When I wrote The milongueros I love – The Gift (Part 1) about the men in Buenos Aires I love to embrace and why, I received many enthusiastic comments from around the globe. People sent me their experiences, details of blissful moments on the dance floor, even poetry. And a few people asked me a simple question.
What about the music? they said.
Ah, I thought, as I read through my post. Good point. Had I focused too much on the men, and taken the music for granted?
Back then, despite having danced tango for three and a half years, and three of them in Buenos Aires, I still felt a bit uncomfortable when people asked me about tango music. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the traditional stuff. I did. I’d fallen head over stiletto heels in love with it in 2007 — and I tell that bit of my story, of how I went from pop to scratchy recordings of Pugliese and other marvellous tango-music men, in my book Happy Tango, so, I won’t repeat it here. By the time I wrote Happy T. , I had favourite tango orchestras and could reel off a few of them (D’Angelis, D’Arienzo, D’Agostino, Caló…) with honest passion in my voice.
However, I am a woman who has never won a game of Trivial Pursuit in her life, and slickly trotting out titles and dates on cue in answer to questions such as What Golden Age tangos do you like? seemed unlikely ever to be my destiny. I felt I ought to be able to do it, but I couldn’t. I knew I loved to dance to certain tunes and if they came on in the milonga I’d sit up, energise my most magnetic stare and feel frustrated if I couldn’t find a partner who loved them as much as I did; but, when a dance partner confided the name of a particular favourite, between tangos (as they often do in Buenos Aires), I wouldn’t say I exactly raced home to search for it on iTunes or write it in my notebook. I knew of some tangos by name, ones that maybe Ariel my teacher (whose tango knowledge reaches way beyond Trivial Pursuit), or Carlos, had enthused over. But, I was a person who felt the music rather than needing to register its ‘apellido and DNI number’. Or so I thought.
Then three things happened, and my musical world shifted a little on its familiar axis.
1. In the UK in July 2010, at the invitation of the social-tango-and trad-tango-music-loving organisers of Shrewsbury Tango, I began to research teaching a workshop on ‘deepening the connection in the social tango embrace’. I had to choose the music for the session. I sat at my computer listening and noting and learning… and wanting to know more, because, I realised that if I am to share anything of what I have been taught by ‘the milongueros I love the most’ about soul-to-soul connection in tango, I have to use the music to do it. In fact, I discovered, my choice of music can almost do the job for me — ladies, you try entering the embrace to a haunting introduction such as that of Jamás Retournarás from Al compás del corazón (Miguel Caló with vocalist Raúl Berón) without longing to be in the arms of a man who can lead you to melt.
2. On my return to Buenos Aires, a favourite milonguero broke my tango heart by abandoning me for another woman for the tanda we’d regularly danced over a period of many months, and I found I could not rest until I’d tracked the music down by name and played it over and over until it (and he) was out of my system. It may sound extreme, but I had to do this or I knew I would never be able to dance to the music again. I can’t tell you the orchestra concerned, because I think it courteous to protect the identity of the milonguero — his favourite tandas are as familiar to his dance partners past, present and future, as his dance shoes are to his feet. And I owe him courtesy. I’m sad to have lost an adored embrace, for now at least, but I will remain in the man’s debt for my whole tango life, whether we ever dance together again or not. He placed the tracks that ‘make him tremble’ in my soul’s memory, where I will hold them as gold. My ‘milonguero I loved the most’ scarred me with tango music itself. How could I not want to know its name?
3. To discover whether it’s possible for me to pass on something inspiring and worthwhile on the subject of ‘the gift’ in the tango embrace, I’ve begun a whole new journey — learning to ‘be the boy’ as Ariel (my wonderful teacher) puts it. Last week, by the end of my first lesson, I was able to navigate him around his living room without banging into the walls or the furniture. And, to investigate the boy-part thoroughly, I’m going to have to know my tango music more intimately than ever before. I can’t help wondering if the tracks I will choose to dance when trying to help women to relax and give their gift to the real men of tango, will be the same tracks that I most readily surrender to as a woman. Can’t wait to find out.
These three music-related happenings seem to have started a bit of an avalanche… you know that thing where once you become aware of something, you see it everywhere. A favourite dance partner of mine (from Australia) and I talk in the pause between tangos of how fun (and useful for getting to know the music) it would be if the DJ had an electronic board displaying the name and orchestra of each tango as it’s played. On Thursday at Nuevo Chique the organiser enthused about D’Arienzo as if he were an old friend and tears of joy blurred my eyesight. This Saturday at Los Consagrados I found myself surrendering to a strong milonguero from La Plata and a tanda of Láurenz and feeling quite desperate to identify the final tango that left me dizzy with release — the rather aptly named (as it turns out, in the light of point 2. above, though its lyrics convey a far deeper level of sadness), Abandono.
Yep, the signs of synchronicity are there. In wanting to know tango music more intimately to help me understand its effect on a soul with a desire to dance, I think I am definitely on a good path. However, I’m always going to be more heart than head, so don’t be surprised when I tell you I adore Fresedo, you ask me what my favourite track is, and I just can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s just that I drank with way too much characteristic passion when I was young.
And as for whether my original post, The milongueros I love – The Gift (Part 1), spoke too much of men and not enough of music. I don’t think so. In my case it was the embrace of men, and not actually the music, that got me hooked on dancing social tango. If you’d simply sat me solo, on day one, in a room with a CD player, a disc of classic tangos and a disc of Robbie Williams and told me to choose which to dance to first, I’m sure that I’d have picked the Robbie Williams, just because my British soul was well used to its sound and beat. It was men — my dream dancer of Hampshire, Ariel, Carlos, a multitude of milongueros in Buenos Aires — who taught me to love tango music through their dance. That isn’t to say that tango music isn’t the mother and father of all these fabulous-tango-dancer men, because, of course, without its existence there would be no tango embrace and none of the resulting gifts. In that sense the music always comes first. Plus, it is the music that dictates when the men in my current tango life dance, and when they don’t — for example, Carlos will be very unlikely to leave his seat for Di Sarli, whereas when D’Arienzo blasts over the pista he just can’t stop himself. And if both the man and I are jumping to our feet for the same track, I think the chances of bliss in our embrace are upped to the height of a full moon above the earth.
So… music. Music. Tango music! Yes, it matters, and the longer I dance, the more it matters to me. Abso-bloody-lutely. My favourite tango music is one of the wings on which my tango soul flies. The milongueros I described in The milongueros I love – The Gift (Part 1) are the other. To release my tango ‘gift’ with utter abandon and leave the eyes of men shining with the perfect combination of surprise, relief and desire, I need them both.
What about you?
Guys, perhaps you can substitute the word woman for man in some parts of the post above.
Anyone who wants to deepen their knowledge of tango music — the history, the personalities, the sounds, the lyrics, the lot — try the websites planet-tango.com, todotango.com and milonga.co.uk.
The photograph at the top of the post is of La Glorieta from where tango music fills a Belgrano park on Saturday and Sunday evenings from 7pm.
If you’d like the full story on how to make the most of Buenos Aires tango, why not treat yourself to my book Happy Tango: Sallycat’s Guide to Dancing in Buenos Aires?