Dance, Dance, Dance


On the second day in Buenos Aires I rushed into the tango studio for my first class all confused: it felt all wrong about the city. The rocky romantic image I was carrying in my head before arriving to Buenos Aires seemed to crash against the harsh reality I stepped into. A gloomy polluted winterish ‘aires’ felt not ‘buenos’ enough. I was frustrated.

‘I have little time. Just a week. I don’t like it here and will leave sooner than planned.’ – the first thing I told to Alejandro, a tango instructor whom I literally googled. He looked up at me silently lifting up an eyebrow and nodded “OK”, as if trying to figure was my exclamation a spoilt brat caprice. We started off classes with an hour a day, and in couple of days, progressed into two. ‘You are too impatient and put too much pressure on yourself’, – he concluded then ‘You’re making lot of progress for the little time you practice. But your body needs time to adopt to new way of moving, and it will take time no matter how much pressure you put on your mind. So let it go!’

I wish. Tango lessons became a great metaphor for my whole life. Too much pressure, too little letting go. The controversy of the whole situation is in its timing – I am taking a year off to let myself go, but in fact I don’t. ‘Don’t expect to find an answer by the deadline you’ve set in your head’, – Alejandro told me later, after I’d shared with him about the idea behind my trip of finding ‘the answer’ to what to do with my life: ‘Be prepared to not to know until the time comes, but it’s not defined bys your plan.’

I wish. To find the passion as strong as my passion for dancing, which I can dedicate hours and hours for without getting tired. Frustrated yes, but frustration comes from the kind of expectations ‘I know I can do better. Faster’. Dance is the only artistic medium allowing myself to live fully in a moment. Everything else I tend to rationalize.

I started dancing classes as electives in a primary school and it helped my physics. But the true appreciation for dancing came with salsa. I remember I came across a salsa club in Europe and was amazed how beautifully people can move in-tact without knowing each other, as if reading each other from the tips of their hands. I was mesmerized by the easiness of movements, energized by the vibe of the salsa beat, sold into the dance straight ahead. Later I dedicated years to learning, mastering, enjoying the dance.

Deciding on the tango was more of curiousity – is it for me? Learning a new dance is like learning a new language. The language your body doesn’t know. There are many of those, but as the analogy goes, not every language you like enough to learn. From the first class tango felt right. Underlining the ‘feeling’ part.

Argentine tango is danced in a full embrace – your body is pressed closely against the chest of your partner, without locking it down, but rather feeling the presence and ‘energy’ of another person, creating an intimacy of two, where no words are spoken, but everything is told. Every dance is more than a coordinated movement, but a soulful story told by your body.

An embrace is like a hug is like a love – what every person needs. Would it be tender? Intense? Tormented? Passionate?

‘Everything surfaces during the dance’ – says Alejandro by being not only the instructor but MA in Clinical Psychology. In tango, though as in all couples’ dances, a man has to lead and a woman to follow. Inability to do so leads to the failure, relationships inclusive. However, tango seems to be a little more complicated. Man/woman roles for a successful dance split by halves – a man still has to lead with a woman to follow – but in order to lead a woman she has to give a presence. A woman with her body presence as if guarding her space, yet reading the partner’s intention off the chest very sensitively to allow the chemistry of the dance to happen.

The therapeutical effect of tango is appreciated by many, however I was not attracted for that reason. My lessons were in letting the pressure of being ‘perfect’ go. ‘You learn tango your whole life and if you don’t learn how to enjoy the process you can’t enjoy the experience. Tango is not about looking pretty or being a perfect dancer. Tango has dirt in it.’ – I was told and accepted the statement.

Tango is not a dance by the end of the day, it’s a culture, a ritual, or a set of rituals which make up the whole culture.

When you come to a traditional milonga men and women are seated on opposite sides. In order to invite a woman for a dance, a man has to first catch her look from afar. It’s a mastery I compare with ability of laser-shooting the room space with your eyes beaming straight to the woman’s face, making her realize that he’s looking not at somebody else, but at her, he wants her, he demands her attention with his look. And once she notices the attention, a man invites her with a slight nod of his head, as if saying: ‘Would you?’. But then a woman has a choice: either to accept the invitation with nodding her head back, or, in case she does not want to dance with that guy, she escapes the look, pretending she did not notice it – so subtle not to offend and not to let anybody else but the guy understand it. All very subtle, all very tango. They might never dance, but there was a tango happening between them.

But, yes, she has responded positively. She accepted his invitation. He crosses the room and stands in front of her awaiting. She raises up and they proceed to a dance floor, along with dozens of other couples to have a round. A round is a combination of 4 tango songs, going one after another, but you stop dancing for a minute in-between every song. The moments are taken for a short break filled with a small talk between the two, usually it’s a polite chit-chat. The rounds in turn are separated by what I call a “wasabi” – an out of tango world music piece – during which women are escorted back to their seats, and a new round of ‘eye laser-shooting’ begins, and yet another, new embrace being born.

The whole milonga goes for several hours, until 2-4 am. But even then the tango experience does not end, but continues in any small ’24/7′ cafeteria with a jar of ‘clerico’ – a white-wine sangria type of the drink, snacks, maybe couple of coffees, and lengthy conversations about everything in life, making it back home early in the morning.

That’s how the week goes by with a milonga a night, a week after a week, a round after a round, an embrace after embrace. That’s why tango is not just a dance. That’s why it might take your whole life soaking into it. That’s why it’s impossible to take tango as an experience out of context of Buenos Aires.

A week morphed into four, a dance into introspection, a class into a lesson, a Buenos Aires into an experience.

That is why I can’t take tango out of Buenos Aires, I can only return to it. When? When the time comes.

  • Sasha

    Super post! It feels like tango. You’ve found perfect words to describe the process. Perfect words to describe yourself. It seems that you’ve found another part of your personality there.

    • Larissa

      Thank you, Sasha. I remembered your advice of not blogging for the blog sake, but only if I feel like it 🙂

  • Robin

    Great read Larissa. Dance on.

    • Larissa

      Mucho gracias!

  • Aida

    You have such potential to become a great writer :)! I adore your writing… And this piece is fantastic! Colorful, passionate, strong. It felt like I was really watching all what was happening around. Wow:)

    • Larissa

      I wish 🙂