Excerpt from Tango Lessons by Meghan Flaherty, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Tango Lessons

A Memoir

by Meghan Flaherty

Tango Lessons by Meghan Flaherty X
Tango Lessons by Meghan Flaherty
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  • Published:
    Jun 2018, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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Chapter 1

The studio was in an ordinary office building, on the second floor. I had only just enrolled myself, by index card and golf pencil, and now I stood in one of several rooms walled off by dark pink curtains, strapping on a pair of grandmotherly pumps. The maestro entered, heels slapping as he thrust himself across the floor. He wore a suit over a black T-shirt, like an eighties stand-up comic, and a ridge of curls hugged his slightly horsey neck. Immediately, he started giving orders in a clipped and thinly eastern European accent. The dance yes is to walk. Okay, begin.

We didn't walk. We practiced standing - with all our weight on one foot then the other, watching our ankles wobble in the mirror. My classmates were a pair of forty-something Asian women and some shrinking, balding men in stripes. We didn't speak. The ladies were asked to stretch up on the forefoot — balanced on the ball, heels elevated - a task that only made us wobble more. Then the maestro demonstrated foot trills, little flicks, one foot around the other. Your feet caress the floor, he said. You hear the difference. A dozen ears tuned to the tidy sweeping sound of leather sole against hardwood. Now the other. You try. And we stood there, one foot wobbling, the other undertaking little decorative missions. We tipped and steadied ourselves, like toddlers playing teapots, until we could approximate the maestro's tight ellipses. Lápices. Spanish for "pencils" - the step named after circles drawn on the sketching paper of the floor.

We lined up at the curtain blocking one class from the next. To walk. This meant transferring weight from foot to foot as we had practiced, and then slinking forward, hauling ourselves across the floor as if on ski machines, lugging one leg forth to meet the other. I will hear your feet, the maestro said, cupping a hand over one ear and listening for the swish of our soles across the boards. Always, the ball of the foot must caress the floor. The way he kept saying "caress" struck me as slightly lewd, but I ignored this. The practice of our toe-first trudge across the room required perfect concentration. We each grunted quietly as we tried to heave our weight around on tiptoe. I imagined my classmates as ailing jungle animals trying to relearn how to stalk their prey.

One slow and somber instrumental played on endless loop, its beats as clear and heavy as the tides, its melody a wisp of seaweed between waves. "Bahía Blanca," it was called. The white bay. I did not know that then. I only knew the awkwardness and effort of this tango class: the buckling of my ankles, the threat of sliding into accidental splits. The song plinked to a close and then repeated. I pursed my lips and shut my eyes to everything but the ocean rhythm of the strings, trying to will my body into grace, into the tango walk - and thinking, even as I stumbled, this is why I'm here.


I had taken tango classes once before, when I was sixteen, on a term abroad in Argentina. I was a lonely, oddball kid, and thus spent half my time there by myself, on park benches, furiously scribbling impressions into a composition book: the taste of diesel fumes and city grit baked into empanadas, the feeling of having fallen to the bottom of the world map in the picture frame, of being under glass and in plain sight. The other half I'll call my teenage education: hitchhiking, staying out past seven in the morning dancing cumbia, and drinking daintily from liter bottles of cerveza on unlit dirt roads.

South of the equator, vast and varied, Argentina was unseasonable and unreasonable. I loved every thorny inch of her. The weather and the months ran backwards. The provinces - sandy, grassy, frozen under feet of salt or ice - were systematically ignored, and poor. They stretched a geographic patchwork quilt across the lap and shoes and shoulders of the country, while Buenos Aires, squatting on the Rio de la Plata delta, got all of the attention. I'd been devastated to leave the foothills of the Andes for the capital, but she was the distrito federal, the port, the Paris of South America, and, by happy accident, she created tango, with which I fell in love.

Excerpted from Tango Lessons: A Memoir by Meghan Flaherty. Copyright © 2018 by Meghan Flaherty. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

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  Whitewashing Argentina

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