Peter Okell-Walker

I discovered Tango in my early fifties, about fifteen years ago.  I was tutoring on a residential summer course for classical guitarists, and we wanted them to broaden their horizons.  One afternoon we invited some Argentine Tango teachers in, to get the guitarists to experience the music in their whole bodies rather than just their fingertips.  The effect was electrifying and within seconds of  the start of the session, I was hooked.  It felt like being a teenager again and falling in love. Once you know, deeply inside,  that something is right, there’s no going back – you can’t press the ‘undo’ button.

Like many people who experience that instant reaction, I embarked on an intensive programme of learning Tango.  At that time I was living in Reading.  I would travel over an hour, several times a week, to  London, Oxford, Southampton, anywhere – dancing Tango when and wherever I could.

I started collecting Tango music, and studying it detail.  I realised, firstly with dismay, then curiosity, how many different versions of the same piece there are. And how many different versions by the same orchestra.  This was going to be a long job.

I started playing Tango music, for a while playing in a duo with Steve Morrall at various Milongas.

2004 was the year of my first Buenos Aires trip.  I loved the place, the people, the food – everything in fact, except the Tango scene.  It was too hard, too much, too soon.  In the space of a few days I went from being a reasonably good and well accepted dancer in my local Tango scene in England to a miserable nobody.  The next three weeks – at least the Tango parts – were an increasingly downward slope.  The fact that I don’t look the part, knew nothing about the Cabeceo, and lost my glasses on the second day didn’t exactly help.  But the main cause of my problems was that I wasn’t really dancing Argentine Tango at all.

I realised that I would have to change my way of dancing if I were ever to become anything like a genuine Tanguero.  Back to the drawing board – which I did.  Some time later, I was on a workshop with the late, great, Ricardo Vidort.  He said I was a nice dancer and asked where I had studied in Argentina.  I started to feel a little bit better about my Tango, and put the previous experiences behind me.

I have many years experience of coaching and teaching adults, individually and in groups, so in 2005, Charles Long asked me to help him out, as he was setting up Thames Valley Tango.  We worked together for a couple of years, teaching in Windsor, and I was the resident DJ at the Eton Milongas.

Jennifer was also teaching there, and that’s how we met and ‘got together’ as they say.  We were married in 2009.

In 2007 we started Tango South, committed to fostering the Salon style of Argentine Tango.  We have been developing and fine tuning our approach ever since.  We returned to Bs As in 2009 and studied intensively with Roberto Canelo and Valeria Eguía, to whom we are eternally grateful.

Gisela Navone once said to me, we have two lives, one before Tango and one after.  My life before Tango was very different, but in a strange way everything I have done in life has prepared me for dancing and teaching Tango.  I spent twenty years running my own management consultancy, coaching and facilitating organisation culture change, leadership development and  high performance teams.  Prior to that I spent several years in British Airways, mostly in training & development roles during the years of huge organisation change in the eighties.

Peter- invited to play with Los Mareados at our Tango Ball

Before embarking on building a career in organisations I was a full time musician, both performing and teaching.  I was a founder member of Gilbert Biberian’s Omega Players and performed in many of London’s leading venues, around the UK and abroad.  I studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London, but Gilbert was my real mentor.  As a classical guitatist I was always drawn to Hispanic  music.  I much prefer small, intense compositions using resources elegantly and economically, rather than huge, extravagent works.  So discovering my love of Tango music was inevitable, and amplified by the fact that Tango compositions are often perfect miniatures.

Now, many years on from that first unforgettable Tango afternoon, older and perhaps a little wiser, I know that I have still only scratched the surface.  There is so much more to do and to learn.  I believe it is very important in life to know when to move on.  Tango South was an incredible experience, but, equally, it was that time again.

We took a break from Tango for a couple of years.  We felt the need for a complete rest “away from the madding crowd” travelling England in a caravan for two years until settling into a peaceful life on the water in our narrowboat, aptly named Nomade.  Now Tango beckons us again, and Tango Nomads is the latest chapter.  Who knows where it will take us this time . . .

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