I came across this touching animation of a couple reliving their glory days as tango performers. A time before the ‘accidente tragico’. En Tus Brazos is a French production, but with Spannish spoken.
Though I never did enjoye any glory days as a tango dansers myself (let alone that I can actually dance the tango), it did bring back some memories of my trip to Argentina two years ago.
A Tango Show in Buenos Aires
It was never my intention to spend more than two nights in Buenos Aires. But somehow, the weather gods seemed to favor me, letting me complete my travels through southern Patagonia in just two weeks instead of three. With days to spare, I decided to return to Buenos Aires early. At first, I regretted my choice. I felt alienated by the beautiful facades of this old city, but also by the cold welcome I had received from the others back at the hostel. It was as if the life had been sucked out of them and as a result preferred to keep to themselves. Traveling on your own, can sometimes be lonely.
The next day, I learnt that most of them had left, traveling to numerous other destinations far far away. They were replaced by a new crop of backpackers; a much more livelier bunch this time around. Things were starting to look up. By the end of the second day, I had made a lot of new friends. And with them, I started to discover Buenos Aires beyond its facades. A city that had a lot more to offer than met the eye. The stories I could tell…
But lets not get carried away. This post is about tango.
BA is known for its long tango tradition. It’s where it was born. During my visit, there were plenty of opportunities to see the locals dancing it. Even in the main shopping street, one could regularly run into street artists tangoing away. I just had the unlucky misfortune of bumping into them every time as they were about to commence with their last dance act: a guy doing the tango with a doll. While funny to watch, it wasn’t exactly what I had imagined the dance to be. I could not leave this city without having seen the most passionate dance invented by man in its propper form. And judging from all the lovers I witnessed openly kissing in the streets and parks of BA, I could only conclude that the Argentineans are very passionate people. They’ve made it into an art form.
On my fourth day there, I decided to go to a tango show with Annabelle, a wonderful and remarkable person I had met at our hostel. She was an Irish/German girl studying in London and living in Ibiza with aspirations of becoming a fashion designer. One couldn’t dream of better company.
We had made some last minute reservations earlier that day after hearing it would be the last show of the season. And after taking a short taxi ride, we arrived at the venue just in the nick of time. As a hostess escorted us to our place, we quickly realized that this was no ordinary theatre. Instead of just rows and rows of chairs like everywhere else, we found ourselves seated in front of a table for two with a small lamp shade on it. Placed there just to give us that extra touch of atmosphere in an otherwise darkened venue. All very cozy. Moments later, our exotic cocktails were served. It was like being invited to an exclusive ballroom party. You felt special, just by sitting here. Soon afterwards, our lampshades dimmed. All eyes turned towards the stage. The show was about to begin.
It was a dance musical, an Argentinean West Side Story as it were. In fact, there was a time when Argentina was one of the richest countries in the world, with emigrants arriving from all over. They came with their hopes and dreams for a better future. Some would make it big. Most probably didn’t. It was amongst the poor of lower class Buenos Aires that tango would see the light of day. It was a dance that somehow unified the emigrants of different nationalities; a dance that took on many styles and variations, but also took years and dedication to learn and master. For men at the time, it was a way of meeting women. And with women in the minority in this new found world, they danced only with those whom they felt mastered it well enough.
In the musical, we were introduced to an immigrant family arriving in BA: Girl meets boy. Boy falls in love. Is poor, but tries to win her heart. Meanwhile, rich underworld figure falls for the same girl. Jealousy ensues. Knives are drawn. Things get out of hand. People die. All in the name of love. But the dancing was superb. I always had this cliché image of Tango being danced between two lovers, slow and passionate one moment, swift and almost cold the next. What I saw here was something completely different. The leg work alone was amazing to watch. Two dancers: their legs locking, clicking, kicking and unlocking again, all at the blink of an eye. As they danced, we were treated to extremely fast, yet graceful movements. These were pros and tango was much more then what I had imagined it to be. I was impressed.
But it wouldn’t be the last time I’d see tango in Buenos Aires…
Tango in La Boca
La Boca, while charming with its colorful buildings, is not the sort of place you want to visit alone. Located in one of the poorer parts of Buenos Aires, it is best described as an oasis surrounded by criminality. Any tourist attempting to leave its confines is surely asking to be robbed. It literary is a tourist trap. But despite the warnings, it’s still a must see destination and so I went together with Ben and Catherine, two Americans students on a short leave in Argentina. Even though it only was a walking distance away from San Telmo, where our hostel was located, we were advised to take the taxi instead. And so we did.
It was a hot and sunny day with the pace of life slow. We strolled around the streets for a while, admiring the colorful architecture and peeping into the little tourist shops. But with La Boca being so small, It didn’t take long before we had seen everything there was to see. At least without venturing off into dangerous territory. So we decided to have lunch instead. La Boca has quite a lot of restaurants to choose from, and each one offers a tango dance display while you enjoy your meal.
We ate outside on the pavement. Between the tables, a couple in full dress played their part and danced the Tango. One could easily believe that this was all part of the ‘couleur locale’, if it were not for the woman dancer who looked strikingly Japanese.
And just like the life around us, the pace of their movements were much slower, but more casual then what I had seen at the theatre a few days earlier. Here were just two people dancing the afternoon away, and not so much to impress, but simply because it was something they just loved to do.
Looking back, I wish I had brought my camera along with me. But by the time I had arrived in Buenos Aires, I was already suffering from photo-fatique. I just wanted to experience things without having to photograph it all. Catherine did bring hers along and we were even given the honour of posing with the dancers that had entertained us thru lunch. (If you’re tourist in a tourist trap, you might aswell act the part). We then returned to San Telmo.
My week soon came to an end, and I left with mostly fond memories. But if I ever return, it might well be worth learning a step or two of tango. How hard could it possibly be?