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The Tones of Tango

Tango dancing is a fun, sexy way to get and stay in shape

Juan Avendaño and Sue Lindenberg practice a dance move during a tango dancing class at Dance Unlimited in Morgan Hill.
Juan Avendaño and Sue Lindenberg practice a dance move during a tango dancing class at Dance Unlimited in Morgan Hill.

The first rule of tango is, in my opinion, to think sexy. The second is to drink plenty of water, because, man, is it a workout.

I am far from the picture of grace, but I was willing to subject myself to potential humiliation in the name of the never-ending quest to find something active, healthy and, most importantly, fun.

So, I met with Sue Lindenberg, dance instructor and owner of Tango Fantástico based in Morgan Hill to learn some ins and outs of tango dancing. Despite a little apprehension, I was confident I could pull off the tango if it was anything like the cartoon image in my head: two people half marching, half swaggering in a straight line with their cheeks and bodies pressed close together, a rose clutched in the woman's teeth.

But tango is nothing like that.

The first thing I had to learn was how to walk. Sue showed me how she wanted me to roll forward, hips low, legs stretched. I almost killed myself.

"I want you to think to yourself, This is the sexiest floor I've ever seen, and I can't wait to caress it with my feet," Sue said to me, as she glides beautifully and silently in her black heels across the wood. "Let your body be heavy and sink down."

I do my best to imitate her, but I clunk my heels down noisily and look as though I'm trying to do an odd version of the chicken dance. The next thing I needed to learn was how to follow. Sue played the man's role, so we stood face to face, my arms resting on hers in a kind of open hug.

"Let your arms be heavy on mine," she explains to me. "I'm leading you, and you've got to be able to feel where I'm moving so you can follow me. Try to move where I move, but don't look at my feet. Argentine tango is wholly improvised by the leader rather than being choreographed like ballroom dances, so the follower doesn't know where to go until the leader takes them there."

Sue Lindenberg, dance instructor and owner of Tango Fantástico, is led by Bernardo Lucero as she teaches a move during a recent class in Morgan Hill. Sue Lindenberg, dance instructor and owner of Tango Fantástico, is led by Bernardo Lucero as she teaches a move during a recent class in Morgan Hill.

We practice maintaining eye contact as Sue shifts her body weight from one foot to the other and I shift mine accordingly. Then, she steps toward me and I have to step back. She takes a few more steps and as I get comfortable moving with her, I forget that she is leading and try to take a step in a direction I haven't been led to. I throw off the rhythm, and we stop.

"Just follow me," Sue says patiently. "If you watch the pros, you see they move as one. There should be a connection between partners, so that even if you aren't dancing with your beloved, you are in tune with their body. It's an unspoken conversation and when it's done well, it's just beautiful." We go over walks, leading and following, as well as a few other beginner steps, including the formal way of holding our arms, similar to how you hold them when waltzing. I am feeling awkward and clumsy until we put it all together.

The music begins and Sue begins to lead. I follow, trusting my feet to do what they've been taught and I concentrate on following Sue. Suddenly I am tangoing, and it feels great. Tango music is easy to feel. It's got a great beat and it is, by its very nature, sexy. In order to avoid disaster, I had to concentrate on Sue, where she was leading and moving my feet in synch with hers. As we dance and I connect with Sue, I realize why the tango can be so seductive: If I have to be this in-tune with a total stranger, imagine how sensual the dance could be for two people who were madly in love.

When we finish, I am not only thrilled, I'm sweating. My legs are feeling the effort of rolling on the balls of my feet, my abs have been tense in the effort to keep the correct posture, and I can feel the muscles in my arms and shoulders working to keep the proper position. It's work to do the tango.

Tango students practicing their moves during a recent class at Dance Unlimited in Morgan Hill Happy tango students, Cindy and Tim Fellows!

"One of the reasons I took Sue's class was because I was looking for a different way to work out," said Tammy Puthoff, a Morgan Hill resident who has been taking lessons at Tango Fantástico since March. "I wanted something fun, but something that would work. I'd never taken dance lessons before, but I thought tango would be a good thing to try. After the first few lessons, I noticed my hips were sore from using muscles that I didn't normally use. I also could feel myself using a lot of muscles to support my posture." 

Not only did Tammy get exercise at her tango classes, she said, but she was inspired to work out more outside of class so she could get better at tango.She started doing leg-strengthening exercises to help her stay on her toes during the dance and arm exercises to make it easier to keep her arms up during the moves.

"I've heard a lot of people talking about their shoulders, their calves, their thighs all kinds of different muscles that they could feel getting worked while they danced," Tammy said. "I have so much fun. This is definitely something I'm going to continue doing I'm hooked! I want to keep seeing what I can do and what I can make my body do."

If I can manage a simple tango after one lesson, anyone can learn to tango. And, as Tammy learned, it isn't necessary to have a partner. Tammy's husband wasn't interested in learning, so she goes to classes alone. However, part of Sue's teaching is to have women switch partners so they can learn how it feels to be lead by different people.

"Tango is a lot of fun, I think the energy and the connection in the dance are amazing," Tammy said. "It's also beautiful to watch. It's like thedancers are telling a story with their moves, with their hips and with their legs. I don't know how to tell that story yet it's not in my vocabulary. But I'm having fun learning."