There wasn’t a chance in hell Pablo would avoid asking the one question I’m not fond of answering.
“Where are you from?” he said.
I arranged my features into their now familiar half-apologetic, half dumb-blonde-girl pose. The message is clear. I’m English, but I’m far too nice to know anything about the Falklands.
Pablo didn’t care. We were fighting a very different battle, pitting toe against ankle, slide against shuffle. It was an all-out war of wobbles. All is fair in love, war and tango, especially if you can’t agree on the steps.
Pablo’s army goes something like this. He’s thirty-five and bearded, with wispy Argentine hair that falls somewhere below his ears. He’s Buenos Aires born and bred and this beginner class is not his first rodeo.
My army has no weapons, except that after two years of relentless salsa in Bogotá (at one time I was dancing six hours a week) something has finally happened to my brain. While my rhythm and poise are still hopeless, I find it strangely easy to learn new steps.
“This is very nice Pablo,” I said, conscious of the difficulties of negotiating the average Latin male ego. “But we need to take two steps before we step to the side.”
He shook his head and continued to move me in an unsatisfying one-step square. Then he switched to English, as if to remind me of my place in our shared tango world, “Is very good this way. No problem, no problem.”
Can I help it if I like to do things properly? If you pay for a dance class, you should follow the teacher. Our class was being held in a famous Buenos Aires tango hall called La Catedral, which only underlined my faith in the art of concentrate, follow and repeat.
I struggled with Pablo for an hour before falling into the arms of an Italian, Emilio. Tango has eight basic steps (forward on the left, side on the right, back on the left, back on the right, cross the left, shift your weight forward so you can step back on the right, side to the left and start again) Easy to learn, difficult to master. Emilio and I practised those eight steps over and over again.
We undertook a few hip swirls and tried walking with one foot in front of the other, which is more difficult than it sounds. I loved it and was high on the adrenaline of a girl who adores dancing and has the good fortune to have a dance-mad Colombian boyfriend at home who has already suggested taking tango classes in Bogotá.
I flopped beside Sofia, a Finnish blonde, and after ten minutes of shared delight about the wonders of tango, I told her about Pablo. She was not supportive.
“You should just feel the music and move,” she said.
I hate it when people say that about dancing. It’s right up there with asking a question about Spanish grammar and being told, “Just say whatever sounds right.”
“Besides,” Sofia continued. “Pablo is Argentine. He’ll know what he’s doing. That’s what I was doing with my partner, just feeling the beat and moving.”
There was a long pause.
“I’m not really like that,” I said. “I paid my money. I just wanted to follow the class.”
Sofia smiled and would have patted me on the head had I not felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Pablo.
“You were right Victoria,” he laughed. “Remember what you said about the two steps? You were right.”
Sofia said nothing. I was full of English grace.
“Oh?” I said. “I’m sure it’s not important.”
It is important. We blonde girls may know little about the Falklands but we do know that when victory comes in a Buenos Aires tango hall, it tastes very, very sweet indeed.