BookBrowse Reviews Tango Lessons by Meghan Flaherty

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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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A debut memoir about a young woman learning to dance tango, becoming comfortable in her own skin and in the arms of others.

Meghan Flaherty's touching memoir, Tango Lessons, reveals some hard but important truths about cleaning up a congested personal history. One is that it can never be obliterated or washed clean, but, instead, deserves to be acknowledged for its contribution to the person you are today. Another is that there is no one-size-fits-all method.

Much as Meghan may have wanted to forget the tumultuous first years of her life living with an addict mother and sexually abusive elders, her loving stepmother (Meghan's father's second wife) urged her not to. By the time her biological father gained custody of her when she was six, she had been significantly scarred by her harrowing toddlerhood. Counseling and a stable home life through adolescence began to help her heal.

By her mid-twenties, all outward appearances spoke normalcy. But she was a mostly unemployed actress stunted in go-nowhere jobs, living a celibate life with a man whose family expected them to marry. He was number three in a succession of boyfriends who she hadn't allowed to touch her.

After her parents – her step-mother and biological father – divorced during her senior year, Meghan chose to live in New York City because it is, "where people go when they can't think of somewhere else." And she, "did what people do when they want to make it in the theatre: I wasted half a decade waiting tables." When she did find acting jobs she stood center stage, "in front of strangers, disappearing in plain sight." She escaped her own memories by stepping, "into other [people's] memories. I spoke other people's words."

Finally, at 25, ten years after a high school exchange program spent in Argentina, Meghan rediscovered tango. Her memories of that year and the sultry, fiery, sexy music and dance of Argentine peasants summoned her. Unable to recall exactly why she wanted to learn the dance she decided to spend a hefty portion of her meager salary on lessons. The dance is comprised of a dizzying number of individual steps, directed by a partner — the leader (man) — who embraces the follower (woman) to the haunting 2/4 milonga beat that originated with African slaves (see Beyond the Book.)

The irony of chaste Meghan selecting to learn such an intimate dance, in the tight embrace of a man — in class it was always a stranger — didn't escape me. I felt compelled then to keep reading. Clearly this exercise would either do her in or — I hoped — bring her full circle to allow her dreadful childhood to co-exist with a fully healed woman capable of love and intimacy.

It wasn't easy for her. The lessons were costly, the steps difficult and instructors could be demanding and arrogant. Meghan's boyfriend kept his distance, uninterested in her obsession. That is what it became. She simultaneously lived for each class and hated it. But she went on, never missing one. She carried her dance paraphernalia with her 24/7 and existed on sandwiches and too little sleep. There were vapid and tawdry little affairs with dance instructors, each ending badly or sadly. But her tango kept improving and soon she ventured out to gatherings, also called milongas, meeting new people. Until one day...well, no spoilers.

I must say I was hesitant to accept that a memoir by such a young woman would be compelling. I'm happy to report that my reservations were unfounded. First, I started to fall in love with tango and by chapter four I'd dialed up a steady stream of the music on YouTube to accompany my reading. Then I became intrigued with Meghan and all of her and tango's anomalies, eager to find out how her journey would end. Finally, the smattering of Argentine history and culture she includes in Tango Lessons is fascinating.

Reviewed by Donna Chavez

This review is from the Tango Lessons. It first ran in the August 1, 2018 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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Beyond the Book:
  Whitewashing Argentina

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