More tango lessons

DSCF2015 Recently I read a great post by Tina:

Things to consider

and another thoughtful post by Elizabeth:

The other part of tango

and these combined made me think back over my experiences since I arrived here back in March. They reminded me of a part of my story that I haven’t written about yet on this blog, one that was painful in my tango journey. They brought into sharper focus some of my learnings about Argentina, about the Argentines who dance tango, and about my understanding of tango itself. So here goes. Here’s my little bit of history that made me stop and ‘consider’ the ‘other parts of tango’.

I have written before that my original dream and main reason for coming to Buenos Aires was to be a ‘great’ tango dancer. When I arrived with my British pounds in my pocket frankly, my eyes were agog at the choice of classes and ‘famous name’ tango teachers. My head was filled with big ideas of ‘perfecting’ my tango, learning to dance all the ‘wow’ moves, having a few choreographies up my sleeve with an argentine dance partner, that I had yet to meet… maybe returning to England one day and impressing everyone with my brilliance. Yes it is true too that I was on a personal life journey far greater than any of that stuff, but something, somewhere in my history, in my background, in my social conditioning, in my life story put me in this country with quite a suitcase full of (quiet) ego, and dare I say it, desperation… a desperation to ‘be good’ at tango.

The first time I danced with Carlos in April it felt like a dream come true. Never had I experienced a tango connection as strong, as raw, as sensual. I searched the Buenos Aires Milongas in the hope of finding him again, and at that point I didn’t love him, nor know him. Indeed I had barely spoken to him. But what I longed for was to feel the same thing that I had felt that first tanda in his arms: a deep connection. I hadn’t cared what he had done with his feet, what his technique was like, whether he led the ‘wow’ moves… oh no, none of that. And perhaps more to the point he hadn’t cared what I had done with my feet. He was dancing with a beginner, but he never once showed me that he noticed. He never spoke a word about my tango. He just made me feel beautiful.

I was lucky. I did find him again. And over the weeks and months we danced many many hours in each others arms. I was in heaven. We were happy and we fell in love. Meanwhile I took my classes, felt my technique improving, started to work on a choreography with Ariel: I felt proud of my changing tango and my ego (quietly) bulged.

Then Ariel told me that he was teaching a seminar with Maya: a choreography, and asked if me and Carlos would like to come. I accepted on our behalf. Of course we would. How great it would be, I thought, if Carlos could dance a complex choreography with me…

Carlos came and I am guessing he came because I wanted him to. We took the first class. It was hard work and far harder work for the leaders. Carlos did everything that was asked of him but it was unfamiliar stuff that needed to be learned fast, and together we struggled to get the ‘moves’, the ‘steps’. We did not enjoy the experience. Afterwards we talked. I found myself suggesting that maybe he take some tango classes to ‘challenge himself a bit’. What I really meant was, so that you can learn this stuff faster, so that you can dance more ‘complex moves’, so that you can dance like I want you to. Somewhere along the line I forgot all about the tango connection that I had loved so much (and now my ego was shouting). He told me he didn’t know if he wanted to take classes, he loved his tango style, he had learned it from watching Gavito, he didn’t want to lose it. There could have been countless other reasons why he felt uncomfortable about taking classes but he didn’t go into them, and I didn’t ask. But he did tell me that he danced tango because it set his soul free, because he just loved to dance.

This turned into a big argument, mainly due to me. At that point I was confused about what I was looking for in my tango. I was at a crossroads between my old ideas and my newer understanding of tango connection. I was young in my tango journey, very young. We argued all the way home on the bus, all that night, all the next morning. And as we argued I began to realise my mistake. I began to sense that I had it all wrong. But at that moment, I didn’t know what to say to put things right.

Many weeks later he brought the subject up again. He confessed to me that I had deeply upset him, that he had never forgotten my words. He told me he wasn’t sure if I really wanted to dance with him, that maybe I thought he wasn’t ‘good enough’. I was horrified that he had remembered the experience all that time. All the times since that we had danced together he had remembered, and he had been troubled. Now I knew what I had to say and it was the truth. I said that I had been wrong. I said that I would not trade what we have in our tango, for a single choreography, indeed a single ‘new move’ learned in a class, a single piece of ‘sharpened up’ technique. I asked his forgiveness and I said that I had been young in my tango journey, that I had not understood the rarity of a true tango connection, that I had not understood what tango really was at all.

In the time between the first conversation and the second I had begun to see what tango meant to my Argentine and I had realised how incredibly fortunate I was to have him as my life and dance partner. And as I got to know Carlos off the dance floor, I got to know him on it too. I realised how creative he is when he dances. He is always playing, trying out something new, inventing on the fly, improvising. I learned that when he dances with someone new he does not do that. He keeps it simple. He wants the woman to feel secure and relaxed. I realised that in the beginning he deliberately played his dance cards close to he chest because he was taking care of me. He sensed me. He found me. He knew what I could handle. He didn’t want to embarrass me in the Milonga, he kept me safe and always made me feel that I was amazing. That was his gift to me.

Every time Carlos chooses to dance with me he brings me countless other gifts too, gifts that I couldn’t even have imagined when I arrived here from England. He brings Argentina into my arms. He brings his past, his suffering, his joys, his hopes. He brings the free tango classes he went to six years ago after the crisis here. He brings the soul of his father who danced tango when he was alive.  He brings the spirit of Gavito, his tango hero, whom he watched dance in the Buenos Aires Milongas. He brings whatever he learned from them all, however he learned it.  He brings years of argentine history. He brings his love and deep knowledge of tango music, and of tango lyrics. He brings his respect for the woman who dances tango. When he takes her into his embrace, she is going to feel incredibly special and beautiful for the time that she is in his arms. He is going to care for her and give her everything he has.

I have never suggested that he take a tango class again and I will not do so. Certainly I will not suggest that we learn any choreographies or ‘wow moves’. I will continue to take my classes for as long as I can afford them because I am still a tango baby, and I want my body to know enough that it can relax and set my soul free when I dance, for my partner to feel. But that is my choice, and I must leave Carlos to his. His needs are different to mine. If you read this blog regularly then I think you already know that my understanding of what makes ‘great’ tango is changing over time. I have watched many tango performances since I arrived here and truly the only thing that has the power to move me is the connection I see. The tango moves may be complex or they may be simple but if there is no connection then it means little, not to me anyway. I think that my desperation to be good at tango, has been replaced by a desire to feel good when I dance tango and for my partner to feel good too.

Sometimes when Carlos pulls away from me at the end of a tango I hear his breath heavy and I feel his heart thumping. I feel mine the same. We catch each other’s eyes. We smile. We have felt that we have flown. And the amazing thing is that others see that we fly. There have been times in the Buenos Aires Milongas when someone has approached me and Carlos and said, ‘You are so beautiful when you dance together,’ and we have smiled broadly. I am glad that they didn’t say, ‘Oh you have great technique,’ or ‘Oh you are such good tango dancers.’ I smile because I know from what they say, that we have made them feel good. I smile because I believe that what they have seen is our connection. Maybe they have seen our souls touching. Maybe they have seen our love. Definitely they have seen that we feel happy when we dance. Of course we need to know something of tango fundamentals in order to dance at all, but this is not about perfect technique, complex steps or choreography. No it is none of that. It is passion, it is beauty, it is creation out of shared joy, it is magic, it is ours, and it is enough.


18 Responses

  1. Oh Sally, you’ve outdone yourself again with this post!

    I guess it’s because you’re simply telling the truth with an openness and honesty that most of us find scary. And that’s what tango seems to be about for me, and I think for you to.

    Do I try to dance the fancy moves that are taught in the classes? or do I just try to express the music and my mood to my partner?

    The latter always gets the best result… a happy dance partner and a happy me! And generates a reluctance in me to take too many classes in case the balance between the two approaches changes for the worse.


  2. Sally, the way you describe Carlos’ dancing – that’s it. That is exactly why I am counting the days until I get to Buenos Aires. (I mean, not for Carlos, ha ha – but you know what I mean.) Beautiful post!

  3. What a beautiful post, it made me cry.

  4. You describe things in a way that no one else can, and in a way that is always so honest and sweet. I hope everyone dancing tango will take a moment to read this post. Incredible.

  5. […] « Seattle Tango Holiday Party!! SallyCat says it best December 7, 2007 THIS is exactly what I’m talking about.  This is why I am so looking forward to dancing in […]

  6. P.S. I hope you still ARE proud of your tango, by the way. Your journey has been beautiful to watch from here, and as we have all seen your dancing on video, you really are a beautiful dancer.

  7. This is a wonderful post. Thanks so much for saying these things. I think having a partner whom you love, and having tango in your life presents some interesting ways into the true nature of tango. It sounds like you are listening to the universe, to your world as it speaks to you now, in this time of love, and dance. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  8. Wow, great post. Thank you

  9. Your post made me cry. Every word is so true.Thank you!!!

  10. VERY well written, beautiful and true.
    Thank you for sharing.

  11. Oh, Sallycat. What a marvellous post. You said it all so well, and I thank you for taking the time to put these thoughts into a blog entry. Oh my, yes, the connection and the feeling when you dance with some of these men that you are so special. That is the great gift that they give to us. I thank them, and I thank you for verbalizing this wonderful treasure of dancing tango in Buenos Aires. I can’t wait ot get back.

  12. Sally, after years of dance training in which I took part in what seems like thousands of ‘performances’, I remember being amazed at how little ‘performance’ mattered when I came to learn tango! I always feel as though tango is like a tiny, private dance show where the dancers are also the audience, and you will only appreciate the show if you put as much effort and care into responding to your partner as you do into your own dancing.

    I think you’ve described that feeling perfectly! Wonderful post!

  13. Sal, what a beautiful post. I love your honesty.

    I have been dancing for nearly 4 years and can count on one hand the times I have felt a connection. It’s one of those things no one can teach. It’s like love, you can’t teach it, but you know it when you experience it. And boy is it amazing. Connecting in life as well as in tango is one of the most special experiences, and you do it well in life too my friend. Here’s to you xxxx

  14. Awwwwww. I have no more words than those already above…, by other commenters. Thank you.

  15. Carlos just came home and I told him that I had written about this experience. We talked again with honesty about how painful it was for both of us at the time. He reminded me of some of the dreadful things I said to him both in that tango class and afterwards. But he told me that it was a moment in time that needed to happen, in order that I understood. He says that everyone must follow their own ‘camino’ (way/road/journey) in tango. Every leader must find their own ‘estilo’ (style) and believe in it. Yes he has taken a few more classes along the way. But he has held on to himself, his own ‘soul’ of tango. That’s what he gives to me when he dances. And I hope that as the years go by and I develop my own ‘soul’ of tango, that I can always offer mine back to him.

    I am happy tonight that I have not been afraid to write about the ‘tango lessons’ that have hurt. I am happy that so many people have read my post today. I am happy that those of you who have commented and who have linked to this page understood me.

    I wish you all great learning and great joys on your tango ‘caminos’.


  16. “I think that my desperation to be good at tango, has been replaced by a desire to feel good when I dance tango and for my partner to feel good too.”

    I’ve always thought, watching AT, that it must feel amazing to do well – and by that I mean to lead/follow well and to have some sort of connection with your partner… it’s what makes me want to learn it one day though I can’t at the moment.

  17. I love the idea of carrying out tango spirits with us, Sally. This was a lovely post.

  18. stilllife
    How lovely that you read and enjoyed this post so long after I wrote it and that you let me know. It was a time of my learning about what really mattered for me in tango, and it was painful along the way. Then, it took a lot for me to share my story of this ‘lesson’ on this page. But I’m glad I did.
    until soon, SC

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