Two tango hearts

IMGP0675 On my arrival in Buenos Aires I thought I should be able to ‘fit in’ everywhere that tango was danced, and in fact I saw it as absolutely necessary, in order to ‘conquer’ the tango universe…

To be honest, I was so new to tango that I thought of tango as just tango and all the same (and yes, I know it probably seems hard to believe, but you have to remember that I came from only a few months of tango lessons in Hampshire, England (not London), had watched no tango videos on You Tube, and had never registered words like, ‘milonguero’, ‘salon’, or ‘nuevo’).

So in my blissful ignorance about ‘who I was and what I liked in tango’Β  and about tango itself, I tried many Buenos Aires tango venues/milongas at least once. I suppose in those days, if anyone danced with me and the experience made me feel even a tiny bit ‘good about myself’, then there was a chance that I returned. And at first that was really it: simple. After all, the only way to find out when you know nothing, is to try.

Eighteen months later I know a little bit more about tango and the tango scene in Buenos Aires and I have my favourite places to dance. In my kind of tango salon I feel increasingly confident and relaxed, I know some faces, and I will dance. Even if I don’t recognise anyone I will probably be invited onto the floor. I love the music. I love the atmosphere. I soak up the history of the tango that I dance. I feel respected. I am accepted. I feel comfortable with my age. Even if I dance only a few tandas I leave at peace.Β  Sometimes, inevitably it does not go too well: if I am tired, if I can’t connect with a partner, fewer men than I would like choose me – we all have off days, that’s ok. But I know if I go back next week it will be different. And I keep going back.

In addition, ‘me and C.’ have our places too. We love them for the music, the salon itself, the dance floor, a bit of elegance, the dinner, the warm welcome from the hosts… oh the so many things that make our ‘couple’ tango nights joyful. And yet we are not complete old fogies, and we still enjoy a night at La Viruta, that is when we can stay awake at a late enough hour to avoid the crush. There we can dance among the young but do our own thing and both feel comfortable: why exactly I do not know, but there is an inclusive vibe to La Viruta which seems to work for us.

Sometimes of course I go with friends somewhere I might not normally venture, or perhaps because it’s far to travel, don’t go to that often. I am always happy to try the new and occasionally, out of curiosity more than anything else, to ‘go back’.

Last week I returned with G. to a venue that we visited together only once, many moons ago.

In April 2007 I was a complete novice at tango: 7 months dancing, and this particular place terrified me. ‘Oh all the best dancers go there,’ people would say, and I believed them. So I felt I ‘had’ to go. The crowd was generally, though not exclusively, around fifteen to twenty years younger than me. My girlfriends were both fifteen years younger than me too, but we were all at a similar stage in tango. But in this place they danced. I did not. Eyes passed over me and saw nothing of interest. I sat and felt progressively invisible. Eventually it dawned on me that no-one was going to ask me. While I waited for my friends, I sat and took photographs to pass the time. I observed: I saw young Argentine professional dancers and tango teachers dancing skilled tango in their particular style, I saw many young foreigners dancing in their particular style, I saw some great dancing and I saw some pretty average dancing, I saw tango of a type that I had not learned to dance. As I watched I felt increasingly lost and lonely in tango. Eventually the torture ended and we left. I walked out feeling like a shit dancer, ugly and old. I got confused. I asked myself whether I should be learning to dance a different way, or at the very least getting a facelift in order to fit in to what some people, though I have to say mainly foreigners that I met at that time, billed as the ‘venue for the best tango dancers’.

Mmmmmmmmmm. Luckily I kept exploring and following my tango heart.

So I went back to this place (said loosely because strictly speaking the actual location has changed, which for me was a shame because it was previously a lovely space) for maybe two hours, with my friend. The age range was the same as last time, as was the mix of ‘levels’ of dancing. Now with my slightly more experienced eyes I saw no evidence at all that this is exclusively a place for the ‘best dancers’. Sure some of the ‘best of their kind’ and some ‘famous’ were there, but so were a hell of a lot of other people… to be honest I pretty much saw it all.

This time, I found that I knew one lovely girl which was a nice surprise, a couple of male friends of G.’s said hello, and I recognised a few faces from my La Viruta nights, but otherwise I looked out a sea of strangers, including many foreigners, to whom I was still completely and utterly invisible. Here, I reckon, you truly could be the ‘as yet undiscovered ‘best’ dancer on the planet’, but my assessment is that if you are over forty and not of the ‘glamorous chica’ type, then probably the guys who dance on this particular stone ‘pista’ will miss the chance of finding out. And frankly, I don’t blame them: they are mostly young and are faced with a room spilling over with gorgeous ‘twenty-somethings’: simple logic and nature say (and I am not putting myself down at all here), they ain’t gonna choose me. I was interested to see a few older guys there, of the not so ‘Argentine God-like’ variety. I wondered how they find the experience. Do the young Argentine beauties agree to dance with them? Or perhaps the young foreigners who do not otherwise get picked from the wall of fresh hopeful faces? Or do they end up with the older ‘biddies’ like me who could potentially get just a little desperate in this dizzy zone of taut female tummy flesh over floaty silken pants, and testosterone in groovy tango sneakers…

I thought about all this as I looked around that room. Once upon a time I might have slid into a state of ‘totally lost and completely confused’, all over again. But I noticed that I did not. Instead I was grateful to be there because in that moment I learned that I have changed. I realised that I now know what I like and what I don’t like, what I enjoy in tango and what I don’t, where I want to go to dance and where I don’t… where my own precious, desirable and valid ‘tango soul’ fits into the wider picture of Buenos Aires tango, for now at least. I knew it anyway, but this night brought a sharper clarity, and so it was not wasted.

The thing is, where I lived in England, to have even a few tango venues to dance in every week was a luxury. I did not have to choose one from twenty plus on a given night. I went where there was tango of any kind. And I made the best of my experiences in each place because if I wanted to dance several times a week being selective really wasn’t an option. It was a case of go back to a venue or not dance at all. It is different in Buenos Aires: at first it seems there is a baffling array of places to choose from. But as time passes the list shortens to the places that connect and resonate with the song of your particular ‘tango heart’.

Last week, sitting watching my friend dance, instead of feeling my self belief shrivel, I gathered it into a warming golden ball: and made sure that I stayed visible in my own mind.

The next day Gabriella and I talked, and we understood. When we arrived in Buenos Aires all those months ago we were both pretty much at the same place: taking our first steps in tango, finding out what made our ‘tango hearts’ sing. An off night could have been just that, or a signal from the soul. Now, a year or more has passed and we have both walked on different ‘pistas’, with different partners, in different countries, and at different points in our lives. Our bond of friendship remains strong and supportive, but our ‘tango hearts’ perhaps have different ‘homes’. And it’s perfectly natural: we are individuals, each unique, each priceless, of different ages and of equal value on this earth. We talked about the crazy days of exploration and discovery that we once enjoyed together: we celebrated the past and I know we always will, but we agreed that there is no going back to that. Tango moves us on and we move on in tango. Today we can only be true to ourselves, and respect the other’s choices. Some nights we will want to share our ‘tango homes’ together and sometimes we won’t, and that is ok. Who knows what our tango futures hold? But for now we relax the bond, and with unconditional love in our ‘tango hearts’, we each set the other free to dance for joy.

See some pictures of our past week in Buenos Aires


10 Responses

  1. Sounds like la X…

  2. X marks the spot as they say πŸ˜‰


  3. Oh you two lucky people! I thought I had found mine (I guess here it’s more the way I dance rather than where), but think I have lost it again. But then I have a problem with finding and keeping things! πŸ˜‰ I love the image of your self belief as a ‘warming golden ball’ – mine’s more an orange blanket (when it works). There are some xs which agree with me – this one? not sure.

  4. Claudia,

    Well I know what you mean about it’s the way you dance, and that’s true for me too… for me I think it’s a bit of a mix.
    Thing is if I don’t get the chance to actually dance somewhere at all then I can feel a little lost.

    And here there are always gonna be places that I dance more or have the opportunity to dance more ‘my way’ and so they will become my ‘tango homes’ in this city at least.

    Mind you these ‘homes’ have changed with time, and they probably always will. Nothing ever stays the same really does it? Impermanence: a word that always brings me great comfort.

    I send you a warming golden hug this morning.


  5. For some reason I was thinking Cathedral until you said it’d moved. Oh, X.

    What you went through in 18 months, I think happened to me in 4, in terms of a clarity about what one really likes.

  6. b.
    No, for me Catedral is a bit different because it does not have the hype of the other place. Also it is more like a ‘go to a bar with mates, eat some veggie food, see some live music and dance if you want’ than a ‘sit round the walls on a row of chairs, watch and wait to be asked to dance (if you are a woman)’ type of place. I can enjoy an occasional night at la Catedral whether I dance or not, the other place: less so. But it’s true that Catedral is for me more a ‘social venue’ to go out for an informal night with friends. It isn’t somewhere I’d choose to go ‘sola’ to dance tango.

    I am happy that you found out what you really liked when you were here.


  7. Yes. I learned the simple thing was this: “Dancing with people I like at a place I like.” πŸ™‚

    In other words, no different from, say, going to Club Iguana on Thursday nights circa 1985 to dance to The Smiths and Siouxie or going to Gay Night at Zelo Sunday nights late eighties or raving to Messiah with my best friends in 1992 at such and such a warehouse. Good mates, good music, and a nice place. Turns out it’s all clubbing in the end.

  8. You present so much food for thought for women who enter a dance salon expecting to sit all night and then wonder why they leave frustrated. It’s about finding and being comfortable with oneself. That’s true in life.

    You haven’t made it to the old “biddies” category until you turn at least 60. You have a long way to go, Sally. We need to remind ourselves that those 20-something year olds don’t have our life experience. They are “green” for early sampling, but real tango requires vine ripening and maturity for more flavor.

  9. Jantango,

    Yes, I understand what you say and the connection in the tango I love, when it comes, is ageless, timeless and pure soul… and I do believe that the richness of it comes in part from all the life experience (my soul) that I bring to the moment of that connection.

    I guess I have found out about most of my insecurities since I arrived in Buenos Aires.
    Sometimes I don’t like the fact that I KNOW I understand so much about beauty and peace coming from within, and yet sit me in a room of young lovelies who get dances when I don’t and I do not like the way it can make me feel.

    I have had to learn to deal with it, and keep believing in myself and who I am and what I bring to my dance. You are right is about being comfortable with yourself, in tango and in life. And I am (far far more than ever before), but it interests me to observe how I can wobble and doubt myself… but now how much more easily I can recover (sometimes within seconds) these days. That is something for me to celebrate.

    I do think that the tango scene is a place where one’s insecurities can have a bit of a dance themselves. I have talked to many women who have found it so. The challenge and then the joy is to face these insecurities/fears and find our place in tango and in the world… as you say, being comfortable with oneself is everything.

    I am getting there!


  10. I just had a fun idea. A milonga where pairs are determined by random draw. πŸ™‚

    Just some minor logistical details to work out… πŸ™‚

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