Tango Through My Eyes

Milonga
Photo Credit: Libertinus

I have been incubating this post for a while. Whenever I tried to express my feelings about tango in a blog entry, I felt that my descriptions were inadequate. I had to leave Buenos Aires and return in order to distance myself and see the situation clearly.

I didn’t come to Buenos Aires to dance tango. I didn’t even know what a milonga was, or that there are milongas in the states. When I visited my first dance hall here, the sound of the bandoneon and old fashioned crooning made me melt. There wasn’t any question–I wanted to be on the floor immediately. I know the basics of ballroom dance and was a swing kid in college. How much more difficult could tango be since I had natural rhythm? I still can’t believe that I went out on the dance floor after learning just a few hurried steps among a pack of 50 other students.

As luck would have it, I had an experienced tango godmother in town (should I call her a tangodmother)? While many people (including strangers) told me not to dare get on the floor until completing six months of lessons, she saw something in my steps that gave her faith. She had enough confidence in me that we attended an intermediate milonga where the dancers would not be too impatient with a newbie. Even though my steps were nervous and unsteady and void of any adornments, I danced. I learned the rules, the reglas. My smile must have reached the milonga ceiling. My embrace grew lighter and my steps more precise. I took both private and group lessons to improve.

The tango community here can be very hard to break into. Understandably, dancers want to dance with other talented dancers, not new dancers. I developed an anxiety about dancing, always feeling that I would let my partners down if I couldn’t follow every move and adorn my steps with flourishes. A lot of dancers feel this way, even people who have been dancing for years! I spoke to a woman who had lived here for five years who still expressed doubt about her talent.

At times, tango dancers’ body language can be cold and rejecting. In one group intermediate class, a man had such a negative reaction to be “forced” to dance with me that I went to the bathroom and cried afterwards. (I think this was due to me being an intruder to the group rather than a bad dancer.) I wondered how tango partners could be so brutal when it should be such a tender dance. The Argentine embrace is close, like a grand hug. The dance became two faced for me, and I thought of it with warmth and sadness at the same time.

After six months away from tango, I took a visiting friend to an afternoon milonga today. I purposely wore my black ballet flats (impossible to dance in) because I didn’t want to experience any fear or rejection on the dance floor. My only objective was to show my friend the milonga and have a coffee with her. This way I thought I would be relaxed. My retirement lasted as long as my coffee. One of my favorite old gents invited me to the floor. I flipped off my useless ballet flats and danced in my socks. That is probably anti-regla, but oh well. I had holes in my socks by the time we left. The music and steps reminded me why I loved tango and why I keep coming back.

Unfortunately, the milonga had the opposite effect on my friend. She was where I had started–a dancer who just barely knew the steps and wanted so desperately to do well on the dance floor. Now she was now scared to death. I knew the feeling.

Here you can see my tango journey (as a self professed novice).

Introduction to Tango

Lost on the Floor

Tango and the Cabeceo

Courtesies of Tango

Descending — Tango

Dance Hall
Photo Credit: Libertinus

13 Comments

Filed under Argentina, Tango

13 responses to “Tango Through My Eyes

  1. Wow, I have a newfound respect for you. Can’t believe you can dance tango, beginner or not, that’s just so cool!!!

  2. this is a beautiful post. it’s incredible how you can find pieces of yourself in a part of another culture. i can certainly imagine how intimidating a seasoned tango dancer could be – even with the romance of the dance, it is still very intense. thanks for sharing this!

    Thank you for your kind words.

  3. Are those your images? Fantastic.

    I’ve never danced tango. We actually have a restaurant just down the road who gives Tango lessons on the weekend. I’ve considered dragging my husband there. lol

    If your husband is up for dancing, I would say go!

  4. I miss going to Canning with you and my roommate Gustavo as a semi-regular Monday ritual. Those were the days!

    By the way, the instrument is a bandoneon.🙂

    Those were very good times. I look forward to attending a milonga in the U.S. now to compare.

    (Thanks for the spelling.) 🙂

  5. What a great story! Do you have videos of yourself dancing? What great memories they’d be. I love watching tango, though have never ventured to try it.

  6. Unfortunately, people are sensitive about being filmed or photographed in milongas. I may ask a friend to photograph me some time.🙂

  7. jill

    beautiful post. i love the way you write. it’s so calming and romantic. i always feel like i’m there with you.

    Thank you!😀

  8. Fantastic post! Yes, it was intimidating as h… for me, and I never dared, even after taking random lessons here and there. Also true about the snooty attitude of some people. It’s certainly an interesting world to break into. Thanks again for all your nice comments (I wasn’t sure what the “protocol” is…to respond on my blog or here and I decided here to save you trouble). PS–also suspect that we have one more thing in common besides size, judging by your avatar😉

  9. Lovely photos.
    Your post makes me so much more want to learn this incredible dance!

  10. What an interesting perspective on tango and a side of you I didn’t know about! When I went to a milonga for the first time back in May, I longed to be on the dance floor to, to be able to express myself through the mode of dance. Alas, dancer I am not. Thanks for sharing this piece – it was worth the wait!

  11. Lovely post. I’ve had only one Argentine tango lesson. Beautiful dance. So sexy. Hubby and I do modern tango. Very different but fun as well.

  12. Oh what delicious envy! What I wouldn’t give to be entangled in tango!

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