I am walking down the leafy wide Avenida de Mayo trying to hide from the screaming March sun. A postcard catches my eye. It’s a painting of a couple dancing tango. A simple painting and layout, devoid of all the kitsch I hate in postcards. I stop to grab a few because, after all the video skyping and endless emails, I still believe in postcards.
An older man from somewhere behind the magazines and the sun in my eyes asks if I dance. I say no, I have never danced tango (in my head I add, well yes, mockingly, once or twice). He starts explaining that to dance tango you need to understand its passion, you need to feel the rhythm of the music and your partner, and you need to give yourself completely to the moment. I listen to him wide-eyed. It all sounds so enticing that I find myself torn between wanting to photograph it or to dance it. Later on I came to realize how much they love to talk about the theory of tango.
He says that, while tango is danced and enjoyed, and even perceived very personally, when you are dancing it’s a shared experience. And a very intimate one at that; intimate with yourself, with that partner, with the music, and with the surroundings.
Did you know that tango has a soul? I guess I knew, I nod – even though it was a rhetorical question – as Astor Piazzolla, an Argentine composer and guitarist, comes to mind.
He keeps talking and the deeper he gets to explaining the gist of it, the further he comes from behind the magazines and toward me, until we are face to face and he is showing me how to stand and how to engage in the dance. He says ‘permiso?’ and lifts my right hand in his, then presses his other hand on my lower back and pulls me closer in.
I try to concentrate on what he’s actually saying about the proper tango posture and etiquette, and our entwined feet.
I’m 24 hours into Buenos Aires and already given a tango lesson. I can’t hear the music anywhere, but I can almost feel the rhythm he is playing in his mind. I guess that’s the power of tango.
As we finish our little impromptu repertoire, he says “chica, mira..” look, we practice on Saturdays at a nearby cultural centre. Come by. While he’s saying it he looks over his shoulder, like maybe he shouldn’t be inviting me. Like maybe this is a closed gathering. I nod furiously as I try to recall why I stopped here – ah, the postcards – and tell Mariano that I will see him on Saturday, at 3pm, at the Centro Cultural Borges.
An expectation takes on a different feel when you are there, or should I say, here. You have to be able to take it very seriously, viste?
The stereotypes? There are some, certainly.
If you expect to see tango danced on the street, you’ll inevitably find it. If you expect that the two dancing are strangers who have passed one another and, hearing the music coming from some nearby cafeteria or terraza, were suddenly swept in a wave of passion, caught the look and the yearning in each other’s eyes and simply pressed their cheeks together, hunched their shoulders, and started gliding down the street, well… you need to give your head a shake. I did following this little bit of fantasy.
Isn’t that what passionate tango entails? An intense wordless conversation.
Because of the sharp, precise movements and the swift turns in the rhythm of the music, there is a bit of angst to tango, don’t you think? Paired with a little coquettishness at the beginning, it’s like a powerful foreplay.
Weekly neighbourhood milongas, tango houses, are where, the Porteños like to say, the soul of tango lies (oh, it has a soul).
The crowds come ready to provoke and seduce – subtly, and with passion.
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