A tale of two photographs

saltango31On the eve of the year 2007 I went to dance at Negracha in London: my first capital city tango, and my first all night tango. I looked like this.

I had been dancing a mere three months. My divorce had just come through. One week before, I had moved to the city after twenty years or more in the countryside. I was coming out of a deep depression. On the surface I was enjoying the new: tango. But my self esteem was at an all time low. I was struggling to find out who I was, and the life I wanted to lead. I had taken the decision to travel to Argentina, but I hadn’t bought the ticket. I was building up to it, gathering strength.

The night at Negracha was not a happy one. The two guys I went with danced with me a bit, and one or two of their friends did, and maybe a couple of other kind souls… but that was it, in a total of 6 hours. For most of the night I sat and watched a lot of tango danced by people who I imagined were fantastic dancers (far far better than me anyway). I told myself it was good for me to watch, but truly I was miserable. I longed to dance because it was the one thing in my life back then, that brought me any kind of peace. I didn’t talk to anyone I didn’t know either. I was certain they wouldn’t want to hear anything I had to say. So I sat and suffered, mostly in silence of my own making.

At about 3am, after I had sat out for ages and I was struggling to stay awake, I turned to one of the guys, a friend of mine, and said, ‘Will you dance with me?’ and he replied with a tired bluntness, ‘No.’ I was left in no doubt that not only was I a shit dancer (partly true) but that I was also a shit person (untrue). That’s where my self esteem was: at rock bottom. When I look back I know that I invited this response from him. In my newly purchased ‘tango dress’, I was desperate to look like I danced great. In my first ever individually applied false eyelashes, I was desperate to look beautiful. In my entire demeanor, I was desperate to be liked and validated by others. I invited this response from deep within my soul, my tortured and weakened soul.

But the truth is, that in this essential period of my ‘strength gathering’, moments like this uncomfortable ‘No,’ were pivotal, and now I am grateful for them. They made me angry. They made me want to find out who I really was. They woke me up. In the end, moments like this pushed me through the door of the travel agent to buy my ticket to Buenos Aires. They made me want to change my world.

DSCF2229 On the eve of the year 2008, a very different woman will be dancing at Club Armenia, Argentina. She will most probably look a bit like this.

She will sleep till midnight in the arms of the man she loves. She will get up and see the new year in with a quick cup of coffee. She will watch the madness of Buenos Aires fireworks from the balcony and have a cuddle. She will grab her old black patent and most favourite tango shoes, put on her rather simple ‘magic makeup dust’ and some relaxed but hopefully stylish clothes. She will take a quick look in the small bathroom mirror, try and fail to order her hair by twisting it round the back of her head and under her left ear. Her heart will thump with delight as she buses it on the number 15 to La Viruta at around 1am. She will melt into the crowd of dancers, and into Carlos’ tango embrace, giggle at her mistakes in milonga,ย  laugh as he tries out the new moves he learned on last Monday’s recorded Gavito tango class on the tango TV channel. She will dance for joy, for herself, for Carlos, and for every single person around the world who has supported her in her quest for change. And when she says ‘Happy New Year’ she will mean it.

Yesterday the same woman went alone to an afternoon Milonga in Buenos Aires. She joined two English girlfriends: one she met in a tango shoe shop months ago when she just couldn’t resist connecting with an British accent, the other she got to know via email after she left England. She didn’t sit out in three hours apart from when she chose to. She danced with some favourite gentlemen ‘regulars’ but had many first and second tandas with new partners, including the challenging, the enthusiastic and the blissful. She even danced a few decent milongas with strangers (something she has avoided until recently). She assertively told one strange man, in castellano, that she would prefer that he didn’t join the table because it would discourage other men from inviting a dance. She applauded with delight the beautiful surprise performance by Gabriel Misse and Alejandra Mantiรฑan. She came home to a lovely comment on this blog, from a fellow blogger and supportive cyberspace friend. Later some people called to invite her to a party to reunite with some Argentines met months ago. She accepted with an open mind and interested spirit. She went to sleep knowing that she is walking the path of her heart simply because of the joy she feels resonate within it.

So back to the two photographs.

When I look at the photograph taken at Negracha, I see myself almost as a completely different person to the woman I am today: a girl who wanted to fly free, but who hadn’t yet found her wings. If I could, I would give her a tender hug and say thank you. Yes I am smiling in the picture, but the smile was a mask. I was crying in my heart. I felt broken and lost. But I also know now that I was there in that powerfully low place for a reason. It was part of my journey on the way to get to the second photograph.

When I look at the other photo, taken recently, I smile. I see the person that I am, that I want to be, that I am proud to be. I see someone who is happy in their own skin, someone who does believe, someone who knows exactly what it is like to fly, and fall and fly again. There would have been a time when I would never have considered posting this photo. I would have said, ‘Oh no I hate that picture. You can see my wonky teeth, the bags under my eyes, my hair’s a mess, I look old.’ Now I say, ‘Yep, that’s me. That’s Sally: real and alive.’ And what makes this photograph even more precious is that it was taken on a bus in Buenos Aires by the same guy who said ‘No,’ to me in Negracha. He has become a treasured friend, and has shared in my new life. Now he knows that I understand why he said no to me, and he knows that under similar circumstances I would say no to him: though that being me, I’d have probably been a bit kinder about it! My days of saying yes when I really want to say no are over too.

The ‘tango tale’ of how I got from one photo to the other – the story of how I began (it’s not over yet!) to find out who I was, has been told on the surface at least, in this blog. And one day when it is ready to emerge, the whole truth I will write in my book.

Why do I want to keep writing about my experiences? Because, if I can help any other person on the planet to get from their ‘Negracha’ to their ‘La Viruta’, then I would like to. It is part of my evolving dream. And of course I want to keep sharing my Buenos Aires adventure. And I will keep writing because in a way it has actually helped me to understand my own, at times rather rocky, path. I have no idea what 2008 will bring my way, or where I will journey to in the days that come. I only hope that I keep believing in myself and in my dreams.

I wish you all a 2008 of discovery, in tango and in life.

See in pictures, the tale of two photographs…


17 Responses

  1. Wow, SallyCat, this is powerful stuff!
    Thank you for being so open and honest and for sharing these intimate truths with us in cyberspace.

    May 2008 find you soaring even higher on your journey!
    Besitos–y felicidades!

  2. In complete agreement with the first comment. My thanks to you as for sharing your journey with all of us out here in cyberspace. Reading your words gives me inspiration to try the things I want to do and faith that even if it doesn’t work out the way I expect that I will still learn and have a wonderful time trying. I just hope someday that I will have the bravery to make a leap as large as yours:)

    Thank you also for this viewpoint into my culture. I know the traditional things my family brought like empanadas and milanesa, Carlos Gardel and Astor Piazzola, dulce de leche (and lets not forget Quilmes and mate!) but your words let me peek into the Tango culture I was always so curious about and your pictures let me see the daily happenings in the country I’ve always been so curious about. And that adds a lot of joy to my day so THANK YOU:) And I wish a wonderful 2008 for you, Carlos and all your family and friends!


  3. Double wow!!!! I agree with Cherie–very powerful photographs… and story. I was going to wish you a happy 2008… but, you know what? I know you will make it happy and successful. So I’ll only say that I’m really glad you are allowing us to be here to share it with you ๐Ÿ™‚

    Thanks for being so inspiring,


  4. Dear Sallycat,

    I know you don’t mind when we all must sound like a bunch of broken records, but “Wow” is usually my first instinctual response to your posts. The fact that you made this incredible personal journey just in the course of a single year is amazing, but what I especially love is that the story comes full circle with the friend that helped to be the catalyst for this transformation.

    When your book (and later, the movie!) comes out, all of us will be lining up to get our copies. I will need to come to BA to have you autograph mine. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I know 2008 will be bringing you a whole new year of love and tango and I’ll just thank you in advance for sharing your stories and dreams with us.

  5. gracias a todos Cherie, Christine in LA, Tanguera y Tangobaby

    I have felt quite emotional today after posting this. Writing it brought back a lot of memories and reminded me of what a year it has been. Getting your comments brought tears to my eyes too. I know I have come far, but suspect there is far further to go.

    Having wonderful people like you out there, reading and writing, makes the way smoother and more joyful.

    Thank you.

  6. On the eve of 2008, I am going to dance tango in Negracha (also, my first in London and my first all-nighter), with the other of the guys that went with you the same time last year!! How strange, do wish me luck! Our paths are crossing Sal, and one day, we will both be back on the same bit of the path when they happen to cross again!!

    I have to say a big ditto to what the others have posted above. I read this post for the first time late last night and could not write anything because I was so moved that I was speechless. In your recent photo you are radiant and are clearly completely content! A good few people in this world could learn a thing or two from you about being wonderfully brave, positive, honest, genuine and happy!

    Happy New Year Sally. I mean it.

  7. Eccoing the “Wow’s”…. it must be said that YOU are one amazing chica!

    Happy New Year my dear, and I’ll see you soon ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Charlotte
    I wish you a wonderful Negracha. Make it yours!
    I will be thinking of you.
    It is so lovely that yes, our paths are touching now more than they ever did when we danced in the same venues! The power of a blog and of tango!

    What you wrote in your comment was beautiful, and tears welled in my eyes one more time…
    Thank you.

    And Tina, See you here SOON!


  9. I truly love your blog and found your post thought-provoking. It is interesting to wonder what would have happened if you had stayed in London. You would have had the same amount of time to recover from your divorce and become a better dancer. Would you be just as happy? No way to know. I am truly glad that you are so content, though. But not all of us have the option to move halfway around the world to find happiness. And some of those who do take the chance find they are actually better off back home. It’s different for each individual so that’s why I so much enjoy reading about your journey.

  10. Hi Jenny,

    Mmmmm, I sometimes wonder what path towards joy I would have taken if I’d stayed in England. I hope that I’d have got to the same place inside, eventually.

    This year I have learned that where I am may bring different external stuff, but it is what is on the inside that counts when it comes to joy. In other words, as they say: you take yourself with you!

    I think that coming here gave me space and at times that space has been wonderful, and at other times frightening. Yes perhaps I was fortunate that I had the option to come here at all, but I certainly don’t think that leaving my country has been necessarily an easy option to take. I have been more alone than ever before. I have had more time in my own company than ever before. Perhaps I have therefore had to deal with internal stuff faster than I would have had to back home, just because it has bubbled to the surface faster and I have had the space to notice it.
    But being in a new space has allowed me freedom to be truer to myself because no one is suprised by who I am, because they didn’t know me before. So maybe I have been able to change some things inside me, faster. Other things are harder to change, and I still battle with them!

    To be sure, what I have really noticed is how fragile my ‘happiness’ can be and that it is my own mind that can most easily destroy it. And that would be the case wherever I was in the world.

    I don’t like to say that I have found ‘happiness’ because joy is so transient. Sometimes I feel joy. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I feel panicky. Sometimes I feel afraid. Sometimes I feel lonely. Sometimes I miss my family. Sometimes I want to shut myself in the house because it is an effort to go out and buy food when I can’t speak the language too well…
    In other words life is life, and at times bloody tough in whatever place.

    What I hope for is not the elusive and perhaps non existent ‘happiness end point’, more it is a degree of peace of mind with my reality, whatever that turns out to be. A huge part of that is feeling at ease with myself, and maybe this year that’s where I have got to. I just feel I am being truer to myself, and that is a source of joy.

    One of the reasons that I try to be honest on this blog, about both the joy and some of the struggles is that I want others to know what they may face if they are ever in the position of deciding to move to another country. But in the end you are so right that we are each on our own journeys and everyone’s dreams and experiences are totally different. For me, I am trying out a new way of living that includes listening to my heart. Perhaps it will keep me here, perhaps it will take me back to England, perhaps it will in the end bring me more pain than joy. I don’t know. Only time will tell.

    Thank you so much for reading the blog, and commenting. I look forward to your comments in the future. You have definitely given me a few things to think about!


  11. Sally,

    May 2008 brings your continuous joy, love and blissful tango.


  12. Thanks TP, all good things may it bring you too!

  13. Your blog is a treat to read and inspiring too. Thank you!
    Happy New Year.

  14. RR
    Happy you like it! Thanks for commenting and letting me know.

  15. Happy New Year, Sally!

    …and you write so well, too. I can’t wait to buy your book someday. *warm smile*

    In two months, I’ll be there for CITA! Woohoo! I hope I get the opportunity to see you and your beau ’cause I want to experience in BsAs asking your beau if I may have permission to dance with you. *grin*

    Anywhoo, I wanted to ask you something. My friend, Keiko, is arriving a week of the group since she’s very independent. Would it be okay for me if I give her your email address to pick your brain on what tango classes /afternoon milongas she would enjoy attending while waiting for our San Francisco tango group?

    Happy New Year once again.

    Hugs and smiles, “Sly” ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Thank you Sally.Quite simply, i wept and feel i am on a similar journey. big hug. jeff.

  17. Dear Jeff,
    Thank you for reading and for commenting.
    Your comment meant that I read this post again this morning, and it moves me every time to remember who I used to be and who I am now.

    I send you support and love for your journey.

    Warm hug, SC

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