IT takes about 25 to tango. And you can call me paranoid, but they were all watching me - not that I knew what I was doing. If white men can't jump, as the movie has it, they can't dance either . . . at least not graceless, leaden-footed ones with the rhythm of a sloth. I learned the first eight steps after a long struggle with left and right, then promptly forgot four and five. Side - back - forward - side . . . shuffle - collide - stop. My dance partner Christine suffered long, but had the patience of a superior practitioner, so she was happy, I think. But I was timid in the clinch and did not pull her close enough, so any fires out on the floor as we did the daddy of erotic dances were more likely to have come from dodgy wiring than any passion. It was not so much Saturday Night Fever as a Thursday night headache. But that was just me and my English reserve (read: shyness). Stepping out has always held its fears because I find it a social trial replete with embarrassment. For many, it is a rite of passage. Like spots. But there is a cure, and if I can do the tango (sort of), anybody can. Where before I had hoped girls could look at me shaking my booty and not notice my two - it sometimes felt like three - left feet, now they do not have to. Now, I can learn to tango properly at a friendly little club which meets once a week in Central. TangoTang, founded two years ago by tango nuts Beatrice Remy and Frederic Lichtenstein, has almost 40 members of 11 nationalities: Easterners, Westerners, nurses, students, company directors and receptionists. Remy and Lichtenstein, both 33, both from France, have day jobs in their other lives. They are partners on and off the dance floor, but since they arrived here in summer 1997 they have spent every spare minute on it - even though at times there was barely space to execute the steps. 'We first ran the club from our living room,' said Lichtenstein, briefly a wallflower but keen to strut his accomplished stuff. 'We had up to 30 people in about 40 square feet. We didn't introduce tango to Hong Kong, it was already here - but people had nowhere to do it.' Now they have two small, adjoining rooms on Hollywood Road which host raves the rest of the week. And it shows: the colour scheme is lime green, purple, orange and black, the walls scuffed and bare, the furniture scarce. But they have a good (meaning inexpensive) relationship with the landlord, and the stark surroundings did nothing to chill a warm atmosphere generated by people getting tangled up in each other's bootstraps but enjoying themselves anyway. Not once did I graduate to parading with a rose between my teeth, but as I kept backing into the nearest corner, where we will leave the account of my perambulations, even I could tell most dancers were not exactly 'getting it on'. The tango features something called the 'love step', but either they were not in love or they were out of step, because most seemed to be concentrating too hard on their feet to put much emotion into it. (To be fair, tango is an elusive creature. 'You can do almost nothing and be doing tango well,' Lichtenstein said. 'If you do lots of steps without soul you're just doing gymnastics. Nothing is more horrible.') It is all about to change, however, because the patron saint of Hong Kong tango has just come waltzing over the hill. Gladys Fernandez is back - and she has good news, especially for locals. 'The Chinese are the most open people when receiving this dance. They are very attentive to the technical aspects, then add the harmony and sober sensuality,' she said. 'They don't go looking for spectacular effect and they learn immediately, which is something I link to tai chi and the grace of movement.' Fernandez, big on the global dance-teaching scene, has made repeated trips to Hong Kong in the past five years; this time, accompanied by new floor partner Ricardo Gallo, she will conduct workshops throughout the week and go out with a flourish at the Tangueria Ball on November 27. Fernandez has gone toe-to-toe with presidents and Hong Kong governors, but no matter whose embrace she is usually lost in sensory-overload mode. 'The most important thing is to communicate from the heart in the language of tango - to express feelings with freedom,' she said. 'Tango is like a caress for the soul: it's a love story of three minutes with someone. No tricks, just intimacy.' Although she added generously 'the tango group here lives it as they do at home in Argentina', the aficionados seemed hazy on the beginnings of the original dirty dancing. Tango was born of some unlikely unions in the brothels of 1870s Buenos Aires, where frustrated male European immigrants desperate for some action danced with each other while they waited. As John Tomlinson, manager of the renowned Paul Taylor Dance Company of New York, told me: 'There might be three girls working and 12 guys just sitting around playing music, hankering to get in the room. No wonder tango has such sexual tension, even sexual violence.' Tango took Paris in the 1920s, where it became the dance of the nobs and assumed an aristocratic veneer, then reclaimed Argentina in the 1940s - before a military junta outlawed meetings of more than three people, causing dancing shoes to be hung up for decades. It is now enjoying a worldwide renaissance. Back at TangoTang, proceedings were tending more towards the polite than the violent. While intense couples trundled rather than glided, Remy assured me passion was in the air all right. 'I know of at least two members who like the breast of a woman on their chests,' she said conspiratorially. 'And women want men to be real men. We're coming to the end of the century and maybe realising it's better to put your hand on someone's back than on a keyboard. 'We're all looking for that two minutes of blushing,' she admitted, as Lichtenstein drifted by in the arms of another. 'I get that when I dance with 'im.' HAD they been Fred and Ginger, they could not have timed it better. Had they been Saatchi and Saatchi, they could not have advertised the club more appropriately. From nowhere (actually Barcelona), via a chance encounter with the TangoTang Web site, two dark, good-looking, vacationing strangers suddenly appeared. He was in a sharp suit; she, black mane flowing, shimmered in a glittering black dress. They took to the floor, then took it over as couple after couple retreated in silence. This was tango: a complex mating game played by strutting, exotic birds; a flamboyant display of aggression and sensuality; all the posturing of seduction in fluid motion. The audience demanded more; Remy was entranced. This was art. 'Look!' she whispered to half the room. 'She's inviting him . . . she's barely moving. With his hand - like this - he'll tell her what to do. See how they're standing very stiff at the top, very proud? Very respectable. Everything down below is very dirty. She'll put her leg like this [knee halfway up my thigh]. They look like one body with four legs, it's very enticing.' 'Now is the moment for tango!' said Andy Wegrzyn, a doctor of Polish origin, after the command performance. 'It's happening all over the world. You can do this,' he told his new fans. 'My wife and I have been dancing only three years - and when you're dancing, you fight less!' In fact, the moment for tango is next Saturday. 'At the ball, we will not be in a . . . garage anymore,' Remy said. 'We will show people what we do. High heels, fishnet stockings . . . we will be sexy.' For details of TangoTang's workshops and forthcoming ball, contact Beatrice Remy on tel: 8106 0675, or fax: 2575 2042. See www.cafe-charbon.com/Tango Tang for further information.