Of hard times and brighter days
There will be two parts to this post: non-tango and tango.
Buenos Aires as a whole has gotten more dangerous, a kindly, fifty-ish shop-keeper in Palermo was telling us yesterday as what started as a friendly chat took a more somber turn. Her kind chocolate eyes were slightly lined with both laughter and worry, in a mixture not uncommon to Argentina - where people seem to like to laugh, but often have little cause to. The growth in insecurity has taken place especially over the past few years, she told us, even though there were already problems before that. Her eldest daughter - of three - is apparently a doctor who experiences first-hand the misery of some people here. There seems to be quite an important drug problem. I still have to see much, but considering that I am not a night-club goer, avoid suspicious places and spend most of my nights in milongas the opposite would have been more surprising. The worst, she was telling me, is amongst the poor people who have no other way of escape than drugs; considering the cheap ones are often of terrible quality, it messes with their minds and the minds of their children. As we left their shop, armed with 15 minutes of conversation in Spanish, free candy, and their phone number - in case we ever needed 'anything, anything at all' - we were rather subdued.
How strange to think in 1910 Argentina was a model of economic growth with a PIB rising even faster than in the USA.
Argentina is a beautiful country - even Buenos Aires has the potential to be an awesome city. There are numerous parks, some of which are forbidden to pets, in which people like to go lounge, tan, jog, practice slack line or silks or yoga. Many streets are filled with trees, the leafy greenery lending coolness and shade to the otherwise sun-burned stone. The cobblestones in San Telmo are reminiscent of better times as they speckle the streets with a sort of nostalgia visible as well in the carved stone of the belle-époque buildings. Despite the patchwork sidewalk and the loneliness of certain alleys where there seems to be nothing but residential houses, blinds drawn and iron bars isolating the inhabitants from the hazardous streets, or the dirty, narrow, bustling and dusty roads, there is so much potential in this country - which is why it surprises me that it simultaneously seems to be set in a sort of crumbling decadence.
These were the thoughts running through my head as I headed to my usual Friday practica. Having tried another event beforehand and found it somewhat lacking, as it seemed to be run by a circle of friends and acquaintances I had no part in, I had resolved to take a taxi with another girl who had come to the same conclusion. There is quite a gap between the tango world and the sphere most Argentinians seem to frequent. Of course, if you talk about tango all of them are acquainted with the term, but few have ever experienced it. My friendly, previously mentioned taxi driver was certainly one of the most loquacious. Mostly, when you tell them you came all the way to Argentina for tango, you get a slightly impressed, how-crazy-is-this-person, sideways glance.
And yet, being in Argentina definitely seems worth it for whoever wishes to progress - and is ready to invest not necessarily money but hard work, which is why today's tango post shall reflect on progress.
The long, narrow room was less packed with dancers than usual - and not too warm, for a change. A very welcome one too. I carefully manoeuvred myself into the row of onlookers, throwing a look up at the patio. It was packed and I decided to stay down here and maybe try for cabeceo. I had already danced quite a lot that night, but, alas, I am still in the tango stage of more, more, more. A hand suddenly touched my back and I moved aside, thinking I was blocking someone's way to the floor. A face swam into my line of sight.
"Do you want to dance?"
Surprised, I nodded. He was an excellent dancer I had danced with once before - badly. The memory still made me wince. In that particular practica I had spent the whole time feeling heavy, clumsy, completely off-skitter. My legs wouldn't move, my dissociation was shot to hell, in short, I was tense and over-thinking everything. A nightmare, but, well, to who hasn't it happened, especially after a gruelling class - as I had enjoyed the day before?
Moving into the abrazo, I threw a quick prayer to the tango gods that my classes, solo exercises, yoga, and two weeks of 'serious' dancing would have paid off. As he moved into the first gliding step I suddenly felt it. He was - there - and I knew exactly how to move. I stretched luxuriously into the movement, enjoying every second of it. Then, we took three deliciously swishy little steps. I felt him smile as his dance became more spicy, challenging, and free.
How ridiculous! How amazing, I recriminated myself, that I couldn't have felt this the first time around? How could I have possibly been so gauche? How could I not have known this? At times, I would feel myself slipping into my old habits - or misinterpret - but it was all right, because I was dancing, and I could feel my partner enjoying it. As we chatted between the dances, I learned he hadn't planned to invite me again but was glad he had - so was I - and he was looking forward to how much I would have progressed next time.
As we wandered home that night I couldn't help but wonder about the cycle of progress. I had already completed several - and I was both dreading and looking forward to each new one. The happy, giggly feeling just after the break-through is like a drug, and when the effect fades, mistakes, miscommunications and problems become more and more frustrating and apparent until the next moment of clarity. I wonder how much of the dance I am missing, and how many issues I still have in my movement and interpretation without even being aware of it.
A few days after the practica, I was invited by a dancer several notches above my level on a rather lively vals. Granted, I was wearing 9 centimetre heels - not a mistake I shall make again, as it is just too much for me; 8.5 seems to be my maximum - I was not dancing at my best. Nevertheless, I could feel it as I tried to keep up, made the occasional misstep, because some songs want you to go fast no matter how much you try to remind yourself you have more time than you think; I just wasn't good enough to be able to really dance with him, no matter how much I wanted to.
Tango progress is not linear, either; it works with a 'two steps forward, one step back' type of logic. Sometimes I don't like dancing with myself, and wonder how my partners can enjoy it. I get frustrated at my body, at its limits, its clumsiness. Those are the moments I feel like throwing my shoes out and quitting tango; but I never do, because I always return to that wonderfully bouncy, supple, rich feeling where I am thrumming with energy and it seems, when I take my partners in my arms, as if I am complete and now I can do ANYTHING.
It is my theory that in tango, two partners of roughly the same - relatively advanced - level can create a whole much bigger than the sum of its parts.