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A tango workshop for the blind

A tango workshop for the blind gives more credence to the adage: seeing is believing

At approximately 12 pm yesterday (Thursday), the monsoon clouds seemed to lift and the sun blazed down in all its glory at Worli. The sunshine was symptomatic of the mood inside the National Association of the Blind (NAB) School at Worli near the passport office, very close to Century Bazaar. The air was imbued with happiness and anticipation. It was the first day of a four-day workshop on tango for the visually-impaired.

STEP BY STEP: Getting initiated into the tango.
Step by step: Getting initiated into the tango. Pics/Emmanual Karbhari

The one hour session taught by coach Vivek Yadav and organized by dancer-entrepreneur, Aditi Jaiswal, was a teaser to tango, a few basic steps that approximate 20 visually impaired participants learnt inside the NAB school premises. It was to whet their appetite about dance and by Wednesday, July 23, these participants would be dancing the tango, full-fledged. “It will take them about four days to learn,” said Yadav, who is originally from New Delhi but now based in Mumbai.

CIRCLE OF LIFE:  The participants form a circle as they await instructions, from Vivek Yadav (l) in white shirt
Circle of life: The participants form a circle as they await instructions, from Vivek Yadav (l) in white shirt

Yadav started the class by getting the participants to form a circle, with Aditi keeping a close eye on the dancers. Explaining the steps by talking, rather than physically demonstrating, Yadav made the visually-impaired learn basics, with each dancer and his partner moving in sync. It was evident that the visually-impaired have heightened other senses, especially that of touch, as they were picking up the steps well. Yadav said, “It was not difficult teaching them the dance. Tango is basically a dance of the mind, of all the senses, so it does not really matter if you cannot see.”

GIRLS CAN WHIRL: The tango decoded and explained
Girls can whirl: The tango decoded and explained

In the middle of this, Yadav counted for participants, “one, two, one, two, put your hands on your partner's shoulders,” he said in Hindi which was translated into Marathi, as many visually-impaired students are more familiar with Marathi. In the midst of these instructions he shouted as a boost, “Hum kisise kam nahin” (we are as good as anybody else) pumping his fist.

Tango is terrific: They get moving, grooving
Tango is terrific: They get moving, grooving

When asked if he said that as a confidence booster for the blind, Yadav explained, “No, I would say that even to the able. Don’t we all need a boost, a bit of a high? We so called ‘normal’ people also make mistakes and in the same way, have to regain our confidence, self-esteem, dust ourselves off and get up.” Yadav said as he progressed from simple steps to more complicated ones, “ab tak bachchon waali baat thi, ab badon waali baat karte hain” (till now, it was child’s play, let’s get more serious and separate the men from the boys now).

Glide on the floor: Vivek Yadav and Aditi Jaiswal do the tango
Glide on the floor: Vivek Yadav and Aditi Jaiswal do the tango

The lesson progressed for an hour, after which, the participants who had simply dipped their toe in the tango pool broke for lunch. Yadav was a former Physics teacher. He taught Physics to the XI and XII standard, but, gave up academic life to find a new calling, tango dancing. Having taught in Pune, Bangalore, Delhi and Auroville (Pondicherry), Yadav said, “Tango is not just dance, it goes beyond. I have also taught those suffering from Parkinsons Disease, and they have benefited, hugely."

HERE’S HOW YOU DO THAT: Aditi Jaiswal with two participants
Here’s how you do that: Aditi Jaiswal with two participants

Aditi Jaiswal, Mumbai-based tango dancer and workshop organizer, who was giving little tips to the learners on the periphery of the circle added, I have been dancing for more than a decade now and try to promote tango in different ways. When you say tango people at once think about red, passion, speed but tango is all about feel and connect. It is about wellness and has therapeutic effects.”

CONFIDENCE BOOSTER: All you need is the rhythm divine
Confidence booster: All you need is the rhythm divine

Since there is emphasis on feel and connect, one can understand why the visually impaired would take to this well. They, like Aditi says, “have a heightened sense of touch” and tango is such a tactile dance. Aditi added, “The visually-impaired can improve their self-esteem and image through the tango workshop, besides the natural release of endorphins (feel-good hormones) that exercise brings, it is also a fillip to their confidence.” Aditi says that tango is simply, “meditation in motion.”

Bringing a Zen-like angle to her philosophy, she added, “Two tango partners is a bit like yin and yang, they complement each other and yet, I must emphasize that it teaches you independence, you can move independently and be in sync with each other. It is one body on four legs,” she sums up. It takes two to tango? No, it takes you to tango.

As the workshop wound down, the tango music reduced in volume and finally petered out. Yadav said, “This was specific tango music but the beauty of this dance is that you can tango to simply any music, even the baasuri (flute) or the sitar.”

A little bit about Tango

Argentine tango hails from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Its original birthplace and era may not be definitely known but Argentine tango is not just a dance form; but journeys beyond that and touches lives. It is like a puzzle which when put together appears differently each time. Living in an abrazo, an embrace of who you are. Experts state that your ability to control your body changes once you begin listening to it and adhering to its commands.

Scent of a Woman: Tango Scene on Celluloid
In the much acclaimed movie Frank (Al Pacino) is a retired Lt Col in the US army. He is blind and impossible to get along with. Charlie is at school and is looking forward to going to university; to help pay for a trip home for Christmas, he agrees to look after Frank over thanksgiving. In one scene, actress Gabrielle Anwar ends up letting the blind but debonair Frank take her for a spin on the dance floor. He proceeds to lead Donna (Gabrielle) in a perfect tango for one of the film's many memorable scenes. When in the movie, Donna expresses how she is afraid of making a mistake, Frank says something to the effect of , “there are no mistakes in tango. If you get tangled, you can untangle yourself."

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