A warm British tango embrace

I’ve had to let Buenos Aires go this summer.

No good being nostalgic for the stuff I could miss: my Wednesday morning race along the pavement of Corrientes from the number 60 bus, to make it to Writers’ Group (roughly on time); creamy banana licuados poured from plastic jugs by one of a pair of senior waiters (who must have at least 100 years – between them – of  tostado mixtos under their belts) in Los Galgos on Callao; eye contact with one of the ‘milongueros I love the most’, as the first notes of a vals tanda threaten to send me to the very edge of becoming a woman desperate to dance. If I let my mind dwell, I could miss these things and many more things besides, but instead I am choosing to let my love for them slip beneath my conscious thoughts, as I put into practice living in the now.

When someone you love is unwell and needs you, it sure offers you a sharp lesson on getting into the present and staying there. Where you were last and where you will be next almost cease to exist. The meal you are preparing or eating, the sleep you are about to sink into or are waking from, the challenge you are listening to or the solution you are offering — these are the simple things that have become the regular heartbeat of my recent days. But, to give my best in any situation to anybody in whatever circumstance, I know that I must also feed the pulse of my own soul and stay in touch with who I really am. In my case that means two things above all else: writing and blissful Argentine tango. Writing, I know I can do anywhere. In the relatively small town (compared to Buenos Aires) of Shrewsbury, Shropshire, UK, I may have once thought that the tango might be more of a challenge. I would have been wrong.

At The Lantern in Shrewsbury, on Thursday nights, I am dancing with an amazing group of British men. They dance to traditional Golden Age tango music (and one or two even sing it in my ear because they know their favourite tracks so well). They allow me to embrace them as closely as I want to (very close) and they hug me back without reserve. They improvise every step to the music they hear and so let me in on who they really are. They escort me back to my seat with a thank you in their kind words (and in their eyes I am delighted to say, as it reveals that I have managed to give them something special too). Yes, these men are amazing in their enthusiasm for the music and the social dance they are learning to love, and I am already calling them, over a J2O and a laugh in the pub afterwards, my ‘Shrewsbury milongueros’.

Are these men great dancers? Ah well, that will depend on what you mean by ‘great’, won’t it. If I asked them, I am certain that they would say No, not only because they are modest and grounded folk but also because, in their own words, I’ve only been dancing just over a year, or I worry my dance vocabulary is a bit limited, or I’m sorry if it’s a bit boring. I say, Sod all that. It doesn’t bother or bore me. Far from it. I know that continued lessons in strong fundamentals from their fab teacher, practice on the dance floor to tango music classics, and a bit more self-confidence, will sort out their doubts. I’m already looking forward to dancing with them again next year. Why? Well, I believe that great Argentine tango is all about the connection between the partners and the tango music, and the resulting powerful feeling; I think that these men are already on track to discover rising levels of true tango-bliss and to give it to the tangueras in their arms.

But what is the secret? How do you actually go about creating ‘milongueros in the making’, on the border of England and Wales, far far from Argentina, out of ordinary (in the nicest sense of the word) middle-aged British blokes? An intriguing question, and one to which I’m enjoying discovering the answers: answers that predominantly seem to involve the encouragement of a love and understanding of Golden Age music. I’m delighted to say that I’m being given the chance to add my two-penneth into the mix, as my experiences of dancing social tango in the Buenos Aires milongas leave me with some clear ideas that I am keen to convey. The guys seem to be taking my teachings on board, which is very exciting; I’ve even had them dancing with C. in order to gain a sense of exactly how it can feel to be in the arms of one who dances the music and uses it to find and celebrate the woman in his arms. Dancing man to man may sound extreme, but these amazing men stepped up for it with gusto (and I have discovered since, that it is part of their regular weekly practice); after all, once upon a time in Buenos Aires, men danced with men (’tis said) to gain skill, confidence and understanding before they were ever let loose on the women. Whether or not the men of Shrewsbury will ever come to think of themselves as the greatest dancers in the room, they may find themselves to be the most popular dancers in the room… as are the milongueros of Buenos Aires that I love the most.

I imagine it takes a fair bit of determination for your average forty-something-and-upwards Brit guy to apply himself to learn an intimate dance from scratch, in a world that is all too often about looks and competition and achievement and comparisons… the best, the flashiest, the most attractive, the best (yep I said that one twice). Yet, how relevant is all that stuff, really? In looking for my ideal dance partner, I expect a certain basic level of skill, yes. I also want someone who moves smoothly and competently to the music and who appears to hear and love the same tunes that I do. And, I want him to know a few secrets (but, if I’m teaching him, I’m pretty confident that I can help him with those, if he is up for it). I’d never choose him for his flash moves, but rather for exactly who he is, whoever he is, if I think that his love of the music and the warmth of his embrace and his body shape may suit mine. In my tango mind, you see, there are no ‘bests’, apart from in the sense of the men who may suit me best. And the men who may suit me, may not suit you. There is someone who will be the perfect match for every other someone, in this incredibly special dance that we call Argentine tango. How fab a prospect is that? It means that we can all be winners.

So, given that I am kind of stranded in Shrewsbury for a while with my mind on some pretty serious matters, it feels like a little miracle that I have found (without having to look very hard at all) some amazing tangueros who definitely do suit me, right on my doorstep.

And it isn’t just the men at The Lantern who make me smile, but the women too. They have welcomed us into their community with a warmth and enthusiasm that shines with the gleam of generous hearts; they share their men with me and in return, I share mine: C. dances his Argentine tango-heart out, and we all go home happy. One of the tangueras, a talented artist, has even been sketching us which is a treat, and it is she, the wonderful Beverley Fry, who I have to thank for the photograph of Me and C. at the top of this blog entry: Beverley entitled the photo, Listening: I love our matching skinny arms, our hands framed momentarily by our chests (on their way to their meeting), and the glow that seems to fill every single space.

Somehow Beverley’s pic of Me and C. at The Lantern is warm through and through, and fittingly so; I do not think that if I had ordered it from God’s salon-service menu, he could have given me a cosier British tango embrace than I have been offered in Shrewsbury. I am more grateful for that than I can say.

How is your own search going for tango that suits you this summer (or winter, depending where you are dancing)? Are you finding it easily? Why not comment on this post and share your experiences, and so help us all to find our ‘tango homes’ in the event that we are travelling to a tango salon near you soon. If you want to know more about what I mean by the term ‘tango homes’, why not treat yourself to a copy of Happy Tango: Sallycat’s Guide to Buenos Aires, and find out. If you haven’t bought yet, you can now read an extract from the Introduction of the book, by clicking right here. Happy reading!

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  1. jamesy’s avatar

    Hi Sal
    Great post as it captures the heart of this addiction that we have with Argentine Tango. As for dancing in the last 4 weeks we have travelled a bit, from Barry in Wales to Eton,Oxford,Southampton and the New Forest. It looks like Salisbury tonight and Cardiff on Sat its a shame they dont give Airmiles. Are you going to come out of Shropshire and play before you return?
    Lots of love to you and your Mum

    1. sallycat’s avatar

      Hello JB, Bournemouth http://www.tangoalchemy.co.uk/ to see some tango friends from the good old days when I was taking my first tango steps…

      “This Sunday 8th of August
      The last milonga of the Summer By The Beach!
      Bournemouth Milonga!
      8 until midnight. A classic on the south
      Dj Alchemist. Traditional Tangos from the golden age, with and occasional “nuevo” twist…
      The Bournemouth International Hotel, Priory Rd, Bournemouth, BH2 5DL”

      That’s where I will be this Sunday… any hope of a dance with you? Unlikely I guess, as perhaps Cardiff to Bournemouth in one weekend is probably a tango step too far!
      Have just pushed my flight to BsAs out to 27th September to spend more time with my mum, so perhaps there will be another chance – I do hope so :)
      Warm hug, SC

    2. sallycat’s avatar

      ps. You are certainly racking up the miles for tango this summer, are you not? Are you finding that elusive ‘happy tango’ (blissful) feeling on your travels? Hope you are! :) SC

  2. Christine in LA’s avatar

    What a beautiful post and what truly lovely photo. It captures so much:) I’m glad that you have found this community and have been so welcomed into it. I hope that things are better for you mom and I’m sending happy positive thoughts in the direction of England:)

    .-= Christine in LA´s last blog ..eagle rock =-.

    1. sallycat’s avatar

      Hello Christine in LA
      Ah thank you, for your positive thoughts for my mum, and for your lovely feedback on this blog entry. Mum is home now, and is such an inspiration to me as she learns to live with her new tongue (built from her arm by an amazingly talented surgeon) – her new voice is beautiful and makes me love her more than ever. And it is as if the story of her new voice is encouraging us to communicate like never before! She is writing and drawing her way through her recovery and incredibly she has all of us making art in response – C., my sisters, my Dad, me – poems, blog posts, collages, photography… the artistic activity in our home is rising by the day! What a bonus :) We are considering an exhibition to raise money for a connected cause, and I am thinking of helping my mum to make a book of her work. So, we find our way through, one day at a time.
      Thank you for caring.
      The photo is so lovely isn’t it – I think it is my favourite ever ever of Carlos and I. It’s right up there with the one on the cover of Happy Tango!
      Warm hugs to you in LA, from Shrewsbury, SC

  3. Mari’s avatar

    What a beautiful post – just what I needed to read today. Summer here means a pretty light milonga schedule which, for some reason, makes me feel more tired. Dances have been wonderful though, and new friendships make my world brighter and brighter. AND . . . your book will be in my hands by Friday! I can hardly wait!
    .-= Mari´s last blog ..Broken Record =-.

    1. sallycat’s avatar

      Hello Mari,
      Ah, so glad you liked the post – I have been so grateful for the tango I have found this summer. One night when we arrived at Shrewsbury and sat down, Carlos turned to me and said, ‘Ah the music – I relaxing’ and I knew exactly what he meant – calm, familiar, like coming home. We’ve been on the move this week, and last night we had lovely lovely music from Andreas at tango in Southampton and we danced our little tango-hearts out! This week in Bournemouth, Bramshaw and Southampton we have met many friends (old and new) – all bright lights in our days. I feel very fortunate.

      My book in your hands by Friday!!! Oh Super! I do hope you will enjoy it – please let me know! And don’t forget to keep an eye on The (Happy Tango) Updates Blog – the first update to the book has been posted there now at http://sallycatway.com/happytango/2010/08/09/happy-tango-update-1-practica-x/

      Big abrazo, SC

  4. Becky’s avatar

    It sounds like you and Carlos are having a peaceful, reflective summer. Enjoy the time with your family. I found this link today and thought you might enjoy it in a quiet moment:


    All the best!

    1. sallycat’s avatar

      Hey, thanks for thinking of me Becky… I am definitely going to watch that in a quiet hour. Brilliant!
      Hope it inspires me to start writing my next book…
      Un abrazo, SC

  5. Amy Allison’s avatar

    Hi, Sally!

    Got your book yesterday from Amazon and already realize it is going to be my best friend while I go it alone in BsAs. Also happy to find your blog as it seems we have much in common.

    I leave next month for a three month trip to Argentina to learn Spanish and improve my tango. I am so excited. Your book should ease the immersion process. Thanks for putting it together in time for my trip. Amy :)

    1. sallycat’s avatar

      Hello Amy, absolutely delighted to get this comment from you. It tells me that Happy Tango is doing the job that I wrote it to do. I hope that you will find it to be a true friend as you travel through tango in Buenos Aires, and I will love to hear how you get on with the book to help you. Please do let me know!
      While you are using Happy Tango, please do keep an eye on The (Happy Tango) Updates Blog http://sallycatway.com/happytango/updates/ where I will post any updates – there is already a post on Practica X, as it has moved home; and if you are on Facebook, you can get updates via the book’s Facebook page, too.

      “I leave next month for a three month trip to Argentina to learn Spanish and improve my tango. I am so excited.”
      I soooo remember saying something like that myself once, and oh gosh, I cannot believe the adventure I ended up having, and it continues!
      I wish you a brilliant adventure in Buenos Aires… and I also hope you continue to enjoy my blog.
      Un abrazo, SC

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