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TANGO ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS

by Tina Anderson
August 11, 2003
Istanbul, OT (Turkey)

TANGO ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS

BY TINA ANDERSON
AUGUST 21, 2003

When I told my friends last June that I had just signed up for a tango tour to Istanbul, Turkey, most of them thought I'd gone nuts. Heck, even I had my doubts. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the Turkish milonga held at Stepping Out Studios last May (co-hosted by Jak Karako of BailaTango), a tango trip to Istanbul seemed quite far-fetched. Yet, Istanbul's tango culture is thriving, but it exists inside a tradition that renders their dance very familiar, yet also completely different from, any other tango dancing I'd experienced before.

Turkish tango is unique in the way the dancers approach the dance floor. Students are taught to be decisive - to move without hesitation. There are no steps like the boring "side-to-side"; in fact, ladies, when you are asked to dance, be ready, because the moment you hit the floor, you're off! And the men generate so much energy in their lower bodies, you feel like a semi-truck is coming at you. Which makes the slow, sensitive moments that much more special. Don't get me wrong - it's energy - not speed - that differentiates Turkish leaders from their New York counterparts. I enjoyed many a slow dance with partners who generated enough energy to light up Yankee stadium (or the whole of Istanbul, I should say).

And with the dance floor buzzing with energy, the goal becomes finding - and riding - that fine line between restraint and release. Which would be easy, except just when you've found that medium, the teasing begins. Turkish gonchos are laden with hidden messages, done extremely slowly in a fast song, extremely fast in a slow song, done all over the body and always when you least expect it and never when you do. Paradas become moments to touch, tap, rub, squeeze, and shimmy around your partner. And, the general rule of thumb, it seems, is "women like surprises." Had you been with us in Istanbul, you may have seen me grinding my partner (of course, following his lead) or doing some salsa-like embellishments during a quick milonga. Being playful was the key ingredient and resulted in a feeling that, as long as you were following the music, no step could be inappropriate or incorrect. I learned that seduction could indeed be taken to a whole new level. It felt like my partners were saying, "Try it, you might like it!" And like it I did!

But that's not to say that women didn't have to play their part, too. Jak Karako - one of our teachers in Istanbul, who manages the BailaTango School here in New York - repeatedly, stressed one rule during the trip - that no matter what, a woman's only job on the dance floor is "to look pretty." So, as a woman, I must interpret every lead as nothing more than an invitation, and I have the option to accept or reject it. Consequently, missing a step or a lead is no big deal.

But we're not simply followers - we must actively invite our leaders to play with us. You can't hesitate, ladies, because you take away the man's options to play with you! Nice, long, balanced steps were emphasized, and even one partner told me that I was "dangerous" because my stunted steps were such that he might kick me instead of doing the deep goncho he'd been planning. One of my struggles was to learn not to hesitate on the dance floor, not to wait until I was 100% sure what was "required" of me, but to move with my gut and to own every step.

It's interesting to see how this philosophy of decisiveness translates into Turkish everyday life. Or, that the Turkish culture translates itself onto the dance floor. Turkish men love to play: they like to flirt and, most of all, they don't hesitate to hand out compliments. It takes a blue-eyed woman seemingly forever to get through the myriad of shops in the Grand Bazaar because the flirting is so overwhelming (this blue-eyed woman is not complaining). Men don't think twice - they just move in on a woman and wear her defenses down. Let me be clear: it's not as though they expect anything, their compliments are sincere and without hidden agendas. And, as with the Turkish tango, "surprise" seems to be the name of the game. Points are scored in number of innocent blushes, and once again we're at that fine line between restraint and release, knowing when the song is over and when to move on. As women, in turn, respond to each compliment as mere invitations, there are never hard feelings, no missed steps, and, overall, nothing is taken personally. And, of course, most importantly, as in the dance, women hold the power of inviting men to play (trust me, it doesn't take much).

I am relatively new to tango, and I haven't had millions of partners yet, so I certainly don't consider myself a tango expert. But what I've learned, more than anything, from my experiences in Turkey is that "surprise" is the name of the game and dance every tango like it's your last. Men, don't be afraid to try crazy new things - if you surprise her, she'll like it, regardless. Women, own every step you take and don't be afraid to be a little unorthodox. There are no such things as "correct" and "incorrect" steps. So have FUN!

Photos courtesy of Jodi Waldron


Tango Trip to Istanbul

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