I’m often asked why we chose this place or that place to spend a month of our trip. Sometimes it’s based on previous trips, recommendations, proximity to another location, the language, or simply a whim. In Europe we always had to consider our Schengen-area time, which sent us to previously-not-well-known-to-us (but fascinating!) places like Cyprus.
However, we definitely picked Buenos Aires because of tango.
I’ve been tangoing for about a decade on and off – more off than on, especially after having a child. Before arriving in Buenos Aires, I hadn’t danced for over a year and had given away my tango shoes as part of a purge of most of our possessions right before the trip. So, we went to buy tango shoes for the month soon after landing. Usually, I buy black shoes, with the theory that they will match pretty much anything. However, these blue shoes were on sale, and I like them so much that I’m rethinking my black-shoes tendencies.
Since it had been a while since we had danced, Brian and I took five private tango lessons from Cristian at Tango Piolo, and we very much recommend him! He adapted the lessons to our level and interests, and we left our feeling smoother and more confident on the dance floor. (Okay, and we also got to practice a lot of gaunchos with him, which are possibly the most fun part of tango.) He also let us bring Theo for our lessons after my sister departed and was good humored about helping to entertain him when needed.
We also accidentally attended a group lesson that was entirely in Spanish, because it was mislabeled online as a practice dance. We made it through the lesson with the help of one of the participants, who spoke English and invited us back to his house for a glass of wine with him and his wife after the lesson.
In addition to lessons, Brian and I went to two milongas (tango social dances) together, and I went to three on my own. I planned to dance more, but I had a little bit of a rough end to my month, starting with a sick child (mine), followed by a swollen leg (mine too!) after a bee sting, and finally followed by getting sick myself. Still, I felt like I at least got a taste of dancing in Buenos Aires.
Some Argentines I spoke with dismissed dancing tango as being something that mostly expats do now (though all of the milongas that I attended seemed to be mostly filled with Argentines.) It was true that most Argentines that spoke I with didn’t dance tango themselves.
But, there is difference between dancing tango and listening to tango music. Many people I spoke with in Argentina seemed to identify strongly with the music. One of my Spanish tutors declared that while she didn’t dance tango, she loved tango music because it was the music of her country. The woman at our favorite bakery (who reads this blog – hello there!) read my note from soon after arriving that people smiled at me less frequently here than in Costa Rica. While she had several theories for why, her first (and most poetic) was that this is country of tango music, which is inherently incompatible with spontaneous street smiles.
Tango music is often very dramatic and intense, and feels especially so to me during live vocal performances. Nora Roca’s performance as part of the Buenos Aires Tango Festival felt almost like theater, though I could only understand some of the words. I was also struck by just how close Nora Roca seemed to be to musicians who accompanied her; they would kiss cheeks and hug between songs as if they were feeling the same sort of intense physical bond as when I have a really good dance connection.
And that connection is why I’ve kept dancing all of these years, even though I haven’t practiced consistently enough to become amazingly competent. It doesn’t happen with every partner but when the connection is right the smooth ease and dreamy closeness, often with a complete stranger, is almost magical.
I didn’t dance as much as I imagined this month, but still Buenos Aires may have reinfected with me the desire to tango. Uncharacteristic to my catch-and-release policy for belongings, I squeezed my blue tango shoes into my backpack to bring to Auckland.