He helped a blind girl discover tango and then this happened
The wonderful story of how a young man from Egypt helped a blind girl discover tango, and how an improbable meeting gave birth to a vision of a better tango world.
I had just finished working so I went to a supermarket for some groceries. Everything seemed normal.
I noticed a lady standing in front of the soap department smelling each brand on the shelves. She was holding a white stick that blind people use when walking, and a man was assisting her.
My phone rang.
Twenty minutes later, I went back to continue my shopping. The woman was still standing in the same place smelling the soap as the man patiently stood next to her with a smile.
I continued with my shopping, and as I was leaving the store, I looked one more time. Yeap, still there.
“Why would she spend all that time just smelling soap?” I wondered as I was putting my groceries in the car.
The fear of losing tango
I remembered how I felt when I lost my hearing sense for about a month, many years ago, due to a work diving accident. I was an underwater construction engineer back then, and losing my hearing sense for a while was one of the hardest challenges I ever faced.
This made me wake up and realize what is my deepest passion and what are my fears. I was passionate about tango and I was terrified of the possibility of never being able to hear nor dance to tango music again. Even while I was deaf, I would still attend tango lessons just to be in the atmosphere and dance again, but that time I was dancing only to the beat of my heart.
Living like a blind person
To understand that woman better, I wore blindfolds for several hours each day.
Soon, I started feeling a mix of loneliness, fear of falling or crashing into something, and the urgent need to use all my other senses to get more information. I felt at the same time overwhelmed due to the constant need to think of every movement I made, and also bored due to lack of the usual visual stimuli.
I realized how much we take our precious vision for granted, and I think I understood what the woman was doing. She was trying to get more information and detail through her enhanced sense of smell. Our eyes give us tons of information every second, and she didn’t have that.
I took my blindfolds off and one question struck me:
How can I help?
What if I could help her have a unique experience through tango? I thought.
As a tango teacher, I knew that a lot of the followers with whom I dance usually dance with their eyes closed. But dancing with the eyes closed doesn’t mean that they also learn with their eyes closed. It was my job to find a different way to teach tango. I was convinced that if you can walk you can dance. And she could walk.
Could I find a way to help her discover tango even though she was blind?
For weeks I analyzed the tango movement and what could go wrong. I experimented, wrote notes. Finally, I succeeded in putting on paper a system, that should -theoretically- work. “Tango Vision,” I wrote at the top as a title.
I went back to the supermarket looking for her. For weeks I kept asking employees there but nobody could help me find her. I never saw the woman again and I don’t know if I ever will.
But I thank her every day because, even though she was blind, she opened my eyes and she made me see my new mission in life. Because of her, the Tango Vision project was conceived.
But we are humans, and we often let life make us forget what’s important. And that’s what happened to me. My Tango Vision project notes stayed in a dusty corner of my drawer for some years. Until the moment I saw Vica.
How I met Vica
In 2018, after a tango lesson, a student of mine was showing me a video of her son playing the piano at a school concert. I noticed a young girl sitting next to him nodding with her head. I felt something special about this little girl.
“What’s her story?” I asked.
“She is 8 years old. When she was almost one year old, a terrible disease attacked her brain and destroyed some of the nerves including the optic nerve. She lost her sight so early in her life that she didn’t realize what she was missing. She grew up as a happy child. She likes to play, she likes to run. Even if it causes her to hit herself and fall. She just gets up and laughs about it.”
I asked my student to come to the next lesson with Vica and her mum. I wanted her to discover tango.
Preparing for the tango class
I stayed up all night, thinking about this meeting. I never had such young students before and I didn’t know how to deal with kids. I didn’t have kids of my own either.
How can I get that girl interested in learning such a complicated dance as tango when she can’t even see how it looks like? Did I even have the skill to help Vica discover tango and love it?
If she didn’t like it, then there would be no reason for her to come back and continue her lessons.
The first contact
She took a few hesitant, small steps as she entered the studio. She was polite and a little shy. After a few moments, she started asking questions, eager to know what kind of lessons she was about to take and what did I plan to do.
“Vica, why do you think you are here today and what are the things you enjoy doing the most?” I asked.
“I am here because my mum said so. I enjoy playing and listening to stories.” she answered in a heartbeat.
“Very well Vica, this is exactly what we are going to do. We will play and tell a lot of stories.”
Helping Vica discover tango through play
I brought some toys. As I started playing with her, I connected with my own inner child too.
All I wanted at the beginning was to be accepted by her as a new friend, before accepting me as a teacher.
At first, most of the lesson was just playing. Step by step I started helping her discover tango elements. Using games and stories, I started role-playing. Cartoon characters such as Kung Fu Panda and Master Shifu became part of the game. She chose to always be the little princess Vica.
During the classes, I saw her discovering new elements, ideas, possibilities. One time while playing she found a tennis ball.
“Mounieb, look at what I found. What is it?”
“It’s a ball Vica.”
“What is a ball?”
“An object people use to play.”
“OK, let’s play with it then. Tell me how,” she responded quickly.
I went silent not knowing what to say or do. I can’t throw her the ball, I thought.
“Let’s do this tomorrow,” I bought myself some time, “since today we will play with something else.”
Fortunately, after the class, one of my friends gave me a small iron ball for my cat. As the ball rolled on the floor the cat heard the sound and looked at it. Sound, I smiled.
The next class found me rolling the iron ball toward Vica. She triumphantly followed the sound, caught the ball, and sent it back to me. This became her favorite game.
As Vice progressed, her questions started getting more interesting. When she asked me “What is balance?” I came up with games to help her discover tango concepts such as balance, imbalance, and stability.
Tango became a big joy for her. When she succeeded in doing a movement, she jumped up and down. In other cases, she shouted outloud the names of the movements while dancing:
Cross! Sacada! Gancho! Barrida! It was her way to let me know she understands what movement we were doing.
Her posture and the way she standed changed dramatically.
Little Vica now knows what tango is and her favorite music is milongas. She says it gives her “a lot of happiness”.
If you had told me at the beginning that she could discover tango and be able to dance in less than 15 sessions I wouldn’t have believed you.
My biggest reward was when she came to me one day, hugged and kissed me, and said:
“Mounieb, I realized what I want to do when I grow up. I want to teach tango to people like me because now I know how it feels.”
I believe little Vica taught me much more than I taught her. Her sentence was my biggest gift.
“Me too, Vica. This will be my mission in life, to teach people like you.”
Since that day I decided to use my tango to improve the quality of life for people who need it the most. Dancing tango in the dark should be a possibility for every blind person around the world. Maybe this will inspire them and maybe it will help give them more physical and emotional balance. It could also give them new friends that they would have never met in their regular lives.
Maybe it will help them find love or a life partner, who knows. Maybe it will give them a few moments on the dance floor where being blind won’t make any difference. I don’t know what this will bring. Even if it brings none of the above, at least it would put a smile on their face, and it will be worth it.
I dream of traveling around the world, meeting people who suffer from vision problems, and give them a new kind of vision, a Tango Vision.
That is how my Tango Vision project was born and this is why my tango mission started.
How you can help more people like Vica discover tango
If you would like to help bring the Tango Vision project to your city and help more people like Vica, then it would be my absolute pleasure to travel and do it there. The program worked for all my visually impaired students, of all ages, independently of gender. Some of my students had Usher syndrome, which is a double disability for the eyes and ears.
The effect of the Vision Project extends not only to the participants but to the emotional state of their family and loved ones. I deeply believe I can make it work with anyone who can walk, even if they are as young as 8 years old. If Vica could do it in only 15 sessions then anybody can.
by Mounieb Ahmad
This story was brought to you by Tango Partner, the tango community’s meeting point. Dedicated to bringing together tango dancers from around the world, we love raising awareness of tango projects that help create an inclusive, supporting, and loving community. If you are aware of such projects, please let us know here.