It is quite something for me to look back on that post and to sense the emotion, the frustration, the confusion that I felt at the time. Now Carlos has travelled to England and he has seen first hand my tango roots. But, has anything changed?
Well, how did ‘mi gran amor’ find the tango experience in England?
I think on the whole he loved it. I have lots of girlfriends in English tango, and other English women read this blog. Quite honestly Carlos was delighted to find that he did not once have to ask an English woman, ‘Bailas?’ They asked him. But he also found that if he did ask, his invitation was always accepted. We are a friendly bunch in Inglaterra, and I guess we don’t get that many Argentinos passing through. And I always joke to Carlos, that because of this blog, he is probably the most famous plumber on the planet! He has been unerringly generous in allowing me to write about him, from the start, and I think that the English have grown to love him for it. He was not a stranger over there: people recognised his beautiful brown eyes with their a hint of ‘tristeza’, his gentle tango embrace, his generous heart, and he was welcomed. I was proud beyond imagining to see him take my friends in his arms, and offer them the piece of his soul that is his ‘tango argentino’, his love of the music (when he recognised the music of course!), his Argentina. I was happy to share him. And he talks fondly now of his ‘English girls’. ‘Have any of my friends written to you?’ he asks me almost daily. Girls, he remembers every one of your dances. He misses you. Get over here!
Carlos rarely talks to me about anyone he dances with. He is not one to describe his tango experiences. I have never heard him complain about lack of skill, compare dance partners, or say anything negative at all. Occasionally he may comment to me that someone is a bit tall for him, but that is as far as it goes. He is a gentleman when it comes to tango. Ah well, I guess he is just a gentleman, full stop. And so, I have had to drag out of him his general impressions of dancing tango in England and basically it boils down to the fact that the women are perhaps not as relaxed in his arms as he is used to, perhaps not quite as comfortable in a close embrace as he is used to, perhaps holding back slightly from allowing their souls to dance, without even realising it… I understand this because I felt it in the men too. I wanted to say to many men, ‘Please, just for me, forget the steps… hold me, feel the music, and give me your soul. Then I can give you mine.’
I know how it was for me back in my previous life. I wanted to dance great didn’t I? You all know how much I wanted to dance great. I went to hundreds of classes in England. I loved it when we learned new moves. After one week I was begging my teacher to show me ochos, before I could walk of course… because I wanted to look good, follow everything that was led, be the best at tango, fast. I harassed my ‘dream dancer of Hampshire’ to show me ‘boleos’, ‘ganchos’, ‘volcadas’. He kept telling me to practice walking. I was angry. I learned to dance in an ‘open embrace’ and felt very uncomfortable if someone I didn’t know pulled me in close. For a start I was worried that if I couldn’t sneak a look at the floor, I wouldn’t be able to follow well. Mmmmm…
Now, I am not one to write much about my tango partners, individually that is, unless they are called Carlos. I respect their privacy, as I hope they do mine. And I had some lovely partners in England, and some magical tangos. So what I am about to say now is a general impression, nothing more. It is how I felt upon returning to my tango birthplace. And I can say it because I understand it, or at least I understand how I fitted in to the same overall impression when I lived in England, and probably would if I still lived there now. I am no expert I know. And so I can only share what I feel as of this minute. And that might change in the future. I have learned some hard lessons in tango since I arrived here. I have written about them. I expect there will be more to come. I am still a beginner in my tango journey. I am being taught by every single man, including the English man, who walks towards me on the dance floor, by every single person that I see dance, and by my own emerging soul, as ‘lentamente’ it learns to speak its truths. And now, for better or for worse, it wants to speak about this.
I don’t honestly know how I have come to discover the magic of the connection of souls in tango. It came gradually as I danced and as I watched dancers here in Buenos Aires. It came with a bit of time. It sneaked into my understanding, unobserved. I think it flowed in to the space that was created by my ‘tango ego’ ebbing away as I learned my tougher ‘tango lessons’. And I believe that being in Buenos Aires for me, was a huge factor in all of this. Here I learned how to let go and forget myself in life, and on the dance floor. Today, my surrender to the music and my tango partner allows my soul to breathe his breath, my heart to beat with his, my body to feel and respond to the dance of his soul… When I returned to England, I definitely danced more flamboyant tango then I ever dance here, apart from with Ariel in private perhaps, and sometimes it was fun, a laugh, a challenge, BUT for the most part, it wasn’t the tango that I have now personally come to live for: what I think of as the tango of the soul.
In the beginning of this last trip to England, I did exactly what I do here. I would step up to a man, enter his embrace, gently reach out for his soul… and, initially I was shocked, to often find it blocked. If I am honest, the Milongas in England felt to me to be full of men’s souls dancing trapped in boxes. And the boxes felt to me to be made of steps, of sequences, of moves, of anxiety to ‘perform’, and perhaps too on occasion, of the ‘great British reserve’. It is indeed true that sometimes the boxes were quite pretty and decorative with complicated patterns on the outsides, but the problem was that I wanted to rip the box open and get at the treasure inside. I felt a sadness that often, the man wasn’t offering me the sensual dance of his soul, he was shoving at me everything that his body had learned to do, with no pauses, no silences, no feeling. He was giving me a part of him yes, but it felt like the hard shell of him, and I felt that this shell was born in his head. I wanted to break through his ‘brain barrier’, with an ice pick (if I’m really honest), and find his heart beat, his breath, his music, his suffering, his joy. I would close my eyes in those first moments of the embrace, and my soul would lean towards him, hoping, longing, but then… a jerk, a sudden unwelcome and sharp opening of the embrace, a shove off axis, a move learned in class maybe that same night and sometimes poorly led, a compensation by my body (now totally alert and on guard), an equal and opposite reaction: my yearning locked away in an equivalent box until I could offer it to my next partner, the magic with this one being not even a remote possibility. My reactive thinking even started to block out my soul too. I began to feel nervous that if I didn’t follow everything, ‘they’ would say, ‘Bloody hell, she still can’t dance… and she’s been in Buenos Aires exactly HOW LONG?’ As time passed in England, I regret to say that apart from with a few partners, my soul didn’t even make the effort to reach out. It learned not to bother because it wanted to avoid yet another rejection.
Of course what I cannot know is whe
ther English women sometimes feel to their partners as if they dance trapped inside boxes too… but I will say that I know I did for quite some time. I think I did a rather excellent job of constructing mine and wrapping it in layers of some slightly misplaced dreams of winning the ‘Tango Mundial’ within a year of arriving in Buenos Aires. Lucky for me it was, that the men of Argentina, and particularly Ariel and Carlos, have patiently unwrapped me. I don’t think I’m anywhere near ‘naked’ yet, but one day I think I would like to be. So I’ll keep dancing.
Now I am NOT criticising anything about English dancers, after all I am one. And my tango experiences are not always perfect here either. It was just a different experience in general, and one which resulted in these feelings. I have no idea how it is possible to be taught or to learn to dance with your soul. All I am saying is that you CAN. And it’s worth it. And some of you do it already, by the way… and you will be the ones who get the queues of women lining up for you. Guys, you can make a woman putty in your arms if you search for her, listen to her, care for her, love her, wait for her, invite her, respect her, dance WITH her, or at least let her know that you have noticed that she is there. You might do nothing fancy with your feet, but she will feel AMAZING and so will you! Oh and it helps if you actually listen to the music, because she might be listening too.
Phew! My soul feels better now! It has let out its ‘Edvard Munch’ scream.
So back to Carlos and me. Well, it is early days to know how things have changed for us, but I think they may have. We have only been out dancing twice since we got back: La Milonguita (Friday night) and Club Independencia (the next Friday night). Both times, Carlos invited friends of mine to dance, without any nudges, glances or any kind of encouragement at all from me. Both times no-one else invited me. Afterwards he teased me about his ‘girls’. I am just happy to sense that he is more relaxed. I think perhaps what he did see in England was that people dance together for pleasure on the dance floor, but that on the whole we are not spending every last second scheming to get each other into bed, to steal each others partners, to invite each other for ‘coffee’ after one tanda, to race off to a ‘telo’ after the Milonga. Now I’m not saying everyone is doing all of that here either… well not all of the time anyway. The way I see it, at least there is a healthy dose of passion in tango in Buenos Aires and I can appreciate the valuable side of that now. Maybe it comes from the power surges resulting from the exchange of souls. Maybe one day England will be exactly the same if those boxes get torn open!
And as for me, well I am far more laid back now about how many dance partners I have here. After all there is a limit to the number of times I can fully offer my soul in one night, and I want to be able to give, as well as receive. In that respect, I have firmly exchanged quality for quantity. I certainly danced with many men in England, and it is almost as if for now, it has helped me get something right out of my system. And it is definitely true, that after three weeks of dancing without him, I longed for Carlos to arrive and take me into his tango embrace.
On reflection, I think not only English tango, but the entire experience of sharing an extremely colourful journey to England, has given both Carlos and me a fresh perspective to enlighten our relationship in every respect, and within that our tango relationship is on firmer ground too. And I do believe that as a result, our two tango cultures are at last beginning to find a way to meet, and maybe even tentatively kiss for the first time… just like we were doing in the street outside La Viruta, this time last year.