There were moments in Argentina when I felt my peculiar-shaped soul click neatly into a corresponding peculiar-shaped hole. Moments of bliss. Moments of “I can’t believe I’m dancing tango where it all began.” And, I’ll admit, a couple of moments of “We’re in the southern hemisphere and, if you think about it, it’s almost like we’re hanging upside down off the planet.” (Some people call those blonde moments.)
So here are a few of those Momentos Felices:
1. We Are the World (or Team America World Police could really benefit from a tango class).
Within the space of one class–an hour and a half–I danced with people from France, Sweden, Scotland, Canada, Poland, and Brazil. I couldn’t converse with most of them, but because of tango we were able to connect and move in harmony. We communicated without words. I’m not sure what that means, but it made me feel all mellow and contemplative and Bono-ish.
2. And the silver and gold go too…
I did have a handful of fantastic dance partners, but, as this is a blog, not a novel, I’ll just tell you about two.
One was super-tall Eugene from San Francisco. He was a thoughtful dancer with great posture and impeccable hair. He was one of the quietest leaders I’ve ever danced with. What I mean is that he really focused. Listened to the music and to what was happening every second between the two of us. All his energy was directed inward–toward me and the space between us. Because of that, it was like we were wrapped in Harry Potter’s Cloak of Invisibility, and we danced in our own little bubble. So nice. I just enjoyed him to pieces.
The other was Alex from Italy. He was a dream: right at my skill level with the perfect balance of fun and ambition. He danced with humor. Whenever he tried something new, whether we got it right or not, he’d laugh afterward and dance on. I loved that.
His English was terrible but when I’d thank him at the end of every tanda (three dances), he’d say, “Ohhh, Emily, my angel, my love.” He said this so clearly and beautifully that I began to suspect it was (minus my name) something he said a lot. I didn’t care. It played into every stereotype I’d ever heard about Italian men which made it funnier every time he said it. And there’s nothing I enjoy more than dancing and laughing. Besides, let’s be honest, does anyone need to know more English than that? Okay, maybe “where’s the bathroom?”–“Where’s the bathroom?” and “Ohhh, (insert your name here), my angel, my love.” That’s it. That’s all you need.
Once in the middle of a class I asked Alex what he did back in Italy. He said, “I women hire.” Um, what? Excuse me? “Women hire, women hire,” he repeated. Just as I was beginning to wonder if I was meeting my first Italian pimp/recruiter, he flipped my ponytail and said again, “Hire!” Oh, HAIR. Got it.
3. Dancers are the messengers of the gods–Martha Graham
We got to see the maestros, the best tango dancers in the world, perform nearly every night. And it was spectacular. Transcendent. You cannot believe how these people can move their bodies. And then, the following day, I’d get to wake up and take classes from them. It was like watching Tiger Woods play a round or two at Augusta, and then having him give you pointers on your swing.
4. Shoes are the messengers of the gods–Emily Carpenter
I’m sorry to be a cliché, but the shoes were dreamy. Entering the shop Comme Il Faut (which is French for “it is your destiny to buy these shoes”) was like entering the holy of holies in the Church of the Blessed Tango.
To get to the store, you go down a side alley, turn in an alcove, go up a flight of stairs. Knock on the door, and they’ll unlock it and let you in. I thought I was going to have to whisper a password, but they opened the door right up for us. You go into the tiny pale pink showroom–which is not actually a showroom since there are no shoes on display–and sit on a black velvet sofa. Describe what you’re interested in looking at to the saleslady, tell her your size, and she reluctantly brings maybe two boxes from the curtained back room. If those two shoes don’t work, she kind of looks at you and shrugs, like–what do you want me to do about it?
I figured out pretty quick it was the reverse of any shopping experience I’d ever had. She wasn’t trying to sell me shoes, in fact, it almost seemed like she was trying to keep her stock a secret from me. So devised a clever, clever method for getting her to bring out more boxes by shouting out every color and style I could think of.
What about blue? Do you have anything in green?
Anything patent leather? Mary Janes? Open-heels? Fur? (Don’t sneer. I actually bought furry peach-colored shoes. They are prettier than they sound.)
By the end of shopping excursion there were stacks of shoeboxes towering around me. Score.
5. Even better than seeing Evita…
My friend and I got a tour of Buenos Aires from an old friend of mine–he’d grown up there, had lived in New York for over thirty years and had finally returned home. He took us around the city and told us stories of the place in the fifties and sixties.
Interestingly, he didn’t know how to dance tango because he grew up in a time when public gatherings were outlawed, and he hadn’t ever learned. But he knew every golden age tango song by heart. He explained to me that the music is the history of the city and the people–the songs of his youth. The songs told his stories. When he sang them, he got misty, and I had the uncomfortable feeling that I was intruding on a private moment. There’s a lot of sorrow in the history of Argentina, and I can’t pretend to understand it. When we dance tango, we only circle around the edges of it.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch…
When I returned home, I was so glad to see my family again, so grateful they’d let me jet off for ten days to hang upside down in the southern hemisphere, that I laid off classes for a while. Then weeks and months slipped by, we got busy with life, and, with a few exceptions, I didn’t go back to tango.
But it wasn’t just being busy that kept me from going back. It was that competitive thing in me, that pesky drive I had to be STELLAR. I’d hit a wall in Argentina. Witnessed the best of the best and seen how far I had to go. I came to the realization I wasn’t going to move forward unless I made some serious changes–found a regular partner to practice with, and increased my floor time. It was going to take focus and determination to improve. And, of course, I had to improve. Duh. Otherwise what’s the point?
I know, there’s therapy for people like me. Or recitals. But ultimately I couldn’t justify rearranging my life to train for the imaginary tango Olympics, so I hit the pause button. Until I could figure out how to just settle down and enjoy being an average, everyday tango dancer. I have to admit, I’m not there yet. But I am missing it.
Oh, tango, my angel, my love.