Sunday, January 9, 2011

Upgrade Ticket: Germany/Buenos Aires/Washington DC

It was an upgrade to go from Frankfurt am Main, Germany to Buenos Aires and then home to Washington D.C.  At first I felt it would be absurd to go so far out of my way. One evening in Buenos Aires? Seemed too far to go for just one evening. But I bought the upgrade anyway.  It was a good price.  The man looked over his glasses as if I were mad to be paying for the ticket.  He wouldn't understand.   He had never experienced tango.  He gave me my change, and I said "danke schön." He looked again and shook his head in disbelief.



Buenos Aires was hot. I went from a cold winter to summer in a snap.  It was a shock but not as much as the shock from culture.  Buenos Aires was busier than cities in the US at night.  People were out.  The faces were different, the clothes more formal.  The dialect of Spanish had my brain working to squeeze out some understanding of the syllables that bounced around in my cerebral word-recognition engine.  I longed to quickly find a milonga, where I could communicate it the language of a walking embrace, a moving expression of the music both my partner and I loved.

During the short transport, I was given a booklet "Milonga Etiquette" to read and sign.

  • As a man, I was to never ask a woman to dance but give her a knowing look and a nod. If she did not look, then I could not nod or dance with her.  (I initialed that paragraph.)
  • I was to take the lady to the dance floor, and return her to her chair.  According to the booklet, the chair would not automatically move itself by means of feminine hands, that would be my job. (I initialed that paragraph.)
  • I was to take the woman out to the floor and catch the eye of the man who is dancing and protecting his partner in the line of dance.  There was a added note:  "Unlike some foreign milongas, the woman will not step out on the dance without looking, pulling you out there too.  She will expect you to fulfill your role." (I initialed with a smile.  This was going to be different.)
  • I was to wear clothes that would honor the woman who had spent money and time to look nice -- no jeans or polo shirts.  (Initialed.)
  • I was to talk about her, finding something to say that would make her hours of preparation for the dance all the more worth it from my notice.  I was not to expect that any other man had done this.  The paragraph of "what to say" said nothing about any mistakes I thought that I might have made or what maneuver I was trying to master.  (I initialed.)
  • "Most importantly" the last paragraph said, "you must hold her as if she were the only woman in the world.  If she is much older, hold her like your mother or aunt.   If you are not at all attracted to her, hold her as if by doing so, you can sense her life story through your arms and chest.  Honor her story.  If you are attracted to her, hold her as if you have loved her for many years and don't want the time to be over."  (I initialed. I knew that the upgrade fare would be well worth the cost.)
  • Last paragraph to be signed:  "Tango is the easiest dance in the world.  You have been told it is one of the most technical.  Walking in an embrace is primal and natural.  Take each step as one more step to her trust that she is being honored.  You need not impress her with all the expensive moves you have learned from theatrical tango teachers.  It took $800 to learn that volcada you have perfected.  Leave that in your suitcase.  You don't really need it here.  If you sense that she is fully with you, and you are embracing her as if she were the only woman in the world, the music will lead you to use the tango 'vocabulary' you have learned."  (I initialed with glee. And signed at the bottom, dating it January 8, 2011.)
The night went by quickly and with absolute delight.  Each of the things I had signed ended up being very important.  The ambiance remains strongly in my mind:  The smiling faces, the women who melted into my arms and made me glad that I was a man, the closeness of the dancers all keeping their own little space, the new movements I had discovered with the guidance of the music and my partners unique way of moving.  Precious moments in Buenos Aires.  It was very much worth the the upgrade from Germany.

When I awoke this morning in Washington D.C., I wished my dream had never ended.  Maybe another "upgrade" tonight?  Will you join me?  I will help you fill out the paperwork.  

I am accustomed to going to Buenos Aires for a night.  That is what a milonga is.

7 comments:

Joy in Motion said...

"The smiling faces, the women who melted into my arms and made me glad that I was a man, the closeness of the dancers all keeping their own little space, the new movements I had discovered with the guidance of the music and my partners unique way of moving... I am accustomed to going to Buenos Aires for a night. That is what a milonga is."

Beautiful poetic words. It is all these small simple things that are the deepest and most meaningful, and that make the dance what it is. Someone recently wrote about tango not being a dance you learn or a skill you acquire but rather something you live through and experience and are changed by. I love it! Thank you for sharing!!

Christine--RHP said...

"Take each step as one more step to her trust that she is being honored."

Big smile.
I am always so amazed at how much 'real stuff' can occur during a tanda. It's like a quick route to deep relating inside a fun and gorgeous container.

smw said...

Hmmm...as a woman the corollaries are similar I think:
- Once you identify the music and your desire to dance to it, actively look for the partner(s) that you would like to dance that tanda with.
- Remain seated and keep eye contact with your partner until he is in front of you.
- Do not step on out on the pista on your own, allow the man to lead there.
- No jeans or t-shirts.
- Feel free in between songs to give your partner genuine compliments or simply smile, no criticism allowed even if asked for.
- Focus entirely on your partner and your connection with your partner and the music.
- Forget about steps, connect with your partner whole heartedly.

jantango said...

I am curious about who compiled the milonga etiquette booklet. Some of what is written is not as it is actually done in the milongas.

Which milonga did you attend and put these rules into practice?

Anonymous said...

:)

Tango Therapist said...

@Jantango and lots of email: Sorry that I was so subtle about this being a dream sequence. I have two children 11 & 17 with whom I spend most of my extra time. I have never been to Buenos Aires -- except in my dreams. It is only in my dreams that caballeros generally take back their tanguera to her chair, including in BsAs. It is only in my dreams that on a flight to BsAs that one has to sign paragraphs that one will act like a caballero. But isn't it great to say: "I have a dream!"? Have a great MLK Jr cumpleaños weekend!

Ana Maria said...

"you must hold her as if she were the only woman in the world. If she is much older, hold her like your mother or aunt. If you are not at all attracted to her, hold her as if by doing so, you can sense her life story through your arms and chest. Honor her story. If you are attracted to her, hold her as if you have loved her for many years and don't want the time to be over."
Very sweet paragraph. Words to learn from.