Reading Bora’s Tango Journey from Buenos Aires, and in particular Day 8 and the comments on it, sends me reeling back through the years to 2007 and the post I wrote in December of that year called More tango lessons, the tale of a painful episode that I will never ever forget. I know the theme isn’t quite the subject of Bora’s Day 8 post, but the sum of her Buenos Aires writings (up to Day 12 so far) moves me and causes me to remember some of the pivotal steps on my own tango journey. She and the people who have commented on her post have prompted me to consider the ‘real’ tango in this city, and what it means to me, right now, in 2010. Why am I still dancing tango in Buenos Aires, three years on?
The other day I had cause to tell the following little story to a dear long-time-tango-dancing friend. She laughed and exclaimed something along the lines of, Sallycat, you have just described the essence of tango! Here’s what I told her. See what you think.
I’m sitting in a milonga where it’s pretty quiet and it’s easy to see everyone in the room, the dancers on the dance floor and the folk sitting the tanda out. It’s the afternoon and there are people present who never frequent the late-night milongas.
I see quite a few men I wouldn’t really care to dance with. Maybe I’ve danced with them before and don’t want to repeat the experience. Maybe I haven’t danced with them, but they dance in a way that does not encourage me to want to leave my seat. Or, maybe I am repelled by the ugly and all-too-visible shapes of their egos or the fact that they are obviously only interested in dancing with the outer beauty of youth or the prospect of a quick lay, one of which I do not have at age forty-seven and the other I will never be. I will decline to embrace these guys. I let them go in my mind. These men are not for me.
I begin to look for the men who I might want to embrace. I keep my eye on one man I’ve never seen before. I do not see him dance. He sits quietly, on his own, sips from a small coffee cup.
I do leave my seat, for Fresedo, Donato, D’Angelis, Caló and the valses. The rest I sit out. It’s hot. There’s no aircon. The wall fans can’t cope. I save myself for music I love. At the start of each tanda I glance at the man again. He’s pretty old, I’m guessing eighty. He looks frail, but his fresh white cotton shirt has perfect creases ironed into the sleeves. Maybe he just dressed up to come and listen to the music and soak up the tango memories seeping from the walls of the place.
Or maybe not, because with the first few notes of the new tanda in the space between us, he is looking back at me, inclining his head and mouthing the word, Bailamos?
I decide to take a risk — well, in truth, I’d decided it an hour or so before, and he probably knows it. I dip my head in a small movement, mirroring his. He stands for the first time since he arrived in the salón.
When he embraces me I know for sure he has lived a lot of years. He holds me with a telltale combination of security and uncertainty in his physical contact. It isn’t his energy that gives him away. I feel his presence strong and proud, but there is a slight shake in his arms, a momentary tremor, the voice of his body telling its long story to mine, from the first touch.
My body reacts to reassure his. No backing off on my part, or transmitting hints of social conditioning about age or tango ability or tango technique. He may shake slightly, but I have chosen him and I will focus entirely on him and give him my all. I hold him as close as I can and breathe with him. I sense every point of connection with his body. I breathe with him again. With him again.
He breathes with me.
His first steps are relatively simple, and I know he guides me deliberately in to a place that feels good, for me, and for him. He wants us to find the common ground, somewhere where he knows I’m hearing the same music he does and can respond to it without holding back.
Once he has me there, safely on the launch pad, he begins to flex his dancing wings. I become certain that he has waited in his seat all afternoon for this particular orchestra, and now he wants to bring the music that he loves to life, through me.
And the development of his dance across our four tangos? It’s as if he begins with a pencil sketch on a single sheet of paper and ends with a power-packed painting that could fill an entire wall of the Tate. I feel every mark through his chest, and I add my own choices to his as my confidences builds. I hear the music he has selected for me. I respond to it and to him. My energy is not passive, but present and alive in his arms. He paints musical masterpieces on the floor. I feel every knot of tension leave us and I dissolve in the warm melting pot of the security of our hug, the strokes brushed into intricate spontaneous patterns by our feet, the notes written long ago and now rushing through our ears to our legs, and our clasped hands that tense and relax in a way that makes me notice how my skin is hot to his cool. We are a match. We are one.
By the final tango in the tanda, every hint of his physical tremor is completely gone. I am dancing with the spirit of a young man and with a soul that has danced for over fifty years. I become certain that we are dancing in the 1930s, that we have chosen each other in a packed tango hall where a live orchestra is playing, that I am the only woman in his world and that he is the only man in mine.
When he finally pulls away from me I see it in his eyes. I’ve surprised him, as he has surprised me.
Or maybe I haven’t surprised him at all. Maybe his eyes simply speak of triumph that he has so effortlessly extracted my ‘gift‘ and left me wanting more.
Afterwards he escorts me back to my seat and I need him to. I ask him how old he is. Only slightly breathless, he says,
Yes, but you dance like you are twenty-two.
And you are twenty-two, he whispers in my ear.
I giggle. He kisses my hand.
I can’t dance the next tanda. I need to allow my heart beat to slow. I go to the bathroom to wipe a damp paper towel over my forehead, tidy my hair. When I come back the waiter is clearing the coffee cup from the man’s table. My ‘frail’ eighty-two year old has gone.
So, what do you think?
And, what do I think?
I think that what we each consider to be the ‘essence of tango’ (or the ‘real’ tango, or whatever you want to call it) and the freedom we give to others to discover and speak of and celebrate their own version of it, probably says more about us than it does about what the essence of tango truly is… will it ever look or feel exactly the same to any two of us? I don’t know, but I think not.
I do know, in my own case, that I’ll always remind myself to remain open to finding the essence of tango in Buenos Aires in the lower-key places, in the humble people, in the quiet of the afternoon, in the last hour of the late-night local milonga, in the second or third rows back in the tango salóns, in the hearts of men who dance for joy to the tango music they truly truly love. And every time I discover what I seek in the arms of those men, I will thank my own tango angel Carlos (seen in my friend Shaun’s beautiful photo at the top of this post, and described in my 2007 post mentioned earlier) for helping me along my path to discovering the intense and very precious essence of tango that I will dance in my heart till the day I die.
Sometimes I will find the bliss I seek. And sometimes I won’t. But, I believe that somewhere in this city (aka world, aka life), what my soul needs in its quest for joy of all kinds, including in tango, is probably always there, right there under my nose. Whether I find it or not is probably pretty much down to me.
That said, I’m off to Los Consagrados.
And wherever you’re dancing tonight, I wish with all my heart that you find what your tango soul is looking for.
Happy National Day of Tango to every one of you!
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Author: Sally Blake
Published by: Pirotta Press Ltd
Publication date: 30 June 2010
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