Five To Tango: Musings Of A Dancing Parent


I am a parent and a tanguero.  My journey through tango started in my future wife’s living room as we innocuously agreed to exchange informal dance lessons – I would teach her lindy, and she would teach me tango.  This light conversation started quite by accident because, you see, as far as Anna and I knew, we hated each other.  Luckily for our kids, we seem to have short memories for faces.

When we first met, there seemed to be an attraction, a spark.  I joined my friends – an experienced lindy hopper supporting my sad non-dancing friends – for a tango series, and here she was assisting the teacher – a cute Russian-speaking girl, AND A DANCER BESIDES!!!  Those of you in the know, nod and smile.  This doesn’t happen very often, now, does it?  Obviously, there was one problem – she didn’t dance MY dance.  But surely I could convert her, couldn’t I?  At the end of class #3, I started the conversation from afar, in a suave and subtle way of a geek too oblivious to be self-conscious.  I started by talking up the amazing expressive power available to a lindy follower in her semi-frame compared to a tango follower locked in a rigid full embrace.  And I ended by inviting Anna to join me on Friday for a real night on the town – at the local lindy joint.

Now, I was batshit insane about lindy; I won’t recount the time and money that I spent to get good, but the stats amaze me.  So what I said to Anna made sense to me at the time.  In a way, it still does (don’t tell my wife!).  However, tango meant a thing or two to Anna as well.  I had just seemingly told her that in lindy hop, the follower’s role was complicated and in tango, easy.  Having just recovered from a spine injury caused by a boleo from hell, she knew the price she paid to buy her dance.  So, in a very comprehensive and comprehensible way, she laid out the various possibilities before me, none of which included a date night.  Our universes did not intersect – no cross-over was possible – it was clear.  This was my last tango lesson – that year.

Some months later, fate brought Anna to a raucous party at my place; I had grown a goatee and she had brought a bad date.  While I was attending to my guests, she was inspecting my collection of lindy videos – a number from various festivals and championships.  By the end of the night, I walked her home – she lived two blocks away, imagine that – and she invited me to a party at her place.  And two weeks later I helped her clean up after her party (at which we danced a wild, fun, and very public lindy song), and she innocuously offered to exchange some informal dance lessons.  I suspect that, unlike me the previous year, she knew exactly what she was doing.  Luckily, she didn’t recognize me under the goatee, and the less said about my memory, the better.

What followed was a whirlwind – a whirlwind relationship, a whirlwind life involving a graduate school for me, and a whirlwind immersion into tango.  Not much more than three years thence we welcomed into this world our first child.  Undeterred, we took her with us to every milonga; she learned to sleep through tangos, and she could even finish the missing beat of Rodriguez’s songs by squealing at just the right moment.  “Calaveras” from the song “Transnochando” – skulls, addicts – is what we were.  More so because being a “calavera” implies a dose of solitude; we, however, not only managed to be partners in crime but even to reproduce in the process.  It seemed we would follow Todaro on the path of rearing our kids in tango (his daughter, however, quit at 18).

And then one night our universe developed a pretty big crack.  The two-year-old little wonder got up after ten minutes in the stroller – right in the middle of a Tanturi vals – and as we rushed to her, said: “I want to go home.  I want to sleep in bed”.  That moment, our tango changed forever.

Parents of little kids know – kids are your Universe.  This is true in a very literal way; nothing else exists when your kid needs you.  And so began our struggle for balance.  As degrees piled on – my PhD, Anna’s MBA, as kids increased in number – final tally stands at 3 – our tango experienced crests and troughs.  For a couple of years, I went to a single, small, mid-week milonga – because many good dancers did, and there I could get most of my minimal tango fix in just two hours of one night.  When that changed, a number of newer local dancers would ask me whether I moved or was visiting.  Anna, too, went through a similar series of highs and lows.  Because we alternated the babysitting duties, many people didn’t know we had anything to do with each other.  One lady told Anna in great detail about this local dancer named Boris.  Anna listened on in fascination.

In the process, we had to accept some of the things that come with being in an elliptical orbit around tango – fast when close, slow when distant.  Many bloggers discuss codigos and their rationale; many describe tango as a strict meritocracy (the many, that is, with a Western worldview).  We have learned what the Argentines had long known – there isn’t just a single tango experience, not just one way of being a milonguero.  You may not be a transnochador; you may attend afternoon milongas or take turns with the kids in the morning; you may find that, during your latest absence from tango (and your latest presence with the kids) people have forgotten who you are and you had lost “status” – an experience most bloggers don’t discuss but many Argentine maestras with kids freely admit; you may find all that – and yet, at the end of a five-hour trip with three kids to a tango festival – you will find that, in the final accounting, “tango te espera”.

Boris and Anna live and dance with their kids in a suburb of Boston and wherever else the wind carries them.  Boris has also started (and intends to slowly develop) a tango blog in two languages (


A nice description of “Transnochando” with a decent translation by Rick McGarry (Tango and Chaos):

Todaro and his daughter dancing

6 thoughts on “Five To Tango: Musings Of A Dancing Parent”

  1. funny, just noticed, that clip with Todaro is mine:) i cut it out of Zotto&Plebs first show, “perfumes de tango”
    ‘babaz’, as you can figure out, is my nickname given by my grandkids.
    it’s really a small world.

  2. Hi! I love you! С Днем Победы! Tango, one of the most subtle and complicated of all partner dances, requires not only discipline to learn but continuous learning to improve. Perhaps that’s also why so many engineers and artists are drawn to this dance. It’s for people who like to delve deep and become immersed in all its intricacies.

    1. Except in BA, where the majority of dancers seem to come from far less elevated occupations – taxi drivers, manual laborers, tradesmen, etc….

  3. Hello! A common question overheard at milongas or practicas is, “ How long have you been dancing?” This is often asked in the middle of a tanda, when curious as to long it took that person to get good.  Typically it takes about 1-2 years to become competent, about 5 years to feel confident and about 10 years plus to have Tango embedded in your body. Although, I have seen some people become amazing dancers in just a year, while others maintain the same level no matter how long they have been dancing.

    1. Indeed, it’s a “thing”, though I’m not sure if it’s common in one’s own city. When traveling, or if you come out from some storage shed after 3-4 years of not being out much, yes, it happens!

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