by Louise Tait
[Note: my story of tango starts in 1996 and is evidence that tango can be very compelling, even in a heteronormative environment!]
I was in at the start of Argentine tango dancing in Edinburgh. The Edinburgh Tango Society celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2017. The number of people dancing tango in Edinburgh has grown a lot over the years. There are at least two milongas (social dances where tango is danced) each week in the city, so it is now possible to dance at least a couple of nights every week.
Edinburgh has a community of passionate and thoughtful dancers, several of whom have warmly welcomed and supported me over the years. While individuals are mostly really great, the whole environment is not welcome enough if you don’t feel comfortable and included in a traditional setting; over the years I have found myself dropping in and out of tango in Edinburgh. The support of several kind and wonderful individuals has helped me develop my idea for Queer Tango in Edinburgh into a reality.
In the autumn of 1996 a friend and I started going to classes for different types of dance. Nothing set the heather alight until a merengue teacher, who had barely tried tango himself, finished a class with the few steps he knew. It was enough… this was what we wanted to learn and dance.
My friend wanted to follow, so I led. I enjoyed leading and it fitted with my politics and my contrariness. But it was also really practical. There were always more women than men in workshops and classes, and, traditionally, women follow. Leading meant that I could dance as much as I wanted to at the milongas. Leaders traditionally get to ask for the dance, and I had taken a lot of classes and practiced a great deal, so I was able to lead pretty well; most women were happy to dance with me.
I danced as a leader for several years. Then I started to get some back problems, so, around 2003, I started to learn to follow. It was very different but I liked it, at least when I was dancing; I don’t like waiting to be asked. In traditional milongas, followers can ask close friends to lead them, but beyond that, it really isn’t done. What I have discovered is that being able to dance both roles has changed my relationship to the dance, I feel I know it in a different way.
There are many wonderful people dancing tango and the community in Edinburgh is really committed to the dance and to welcoming newcomers. However, the traditions of tango don’t suit everyone, so I want to create a space where anyone who might like to try tango can find a place where they feel happy to explore roles and ways of dancing that open up or ‘queer’ this amazing dance.
I think there is room for an additional community of tango dancers in Edinburgh. I hope others will want to join me in creating a version of Queer Tango that is actively inclusive of everyone.
If you want to dance with all that tango has to offer, come and try QTE classes on Wednesday evenings, 7-9pm. Classes run most weeks of the year.