Meenakshi Shedde: Arranged marriage tango

Jul 23, 2017, 08:23 IST | Meenakshi Shedde

I was feeling a bit reckless, I suppose

Illustration/Uday Mohite

I was feeling a bit reckless, I suppose. I recently went on a holiday in the Lake District in England, with two English women I had never met previously, and one of whom I had recently met only on Facebook. We are all women of a certain age; let's call the others Amy and Lyla. Amy lives in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, and invited me to stay over. Next, I invited Amy and her colleague Lyla to join me on a holiday in the Lake District. The first time Amy messaged me on Facebook, she mentioned a common friend, and I discovered she loved to tango, and was instantly charmed.

Cirencester is an atmospheric, historic small town. Her house, a Cotswold stone townhouse built in — hold your breath — around 1680, is a gorgeous, airy, three-storey bungalow. She took me for a leisurely walk around the town, its meadows and streams, and the Bathurst Estate, with its horse stables, dog kennels, orchard and a dovecote for pigeons.

In London, I had caught the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai's show at the British Museum. Amy drove me to Oxford, to the Raphael exhibition at the
Ashmolean Museum, followed by a tango session by the Oxford Tango Academy. Years ago, I was on the International Jury of the Mar del Plata Film Festival in Argentina, and had taken tango lessons in Mumbai, in anticipation of further pleasures in Buenos Aires. My dancing was pretty rusty. But Amy was irrepressible. She is a woman of a certain age, as I said, and has a regular day job, but her marriage is under challenge. Lately, tango has become her grand passion. She has a middle-aged body, but it acquired a wonderful grace and attractiveness the moment she started to dance. "This is my friend Meenakshi. Be kind to her, guys, and dance with her," she had told her buddies earlier. And they were so civilised, they did. There were droopy-shouldered guys in striped shirts, and mousy girls with geeky glasses, but the moment the tango music started, they turned so sensual on the dance floor! Some gentlemen were in their 60s or 70s, with receding hairlines, but they danced more elegantly, even sexily, than the young studs.

The tango is formal: the men do a cabeceo, a nod of the head, inviting a woman to dance, with their eyes. Women reply with a mirada — "the look" — yes, I'd like that, or avoid someone by busily texting on the phone. "The tango is a bit like an arranged marriage," Amy explained. "You enter a formal contract for a dance, without necessarily having spoken to your partner earlier. I do the cabeceo too," she confessed cheerfully. When I danced, my partner said, no, don't anticipate my moves, just go with the flow — so I did. Amy said, "The man leads, the woman follows. It's like learning a new language, a body language. And, when you get a good lead, and you move and feel as one, it can be poetry."

I asked Amy what her adult daughters thought of her tango. "They are OK with my dancing tango, they just don't want to hear about it or see me dance," she said. So, next month, she takes off on a 10-day tango dancing vacation in Buenos Aires. Here's to a woman after my heart.

Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at

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