[prologue] Before I begin my sojourn in BsAs, I want to fill in a couple of unwritten posts in the briefest way. I last wrote from Grenada…long ago. Since then, Glenn and I sailed Mistress from St. Lucia to San Juan at a fairly quick pace and with a few overnights, approximately 245 miles. Although miserably tired after the overnights, I loved doing solo watches, gained newfound confidence and a deeper appreciation for crew. For more on our passage from San Juan to Key West, see Glenn’s post.
By our arrival in Key West, our plans for the future completely changed yet again and our possibilities for what we might do seemed endless. But to see Mistress in need and the flags of Blue Planet Odyssey, the rally we were to join, flying in the near distance, it was difficult to not feel disappointed. Over the next several weeks it became clear we would need to haul Mistress. So Glenn thought it best to send me to Buenos Aires to study tango, a long held dream of mine. Yes, I do have an amazing husband.
So with one week to prepare, no tango shoes and not a bit of Spanish, I found an apartment and a friend ready to join me. Buenos Aires is a huge city. To me, it feels like a confluence of Paris, Madrid and parts of Brooklyn. Tackling the public transport, finding the studios and teachers to study with – aside from the correct street, door, buzzer, floor (there never seemed to be signs!), was daunting at first. It is summer here, so many locals are on vacation in Uruguay or elsewhere. Half the classes I attempted to attend the first week did not happen for a variety of reasons – no teacher, too few students, no electricity or not being able to find the place! Other tangueros (generally meaning those who dance tango) would ask me how long I was staying and balk when I’d say 3 weeks.
Now I know why.
It was not until my last week that I found the teachers that I really wanted to study with – and it took that long to feel more at home here, even with an enormous language barrier. Tango has been described by some as a walking meditation – but with another person. And the only way for it to work is to surrender yet stay aware, to open and give yourself, to listen carefully, feel and translate the energy you receive. The essence of the tango (true tango, not performance) is found in the “close embrace”, a more difficult embrace. Your bodies lean into one another – but don’t fall – so that there is just one axis between the two of us from which a movement happens. Other styles open up the embrace so that each dancer is on their own axis and the embrace can change within the dance depending on the movements. But it was the close embrace that I focused on most during my 3 weeks here (as a dancer, being on my own axis isn’t such an issue!).
I was spoiled with wonderful leads in my private lessons, but had to find my cojones and go solo to milongas in the evenings– social tango dances often lasting until 4am although I never did. There is a very interesting and rather intense culture and set of codes observed for good reasons at these events, however explaining them would take a book! Once a man asked me to dance, usually with a nod, then it is standard to dance a full tanda or set of 4 dances with him. This allows both leader and follower time to understand the other’s language. Every lead is different – and every follower too. But as a follower, you must know ALL kinds of styles, embraces and variations to steps that you might be lead into. The leaders are improvising, they have their individual style and and their “go to steps”… but enough explanation on this.
I stand on the dance floor waiting for the man to establish the embrace and close my eyes. We have often not exchanged a word. To feel his energy and lead, I must surrender and we must both give of ourselves. I must trust them unequivocally. Sometimes the connection comes easily and the lead is clear. Other times are much more difficult and, therefore, more difficult to stay in the moment, stay open, stay relaxed, and so on. One sweet surprise was the singing of the lyrics in my ear by many of the Argentinian men. Once in a while, I’d find myself with someone who just wanted to start teaching me on the dance floor – something utterly inappropriate not conducive.
This adventure has been filled with highs and lows although the highs have surpassed the lows at this point. The dance is heavenly when that connection happens, even if it is for a moment. When it lasts the entire dance, it is otherworldly. I cannot explain and wish I could. I leave this amazing city today and will miss dancing with those who swept me off my feet. But, that is what it is… 4 dances, a “Gracias” and a return to your life.
“The faithful believe, and I count myself among them, that the dance holds the promise of something more, always something more. We speak often of “communication” and “connectivity” but these are vague, ill-defined terms…
It has been said that there is a kind of “transcendence” associated with tango at its best, although here too language has a way of slipping from our grasp just when we need it most. I’ve written elsewhere about the sense of shared intimacy, the sense of being in the moment together, the sense of exhilaration brought about by the smooth flow of movement while in another’s arms. There is a feeling of elation that is achieved when tango “works,” a kind of bliss associated with living truly and completely in the moment. Broad, vague, overused terms, I know. And yet . . . When we speak of sharing or connecting or communicating in tango, I think this is what is meant. It is something that has less do with skill than with the complete engagement with the man or woman in your arms. It is based on trust and attentiveness more than it is on technique (however necessary) and to achieve this requires that we give something of ourselves, that we are able to give ourselves to the dance, to the music, and, most importantly, to our partner. A kind of faith, if you will, an unproven belief in our ability to achieve something extraordinary, something so far out of the range of ordinary experience that we are willing to give everything we have to try to obtain it. It is a bit like love. It is our heaven, and our hell.”
~ R. Bononno