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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 43 - Out of my depth in the hoofing courtship rituals


IT IS astonishing how quickly old shows can be revived in the theatre of memory. The news that the Argentinian composer, Astor Piazzolla, the inventor of the "new tango", will have his music played in London next month by former members of his band, raised recollection curtains on a dramatic dancing episode in my life about which I have, until now, remained silent.

Piazzolla, who died in 1992, and is lauded by growing numbers in the classical world as one of the last centuryís greatest contemporary composers, be-came a virtuoso on a curious 19th century German instrument called the bandoneon, an overgrown squeeze-box, and based his revolutionary music on the tango combined with jazz and classical styles.

The compositions enraged Argentinians. They defied, fumed the La Mancha newspaper in 1961, "a traditional establishment" greater than the state, the gaucho and soccer. "He has dared to challenge the tango."

Here, I have a link with Piazzolla. I, too, challenged the tango and lasted several rounds with one of its most fluent practitioners in the vibrant, moving-and-shaking, electoral constituency of Edinburgh West.

Recently, I wrote about my dancing days at the now-defunct Plaza and other Edinburgh pagodas of rhythmic courtship rituals, but these were often unsatisfactory episodes for me, the dancing resembling a slow-moving maelstrom with no chance to try the exhibition paso doble, especially if the band was playing a waltz, or attempt a double-spin, quarter-turn, backward lockstep if oneís partner was concentrating on getting her feet out of the way quicker than I could step on them.

While my dancing has been likened to South American Indians attacked by soldier ants, some of my partners moved like well-upholstered pneumatic drills or mad butterflies, and I longed for the polished elegance and rhythmic perfection of Fred Astaire dancing chic-to-chic with Ginger Rogers.

For high-class hoofing, the tango was recommended; a dance to lighten the feet, stir the pulse and quicken the breath as performed by silent-movie star, Rudolph Valentino, and other Latin lads with flashing eyes and masterful scowls.

So, I went to Miss C, who ran a dancing tuition establishment that featured a sub-Versailles Palace hall of mirrors in which I could surrealistically see a dozen versions of myself gazing pallidly into the distance.

Miss C had a faint air of sadness, like a Christina Rossetti poem, possibly caused by trying to get tango tyros to move with Latin-like fluidity. She, herself, did not so much dance as stream, her slender, six-feet-tall body balancing with balletic poise on high heels. When standing against the sun, it was as if a halo shone all round her body. And this was 1950s Edinburgh, the era in which young lovers gave tokens of their trust in acid drops and soor plooms.

For trial gallops, she wafted rather than placed me for basic steps and I found, from my five feet, four inches position that, when she raised her finely-chiselled head, ecstatically acknowledging the musicís siren seductiveness, I could see right up her nostrils.

All that was exotic enough for a simple Edinburgh lad in tweed sports jacket and oblong-shaped flannel trousers, but when she revealed that the tango was a musical expression of passion, possibly originating from knife-fights between Italian immigrants to South America and first heard in Buenos Aires bordellos, I realised that I was out of my dancing depths.

She urged abandonment of myself to the musicís sensualities while flashing my eyes, but all I could produce was a glum glint, although I scowled a lot. When I once clutched her tempestuously, like Piazzolla with his squeeze-box, she coolly disentangled herself, dancing at armís length while the progressive side step progressed. Then, I decided to challenge everything the tango represented and moved morally with a steamrollerís grinding grace, an action that Miss C decided dismissively was not only against the spirit of the tango but Argentina itself.

I did learn some spasmodic steps in which I and partners made linked, rhythmic leaps, they with startled faun expressions and I, concentrating on gloom, but, as a tango stepper, I stumbled dismally. When I asked a lass to hazard herself with me, tango-wise, choice-foolish, at Edinburghís illustrious Palais dance hall, she gear-changed her chewing-gum expertly into neutral and grunted, "Nope."

In my memory theatre, for that show, itís curtains.


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