal. For years, whenever the invitation said ‘Dancing’ I knew he would have to dance every dance – not just with me but with all those charming but unfortunate wives whose husbands fled to the bar. For our first 30 years, we embarrassed our young with our Saturday Night Fever routines, honed at Pepe Moreno’s disco in 1970s Marbella, which descended into post-millennial dad dancing. We held barn dances on our silver and ruby anniversaries, where astonished guests discovered that they hadn’t had such fun for years.

‘But ah – the tango. Watching Tango Argentino and another show called Tango Por Dos in the 1980s, I fell in love with the soulful rhythms, the sexy dresses and the nifty footwork. You couldn’t watch and not want to try it. Who could not love a dance that started with an embrace (el abrazo)? If only we could master it.’

Also, HERE is a good article about the book.

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