We began our journey with Tango 10 years ago. It healed me & my family. We were adopted into the world of free inclusive cultural centers & education in Argentina, eventually studying a Folklore degree & Expression degree in the prestigious University of the arts in BA. To pass on this gift given to us later in our lives, we give workshops & classes to inspire others who may not think dance a possibility. We make our workshops inclusive by keeping them donation based, so all have access to an education that incorporates our species' heritage, values human experience [like my Grannys'] & the remarkable masters we have been honored to have.
Our Tango Story...
When you think of tango do you think of equality? Gender neutral dancing? Therapy? Tribe? Human connection? Play? Affection? A language? Poetry in Motion? If you have stepped into the embrace of another to dance this majestic art of human heritage, (literally declared human heritage by UNESCO) you will eventually find the above.
Many thinking of tango have an image of a seductive woman, splain across the arms of a macho man - biting a red rose. And for some it can be this. But this is not the only story tango has to tell. You see, tango is a legend in its self, made up of myths and accounts that go finding you, so that tango becomes whatever medicine you need it to be for you.
In my case, tango told a story about freedom, finding myself, my granny and my rights as a woman and as a humanitarian.
So let me account the story tango told me. It started in a cathedral of tango in Buenos Aires, an old warehouse with an enormous heart hanging over the dance floor... I went over 10 years ago to listen to a live jazz drum and bass interpretation of tango, everyone was sitting in the dark attentive and curious to the mad combination, in the corner of my eye, I see two people in an embrace, dancing to these sounds in the twilight of the night, they did not know each other, this was not a show, they were just moved by the sound and got up to play. He was in his late 80s, smart and old skool, and she could not have been more than 25, in trainers and joggers, they were strangers; Yet they were in a state of pure meditation and play, intimate but not sexual in any way, pure bliss, loving and deeply respectful.
I burst into tears, To see someone of those two distant generations, bonded like that - it touched a very raw nerve-I had become astrained from my Argentine grandmother who helped raise me as a baba. I was in Argentina trying to re connect and found a car crash of un-diagnosed dementia, horrible family feuds, abuse, abandonment and heart ache. I longed to have my beloved Granny back, to giggle and cook with, to love and be loved, to fall asleep in each other arms, and instead I had an open wound to my soul that she would pour viniger into with her pain. I began to forget the human she was, and began to believe that this paranoid angry human was what she was, and I just didn’t realize.
So back to tango, there I was, balling my eyes out, watching these two dance, appreciating more than words could describe the miracle I was witnessing of this art that brought these two distant generations, these pre and post genocidal dictatorship humans, these polar opposite humans, together in an embrace that spoke poetry in motion. It was a powerful testimony of what this mysterious art was capable of. And this was just the beginning. From that night I craved to learn this art one day, hoping for the chance.
Years later, with a new partner in life, having finally moved permanently to BsAs, I got that chance when a neighbor offered to teach us.
3 years on from that night at the Tango cathedral, on Valentine’s Day, my Grannies birthday, we (Drew and I) asked her what she wanted to do to celebrate her 88th, we hadn’t had the chance to ever do something in over 15 years, I was either on the other side of the world, or she was not well, tiered or just angry, but we were not taking doing nothing as an option, and this time we had something in common, but I didn’t know it yet.
‘You have started dancing tango now no?’
She asked rhetorically.
‘Well let’s go to a milonga then,’
Our jaws dropped, this was a woman that lay in bed, watching god awful soap opera style bad news at full blast all day, and only got up to go to the loo. Outings suggestions were an insult, When I tried to get her to come take her dog for a walk with me, she yelled about Ebola killing her, and that was that.
I quickly racked my brain about where would the hell would have space to sit on Valentine’s Day of all days, and last minute. - The cathedral- where I originally fell in love with Tango. I rang and explained we needed a seat, they giggled and said not to worry they would take care of us. They don’t take reservations, but this was something special, and I didn’t want her first outing to traumatize any chance of her leaving the house in future. It was already quite late, but luckily milongas don’t kick off until after 9pm at least. So we all got dulled up and waddled into the car. Now, keeping in mind that the only reference to tango in my upbringing was that my great grandfather danced tango, and as a result wasn’t considered an unsuitable suitor by my great great grandparents when he asked my great grandma's hand in marriage, in fact they were so appalled by his participation in this illegal dance they actually threw a stool over his head, a machimbre stool to be exact, as my Granny repeated every time she recounted the story.
But other than that nothing tango related, I never remember hearing tango songs, or ever anything to do with tango. Just that story.
So, we are sitting in the car, dumbfounded by my grannies enthusiasm to go out with us after 20 years of being basically bed ridden, we put the radio on to some tango to get us in the mood, and out of seemingly no where, my Granny sings the tango playing, word for word, perfectly. Song after song that came on the radio she knew, word for word. Perfectly. We were speechless, this was the first clue in what was to be quite an educational evening on my grannies secret tango identity.
We got to the cathedral and were welcomed like family by complete strangers. I don’t think I had been there since that infamous night, but this is the way in milongas, babies and oldies are loved and cherished, they are the future and past of tango, together they weave the heritage of the art, they are both needed to keep it alive. So both are cared for and cherished, it is part of the unspoken code of milingieros, the same code that can make it seem strict and indecipherable, can also make it warm and an instant family.
We were given a choice of seats, Granny found her preferred perch in the dark, and we ordered some food. I noticed Granny being very observant of the dance, critical, and then a few hours later she stood up, elbowing Drew I realize she wanted to dance, Drew took her hand to lead her to the dance floor, and she turned her gaze to me, ‘No, I want to dance with my grand daughter’
I thought she was joking and I giggled "I don't know how to lead"
‘I do,’ and she drew out her trembling hand to take me to dance.
And there I found myself in the embrace of my grandma once again after 20 years.
We were laughing, it had been a long time for her, but to her credit, move she did.
It turns out my Granny used to lead, my great grand dad taught her, and my grand dad, who died long before I was born, he was an incredible dancer.
We sat in the dark cathedral with it's red heart glowing over us, tango belowing in the background as we listen attentively to Grannies story
"We wouldn't exist if it weren't for tango, you are the 3rd generation in our family to love the dance, I barely got the chance to lead when i was young, as woman leading were frowned upon, promise me you will learn to lead in my honor" I did, and she went on to say
"I served the Mate at the milonga in our home town, the woman had a terrible reputation, how I judged when I was a little girl, before life taught me better, I judged them for being there, for not being married or separated. Funny how I became those woman only a decade on, separated, and a non grata in the town. Now I understand, those woman went there as they were free there, free from judgement, expectations, abuse, everyone was free there, the artists could paint what they wanted, the musicians could play, men and woman didn't have to stay separate, we were free."
Tango had the reputation of starting in brothels, but my grannies experience was that woman were considered prostitutes if they were anywhere but at home with their male guardian, father or husband. Those times were filled with strict social rules, woman didn't have rights, social etiquette was maintained and woman did not socialize, an engagement would be arranged through parents, and both parties would never be allowed to touch. Let alone dance, hence why Tango was considered the lowest of the low. It was made illegal - Hence the chair over the head, and why milongas were held in secret.
"Papa killed for his right to dance"
Apparently my great grand fathers milonga got discovered by an unsavory character who tried to bribe them to not rat them out. Rather than loose there only place of freedom, or be held on a leash by this person, apparently, they just 'got rid of him'. How much of this is true, I don't know, but I do remember Granny telling stories of helping papa get rid of a body, she would boast that she was the one that was trusted of all her siblings.
Wanna read more? Coming soon!...