On more than one occasion, Brian and Barbara Johnson have found themselves talking in their Gales Ferry kitchen about their day, the weather or some other topic, when all of a sudden ... they clasp hands, step closely together and begin spinning around the room.
They have been taking Argentine tango classes for nearly two years with instructor Kana Kubota, who teaches at the Provenance Center on New London's State Street. After starting with swing dance classes, the Johnsons say it was a "natural evolution" to move to ballroom, despite the level of difficulty.
Barbara describes the tango as a "very unforgiving" dance.
"In swing, there's more space between you, so if you're not in sync after learning the steps, you can fudge it," she explains. "With the tango, you can't sneak a peek to see what foot your partner is on."
After several months Brian felt he had hit a plateau, then one day during their weekly class, it clicked.
"It just felt so natural, like the steps were so easy," he explains. "Some people go to yoga to relax, but this is a great way for me to relax from the daily pressure."
The Argentine tango is one of the most popular dances throughout the world, says Kubota, a classically trained instructor who has taught classes for 12 years.
"The energy exchange is very important between the man and woman," she says. "You have to be very in tune with each other."
On any given week, chances are you'll find more XY chromosomes in class than double X.
"The tango is a very elaborate, refined dance, which attracts gentlemen," explains the instructor. "It requires physical, mental and emotional commitment. And there's also very defined roles ... the man leads and the woman follows."
It's clear to see the difference between beginner students and those who have danced the tango for some time. It's all in the hold, says Kubota.
"The beginners start with a bit of space" between them, she says. "The dance requires a close embrace, like you're almost hugging. Some people aren't comfortable with that. It could be cultural, it could be religious. I am Japanese, so we are more formal.
But there's something about the music, and the movements, says Kubota, that draws you in.
Rodney Seaforth agrees. He's taken classes with Kubota for nearly three years and after trying several genres of dance — hip-hop, tap, swing, balboa, ballroom and blues — he keeps coming back to the tango.
"There really isn't a basic pattern so the learning process is somewhat different than other dances. It requires work, but it also requires time," says Seaforth, who also plays golf and bowls. "I enjoy partner dancing."
As a musician, Kubota felt like she was "always dancing inside," so it made sense that playing the piano led to ballroom dancing to then focusing on the Argentine tango. It's interesting to watch as a student suddenly "gets it," she says.
"I can convey some of my passion, but eventually they have to live and breathe the dance. When you really get into it, you'll see yourself taking steps in the kitchen or standing at the subway station."
She's not exaggerating.
In preparation for this story, the hubby agreed to take a one-hour beginner's class with me. After a quick tutorial from Kubota and being paired with the hubby for two rotations, things quickly changed. I found myself in close quarters with Seaforth and Brian Johnson, and ultimately, Kubota (that week's class had more women than men.)
With my head turned to the left, chest up and arms raised, I couldn't see what was going on behind me, or in fact, any direction. The tango requires the female to put all her trust in her male partner, which Kubota says isn't an easy thing to do.
The next day and the following week, the hubby and I found ourselves humming the tunes and chanting "quick, quick, slow" to each other several times a day.
That 60-minute taste of the tango left us wanting more.
"The tango is not a dance for someone who wants a quick fix. There's no instant gratification after one or two lessons," stresses the instructor.
"But the way you walk today will be different than the way you walked last year or the year before. It's something that you feel through your body, spirit and mind over time."
During the summer, Kana Kubota teaches classes on the boardwalk by the Mystic River Drawbridge. All classes run on Fridays at sunset (roughly 7 p.m.).
Aug. 5 & 12
For more information,
visit www.nycdc.com/twilighttango or email firstname.lastname@example.org