I was never much of a dancer. My high school ball was spent in a fumble of left feet and my moves on nightclub floors are more like the thrashings of a trapped orangutan than Fred Astaire.
Despite all that, I found my brief introduction to tango – one of the more challenging forms of dance – surprisingly painless.
Just four paces forward, then to the left, back to the right, all while my partner flitted elegantly around.
Then I saw what the experts could do.
Tango teacher Flavio de Brito starts into a series of staccato steps, twirling, tipping and moving his partner with ease, all to dramatic, violin-led strains that make you think a crime of passion is about to be committed.
‘I like it because it’s challenging, it’s beautiful and sensual,’ says Flavio, 32, who lives in Copnor.
‘It does take time for you to get really good, but that’s the whole point.
‘You have that process of challenging yourself, of working for something and then you get it.’
Flavio gives Argentinian tango lessons to groups in Southsea, Chichester and Guildford. He also choreographs tango stage shows and organises regular Milongas – tango meet-ups.
He teaches all levels of ability and his students range from lively teenagers up to a spritely 90-year-old.
It seems that anyone can be bitten by the tango bug.
‘I have one dancer who is in her 80s,’ Flavio says.
‘She tells me “I wake up thinking about tango, and I go to sleep thinking about tango.”
‘You really get addicted to it.’
Flavio has taught the dance since he moved to the UK from his native Brazil when he was 20.
He says tango’s popularity has swelled since then – partly thanks to the BBC’s runaway hit Strictly Come Dancing.
‘There are many more people now, especially because of Strictly,’ Flavio says.
‘It’s had a very big impact. People who watch the TV show find they like the style and get interested in doing it for themselves.’
When the show is on Flavio has up to 30 people in some of his classes.
He says his favourites in Strictly’s current series are singers Pixie Lott (pictured left) and Simon Webbe.
‘They are very good,’ he says.
But it’s not just stars who can make it to the stage where tango is concerned.
Each year, Flavio asks some of his dancers to be part of a tango showcase, which has gone from strength to strength.
This year’s show, Tangoed Up, played at the Southsea’s Kings Theatre, the Theatre Royal in Winchester and even London’s Leicester Square Theatre.
‘We have a storyline and a narrator who explains it, and we also have a singer-musician,` Flavio explains.
‘We use projections, acting and a little bit of humour.
‘The London show was a highlight. It was very, very good fun.’
But for many dancers, Flavio says, tango classes and Mingolas are enough – an exotic way to meet new people, escape their everyday lives and enter a world of fancy footwork, graceful moves and Latin passion.
A brief history of tango
Although it’s now considered the height of sophistication, tango has unexpectedly humble origins.
Flavio says the dance’s roots are on the wild plains of 19th century Argentina.
He says: ‘It was born in the countryside, what’s called the Pampas.
‘The cowboys, who were called gauchos, used to come into the city and they used to dance.
‘The thing was at that time they had a lack of women in Buenos Aires so the men used to practice dancing with each other.’
Tango dancer Dino Verrecchia adds: ‘It was at the time of mass migration from Europe to South America.
‘The guys who went there might have been dance-oriented, but there were no women for them to dance with.
‘Slowly, slowly, women came over, but because there was still a shortage of them many worked in bordellos, and that’s where tango took shape.’
Dino says many popular tango moves were developed by women and had a hidden meaning.
He says: ‘For example, there’s a move called the decoration.
‘That’s where the lady runs her foot up the outside of his leg to see how much money he’s got in his pocket.’
Tango only gained widespread acceptance after it was adopted by European high society in cities such as Paris in the early 1900s.
Flavio says: ‘It became an upper-class thing to do and then suddenly it became more popular.’
But at the same time, tango started to face a new threat in its home city of Buenos Aires.
Just as it had moved out of the bordellos and into more mainstream saloons the government started to repress tango, fearing dance meetings could foster political unrest.
Hardly anyone learned the dance between the mid-1950s and the early 1980s, when tango once again came out of the shadows and took its place as Argentina’s national dance.
Where and when
Flavio teaches on Thursdays at 1.30pm and 3.30pm at St. Swithun’s Church Hall in Southsea and on Fridays from 7.45 at the NBECSA in Southsea. He also teaches individual classes as either the ‘leader’ or the ‘follower’. Visit tangowithflavio.co.uk for more details.
Cost: Thursday classes are £5 and Friday classes are £7.50.
Contact: 07729 487 444, e-mail email@example.com.