The little train that could (or almost)

Everyone was sure that the reason I had stayed in Buenos Aires for three months instead of a week last year (and did everything that followed), was because I had fallen in love; and, though I hate to admit it, they were right.

I had been exposed to tango a long time ago; I must have been 16, a friend of mine, who I was doing gymnastics with, had started taking classes and had invited me to see one of her shows.  I decided to take classes with her, not for any particular reason other than the fact that I thought that as a gymnast/dancer, I had to be familiar with all forms of dance.  My mother drove me to my classes and watched over me like a hawk when men three times my age would ask me to dance.

Tango meant nothing to me then, it was just another dance like salsa or tap dance, another dance to add to my repertoire of dances. I was too young, and definitely not ready to understand that it was so much more; I couldn't see that tango was something that transcends, well beyond you dancing it.  In fact when you talk to tangeroes and listen to how they describe what tango is to them, it sounds borderline like a drug addiction, I hadn’t understood any of that.

Years later, while I was living in Brussels, I wanted to give tango another go; I signed up for the occasional class, but again felt nothing really beyond the fact that I enjoyed the music and the beautiful, though painful, shoes.  I felt trapped in the embrace, I had no freedom to express myself or to interpret the music, all I could do was follow someone else’s lead. It just didn’t quite feel right.
When I came here last, I knew I had to try it again, on some level I knew I was missing something; like traveling to Montreal and spending your entire time in Laval; and of course I was in Buenos Aires, how could I claim to have been any kinda of dancer (even a past dancer) if I didn’t at least try tango while here, in the Mecca of tango, where millions make an annual pilgrimage.  

So, I found a school in my favourite part of town, San Telmo, and as luck would have it, I found the best school in the world (I'm in no way exaggerating).  When I walked in, I felt like I had been transported to another universe, a universe where I had chosen door B instead of door A and I was coming into MY studio ready to rehearse for MY next show; if I could have designed my own studio, it would have been just like this one: flawless polished wooden floors, subtle lighting, high ceiling, wall to wall mirrors....  'Group classes or Private classes?  There’s a special combo if you get both’, the guy working at the counter told me, so I took both and that was that.

His name was Patrick, still is actually, and who is this Patrick? Patrick is a professional tango-salsa-African dance-bachata-(...) everything dancer, not to mention an explosion of energy, who has made so many unsuspecting souls fall slave to tango (of who he is also a hopeless slave). Patrick embodied all of my new-found love and passion for tango and became the object of my tango lust.

It is an undeniable reality of tango, that, independently of what is going on in your life, you will fall in love with your tango teacher, or that great dancer who gives you the time of day, or the time of ‘tanda', during your first Milongas.  It’s not so much the ‘lets have lots of sex and babies’-love, but more of a ‘Please, please dance with me again PLEASE!!!!  I need to feel that again!!’-Love.

I signed up for my first class, it was on a Tuesday, a fun way to start the day I thought as I  made my way to the school; not knowing that what I would encounter would, in a way change, my life forever.  I got there a few minutes early, Patrick was with another one of his students (another tango victim) so I sat down and waited.  I took off my shoes and started walking on the wooden floor; I cracked my toes before going as high up on them as I could, I spread my toes as far as I could, the way only dancers can with their pinky tow spread all the way to the side for extra balance; I felt the soft wooden floor under my metatarsals, I heard my coaches voice saying ‘second toe Andreea, that’s where you need to put your weight, second toe’. I did a few ‘Rond de Jambes’, raised my arms as if getting ready for an adagio, tested my balance in a ‘Passé’, did a few ‘fouettés’ and a downpour of emotions fell onto me like a tropical summer storm in the Pacific, all of a sudden I was 16 again and I was getting ready for my next competition or my next show, hair up in a bum, toes shoes on and my heart pounding (and of course feeling fat); the floor, the mirrors, the music, my feet, it was all so familiar.

We danced our first tango to Troilo’s ‘Te aconsejo que me olvides’.  The instrumental part is fast but the singing is slow allowing a good leader to show off his mastery of the music while swaying you around the room.  I couldn’t understand any of the words at the time, but for some reason, I felt like he was singing about my life; it’s still one of my favourite tangos.  ‘Close your eyes, breathe and I’ll do the rest’ Patrick told me and to my surprise that’s exactly what I did, I relinquished all control to him without hesitation.

He took me in his arms, showed my how to gently lean into his embrace, how to separate my upper body, which was glued to his, from my lower body so I could dance without feeling the restrictions of the embrace.  He told me to follow his breath, to listen to his body, all he made me do was extend my legs and walk, I told him I could ‘ocho, gancho, cruce….’ But he told me none of that was necessary, everything in tango starts with the walk. ‘Start?  But I’ve taken tango classes before, I’ve done years of dance!’ I contested.  ‘You’ve taken tango classes, but you’ve never danced tango, stop thinking, just follow and feel your body.’   He was right, I had never even come close to dancing tango before. 

Every day I returned to the school, every day I felt  my body getting younger, I re-discovered so much of my old self; ‘You hid her away, you sat her down in front of a computer for so many years and now she wants out, the dancer in you, the one you buried for so long, she wants to shine again, I want to help her come out again.  You’re a dancer, Andreea, I know it, we just need to convince you of it.' Those were Patrick's words and I so desperately wanted them to be true.

Thanks to Patrick; the incredible tango school Mariposita, of which I am now a proud member of; it's incredible owner, Carolina, a remarkable dancer and teacher; a few days ago that repressed  little dancer came our and performed in her firs tango exhibition.   It was nothing grand, and there were a few mistakes here and there, but it made..... I.....I've been looking at my computer screen for the past half hour trying to find the words describe it, but no words seem to do it justice, so I'll just say it made me incredibly happy, no questions asked, just happy and incredibly grateful.


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