Marvelous Night for a Moondance

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Tango Embrace

So there I was—a more-or-less intermediate level tango dancer, with all the bravura that a lifetime of other dance techniques has given me, which means the tendency to show off when I don’t know what I’m doing. I was in a very popular class of what is conveniently called “tango nuevo.” signifying that everyone is young and experimental and in this case, pretty good. We were learning some complicated steps and finding new possibilities with each different partner and I was trying to hold my own along with everybody else.

After the teachers demonstrated the next sequence, I looked around for my next partner. I felt someone standing next to me, waiting for me to turn and catch his eye. Dirty nails, fraying socks, greasy hair, and bad teeth—there he was, my next potential partner, shooting me a charming, inviting, cocky smile. With a confidence completely unfitting to his appearance, this scruffy mix of pirate and street urchin grabbed me and we took off. The less than satisfying olfactory experience was daunting. Was it a combination of motorcycle grease and meat empanadas, or some other exotic mixture that defied speculation? I figured it was just a dance or two and then I’d be on to someone more hygienic.

We danced. His lead was unleashed, untamed, and exciting, which fit right in with my own wild nature. In minutes we created a force field that was dizzying. We didn’t separate until the end of the class. When I close my eyes it was everything I had always expected tango to be… feeling totally lost in an embrace, lost in the music, and resonating with the liberation and ecstasy that comes with the surrender to both.

At home that night, I kept wondering why my luck was such that I’d found a potential tango partner so unpolished, so raw, so funky. I wanted someone subtle, sexy, handsome, clean; someone who would make me feel like the act of the dance was the act of making love; someone tall, dark, with deep soulful eyes, beautiful strong hands to embrace me, a mouth for kissing, and the requisite unstained clothes. I was determined to find this someone with the chemistry I needed for my reality, and this was certainly not that guy.

Three classes later, Tino and I were still were dancing together. He’d wait to drive me home on his dented, rusty, half painted 1997 Honda while I took my time changing shoes and socializing with friends. I was testing him, hoping he’d get annoyed enough to change his mind so I could be free to find my dream match.

There was going to be a seminar that I couldn’t take alone. I knew Tino had no money and I said: if you want to dance, and if you want to dance with me, you’ll find a way. I was really trying to be a bitch so he’d ditch me and I’d have an excuse to find someone else. He found the money instead and we began to make a friendship, practicing after classes in a little studio downtown. I looked forward to being enveloped by him, this earthiness that added to the raw creativity we generated as we danced.

Then, one day Tino asked if I’d like to dance with him at a party way out in the suburbs, beyond where he lived. I could meet him at the train station in his home town with the unlikely name of Morón and he’d pick me up on his motorcycle. The seduction of an adventure called…how could I say no?

It was to be an outdoor party, so I dressed casually in jeans, a leather jacket, and my old black Spanish cracked-leather boots. I met him and we took off on his bike into the night, into the wind. There was no helmet, and I let the mascara run down my cheeks as my hair flew wild. On and on and on we drove, through the empty countryside, past open fields of pampas, small towns with golden lights burning in living rooms as couples drank a last glass of wine before bed, past a lonely kiosk out in the middle of nowhere, past towns with tiny markers: Ituzaingo, Merlo, Paso del Rey. I was way beyond my Buenos Aires circle of comfort, with a relative stranger on a sputtering motorcycle that with all its ferocity, could break down at any moment, stranding me on the edge of nowhere.

It was well after midnight when we spotted fires up ahead. We turned onto a small road in front of a church where the celebration was being held to commemorate the newly erected spire. There were glowing coals and jumping flames, barbecues with what seemed like hundreds of people eating, drinking, and dancing around them. And everyone, from four-year-olds to the grandmothers, was dancing the beautiful Argentine folk dances, “Chacarrera” and “Samba.”

We skidded onto a gravel path and parked the bike. The hugging and kissing that so marks Argentine culture commenced and my guy had about a million friends. All of them gave me equal treatment, which was gracious, open and loving. I stood there in wonder as families, couples, teenagers, communed in this starlit, moonlit, timeless night.

We strode over to help ourselves to choripans, succulent sausage grilled over the coals, dripping with fat and flavor that saturated a chunk of bread, making a mere sandwich into a feast. Tino was on a serious budget and treating our journey as a date, he splurged and bought us a carton of cheap red wine that tasted better than any vintage label. We sat on the ground devouring our midnight picnic as if it was manna from heaven.

The atmosphere was redolent with the smoking fires, sweat from dancing and drinking, and the crisp country air. I was in awe of the freedom and simplicity of this delicious setting as I sat with choripan juice dripping down my chin. I felt at home, welcomed and unafraid. There I was, the only blond in the crowd of country folk where no one seemed to notice or care that I might be from an entirely different place, let alone, perhaps another planet. We were all just human beings drinking in the sensuality of being together in this magical night where no judgments were made. Here was a setting that authenticated my existential philosophy of living in the moment. For me, it was a kind of liberation that comes with feeling anonymous in a world where the only important thing is living life to its fullest.

And then my former perfectionist, New York world knocked at the door of my momentary transport into bliss. “You are going on in 15 minutes,” a woman said…and at once I understand what my friend meant when he asked if I would dance with him at the party. He didn’t mean hang out and dance…he had actually arranged for us to perform! In one heinous reversion to my strict professional self, I recoiled into a place where flexibility became impossible. I was furious. “What are you thinking? We’ve only just begun to practice! We’re amateurs! I don’t know the music!” I went on and on.

Tino looked at me calmly and smiled and said, “I only wanted to give my friends a gift … they don’t expect much, but they know I’ve been taking classes. I thought it would be fun, but if you feel uncomfortable, its okay, we won’t dance.”

He was way too kind and understanding and open and calm and in the moment and this made me even angrier. I hadn’t worked all my life to become a professional dancer to have some pipsqueak from Morón remind me not to take myself so seriously!

It was ugly … me, that is. I sat down while Tino went to tell the organizers we weren’t dancing. I took a breath and looked around. Here I was in this generous, loving place acting like the Diva I’m not. Why was I here in Argentina anyway? What exactly is my definition of adventure if not to grab the moment as it comes? And what is more beautiful than being in the moment, something I always preach and found myself absolutely not doing? What the hell is perfection and why is it so important? I took off my leather jacket and ran to tell Tino I’d changed my mind.

It turned out that we were the featured dancers of the night.

By now the crowd had grown to even greater dimensions. Stoked with good spirits, they were open, receptive, and expectant. There was total silence as our names, with great gravity, were announced. Slowly we walked to the dirt stage. The crowd sat on wooden bleachers slightly above us, and became silent as we made our entrance. In my mind I thought for a moment of my stiletto-sexy ‘Comme Il Faut’ super fashion tango shoes, my rack of gorgeous high-slit dresses hanging in my closet, my fishnet stockings and the drop earrings that sparkled just so beneath the low lights of the milongas.

All that shopping and here I was in tight, dirty jeans, a tank top, hair untamed, and Tino, worse, of course! But none of that stuff mattered, I realized, and in a way it was so much better… the way we looked gave our dancing an urgency and spontaneity. And besides, no one cared.

We took in the audience with gravity. We took in each other with the depth of clandestine lovers. The music began. It was a tango I’d never heard.

And so we danced. We danced in a dream where I was aware only of the universe we were creating, just us two… me whirling in a containing, protective embrace, the dust flying up from our boots. We danced as if we were making love for the first time, as lovers who knew no other reality, lovers who were only present for this moment. And in one split second flash, I suddenly realized that here I was, a New Yorker dancing in the middle of nowhere on the other side of the equator, in the deep romantic night, far away from home with a virtual stranger who, in this three minute dance, was my lover, deeper and more rarified than any I’d ever had in my life. And I realized that this, this, was tango and that all the adornment in the world would never make the dance more sacred or more valid.

The rotation of the earth stopped when the music ended. We made our bows with drama and flourish, and then turned to each other with a mutual blush that turned into an embrace that seemed to last forever. We walked off the dirt stage hand in hand, to thunderous applause. I was shaking from head to toe from ecstatic aftershock. At once I looked round for Tino, whose hand had slipped out of mine.

I found myself alone, blindly fielding congratulatory embraces and kisses from hopeful lovers to be. At once I heard the gunning of the bike. Tino handed me my jacket. I reached in my pocket to put on my long-forgotten sunglasses, jumped up behind my guy, and like cool lightening, we evaporated into the beckoning moonlight.

–Michele Kadison is a writer, Jazz Dance teacher, choreographer, and director living in Buenos Aires, Argentina.


Inger on May 12, 08

thanks for this article, I really enjoyed it!

Anita on May 17, 08

I could feel and smell the evening. It was great! Thanks for sharing.

Jacqueline on July 22, 08

Great article…..!
Michelle, do you have your website?
Would like to read more!

Best Regards,

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