Archive for May, 2010


Coffee with Olivier was the first thing scheduled for Saturday morning.

I met Olivier at tango.  He was doing a Ph.D. in Fabian’s department and was coaxed into taking tango classes when his girlfriend Claudia took an interest in joining along.  I had met Fabian at salsa.  Bruno, a Brazilian guy I had seen in a carnival party, was with him and we bonded as the Latin Americans.  One night, I made a negative remark about the class and, when Bruno started calling me “the critic” as we walked to our homes after the class, Fabian told me he hoped I wouldn’t join his group.  So I did.

When I joined in, Fabian’s tango group was already together for 4 months and Olivier and his girlfriend were among the loyal regulars who had been there from the start.  Most of the group took their seniority very seriously, as a right to attention, and treated us new dancers with suspicion and distance.  Girls were especially adverse to newcomers, which was understandable as we always exceeded guys in numbers and waiting for a turn to dance in class was a boring reality.  Guys were much warmer, but Olivier was by far the nicest man in the group.  He and I were compatible in height for dancing so we often paired up for the second warm up dance (after he had danced with Claudia) and managed to laugh at our mistakes or at childishly obstructing other dancers.  We did not disrupt the classes; we just liked to break the seriousness of the day when we started.  We danced for fun and that was all we had in common at first.

It was Fabian who brought us closer.  When Fabian and I started going out, we were a secret.  He was the instructor and he did not want to be seen in a relationship in the same measure he probably did not want to be in one.  But he wasn’t always consistent about hiding our proximity and he started praising my work to some of his friends and then asked me to help Olivier with my knowledge on language and social interaction.  Pretty soon, Olivier was my best friend in the hostile tango group.  We started with academic topics, but soon abandoned them in favour of more personal subjects.  It wasn’t planned, but I somehow asked the right questions and he ended up disclosing more than I expected.  I learned his love life was crumbling down and when he figured my own was on the ropes, he was the one checking if I was ok.  We were a big tango cliché, suffering because our pathetic love lives, but our own personal tango consolidated our friendship.

"Friends... in despair!" by Pierre Andrews

Coffee with Olivier was, hence, top priority.  I went to his flat and found him with an out of bed look.  Not the big sexy hair depicted on women’s magazines, it was puffy eyes and creased cheeks and T-shirt.

“Have I woken you up?”

“No, I was already up, grinding some coffee for us.”

“Smells good actually.”

“Vietnamese. My mum brought some last time she came visiting.  I really love your hair red, Gena. You should keep it like this.”

“ You know I find it too rock’n’roll, but thanks Olli”

“Yes, it’s wilder, but good. You should keep it red.”

As he went on with the coffee making, I told him about life in London, the milonga and Marcos.

“I did not really pay much attention to him when I we met.” I said well aware I was leaving a Mr. Gorgeous-shaped gap on my telling,  “But when I was about to leave the milonga, he came after me and he was so sweet, saying we should go to this class together.”

“Oh, cool!”

“And then on the next night, I met him on a bus in London!”


“Yes, in a city as big as London I met Marcos by chance on a night bus.”

“So, what happened then?”

“Not much really. I went to the class but he didn’t. I don’t know if I mistook the day or if something happened and then I came here, so he might have been to the milonga yesterday, but I wasn’t there so…”

“No, but you can see him another time, right?”

“Yes, sure. But I am blabbing. Tell me about you.”

“Well you know.”

“What? You won’t make me ask all sorts of questions to get you talking will you?”

“But this is what we do!”

“Olivier, this is nonsense. We’re past that. Six months past that! You cannot tell me, oh yes I would really love to talk to you and then force me to interrogate you when we finally see one another.”

“It’s just awkward like this Gena. I need you to take it out of me.”

“No, it is awkward that we have to get back to zero when we start a new conversation! Go on.”

“I don’t know.”

“What did she do to you?”

“She didn’t do anything. I don’t like when you make her sound mean, ok?  But, yeah, he paused for a deep sigh,  “she took a job in France and she moved out last week. So, it’s all over and finalised for us.”

“I am so sorry, sweetie.”

“It’s ok, I knew this was supposed to happen. We were just waiting for it.”

“I know, but you’re staying here and it must be hard to still feel her all around.”

“Well, it was harder when I thought she loved me and she told me she could not see us building a future together. But since that, we’ve sort of been waiting for us to find our ways apart.”

“But it’s never easy, though is it?” I put my hands on his arm. “To see the future we don’t want materialised in front of us.”

“No, but what can I do?”

“If I knew the answer I’d write a book and become a millionaire.”  I answered even though I knew it was rhetoric.

He wasn’t perking up; so distracting him from the girl seemed like a better idea.

“I’m supposed to have coffee with Fabian soon.”

“Oh ho!  Are you ok with that?”

“Well, yes, I mean, we got closer after the binding hoo-hah, so I sort of owe him a proper thank you.”

“Oh shit, Gena, so sorry I couldn’t help with it. If I knew that was why you were calling, I would have done it for you”

“It’s ok. I know that. And that’s why you were the first person I called, but you were taking Claudia to the train station, I mean, you had enough on your plate”, and there we were back to the last goodbye scene, his eyes getting teary.

“Yes, but I didn’t know you’d have to call him to sort it for you just because I couldn’t talk then. I thought you were calling for a chat.  I wish I had been there for you.”

“It’s ok really. It brought us closer again and it’s been good. We hadn’t managed to patch it up after the break up, and it’s better now.”

“But you cried so hard when I called you later.”

“Well, it was hard to call him, but you were not in much better shape.”

“I know, but my goodbye was predictable and scheduled, whereas you having to call Fabian was unexpected.”

“Yes, but you know what’, my eyes were brimming over by then, “It was kind of dignifying to know I could trust him to be there for me, you know?  That I wasn’t just stupid to like him or suffer so much, there was something there and it made it better to know he dropped what he was doing, printed my stuff, left the office and went straight to the binders for me.” I took a pack of tissues from my handbag and put it on the table so we could help ourselves to it. I needed plenty of them.


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Coffee overload

Early morning on Friday and I was back on the train heading north in the company of a big cup of coffee. I turned my computer on to practice my talk for the day conference that was taking me back to the city and department I had left three weeks earlier with a Ph.D. title and freshly done mahogany hair. My first talk as a doctor. The same place, the same crowd, but this time I was an invited external presenter.

— “All tickets please.”

This isn't a teacup

"This isn't a teacup", by Pierre Andrews

I got my ticket ready for inspection and looked at the “open return” saying on it. The openness that allowed me to stay for the weekend in the city where most my friends lived also let me return to London after the conference to enjoy Friday night. Milonga night and my last one in the UK before flying to Brazil for Christmas.

— “Thank you love”, said the ticket man, and I put the ticket away on my bag.

Would Marcos try to find me at the milonga? Had he even tried one of Javier and Alexa’s classes? My talk practice wasn’t taking me anywhere and it wasn’t even needed. I knew what to say – I had spend the last two nights practicing the talk and asking myself the same questions. Should I have tried Wednesday class anyway? Not if I wanted to have a talk to present, I knew that answer. It was silly to even contemplate returning to London just for the milonga and the hope of seeing Marcos, I’d have plenty of time for London and milongas in the future and I had the perfect chance to enjoy my friends for the weekend.

My friends and Fabian. My stomach just didn’t accept any more coffee – I should learn to buy small cups when traveling. I picked the phone and checked the time display – 8:52 – so I decided against calling Kate. I had the same coffee overload and nausea when I last saw him, as he joined the doctorate celebrations expecting VIP treatment as if he had earned that title as well. I had also ran for Kate afterwards, the mahogany dye with me, and we had a go at transforming me into a new woman, doctor rock´n´roll, Kate said. Luck had it that doctor clown also wanted the post and got it. Less than a week later I messed up with the final submission I had to send to the binder for the hardcover copies the University requested. Doctor clown it was and it was Fabian who came to the rescue. It was my turn to replace aggressively defensive with grateful and that’s why we were supposed to have another go at meeting for coffee this time. I binned my coffee and tried to rest for the rest of the journey.

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I was completely unguarded for it.  I did not even think it was possible to feel such a thing when I first experienced what I later learned to call a tango connection.  It wasn’t  part of my vocabulary and I did not have a concept for it, so I could not clearly express it afterwards, nor could I trace the steps that had created it to reproduce it. It happened and it took me straight to my first mistake, but did not lend itself well for a meticulous investigation, so I’ve remained unaware of its precise origin since.

Javier’s point about me following his breath got me thinking about it.  The word connection had never satisfied me completely. It didn’t describe the experience.  I remember saying I had felt some energy back then, an intense, engulfing energy that bonded me to Fabian as we danced.  But breathing always came to my mind.  Not that breathing made any sense as an explanation either, but to me it was like being aware of my own breathing for the first time, an enhanced perception of something that was already there before my nose.  Breathing a man.

by Pierre Andrews

My learner’s anxiety to know what would come next disappeared in a momentary unit with the man who led me to the music.  I felt the music vibrating in me and grew with it to take him in too.  Music, movement and the man had all been there, but somehow they became bigger than their individual contribution to the moment as the connection hit me, and, as they took me over, I was inhaling them all, taking them inside me.

With my eyes closed, I moved in perfect synchrony with Fabian, in a high from surrendering willingly to his secure lead.  At home in his tight embrace, I anchored myself in a pleasant and sensual moment.  Heavy, warm and dense, I tuned myself into my breath and experienced breathing Fabian in.  Him and the music, the tango, had engulfed me and I moved with them without even feeling the ground beneath me.  It did not bring me peace.  Sexual tension and intoxication were part of this high and they remained present.  The connection was accompanied by a strange subsequent hangover: the feeling of being revealed, caught naked, as the music stopped; the craving for more of it; the fresh disquiet I got from being around Fabian.

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I was 40 minutes early for the class, waiting impatiently at the gym where it was held and playing with possible scenarios involving my impending interaction with Marcos, neither of which included a word about having got there early or having rehearsed what to say.

When the smiley instructors arrived and greeted the students, Alexa – more inclined to dealing with the public than the quiet Javier, I gathered – noticed my new face, came over to introduce herself to me and gave me a form to fill out.

— ‘Did someone recommend us to you?’, she asked.

— ‘Yes, Marcos.’

— ‘Marcos?’

— ‘An Argentinean guy?’, I tried to supply more information.

Her eyes turned up but she remained silent, no sign of recognition – blank.

— ‘Tall, young?’, I tried again.


— ‘I don’t think I know him.’

by Pierre Andrews

— ‘Well, he said he’d come- he’s probably coming tonight anyway.’

They took us to a room upstairs and the class started without Marcos.  It moved fast from the warm up: we practiced adornos that got gradually more complex as we did our first walks around the room.  When the warm up was over, the class was shown a sequence of steps and us ladies were told we should improvise with the adornos as the guys led us.  I wasn’t comfortable doing them on my own, so I wasn’t looking forward to adding the embellishments to the movement. As there were more ladies than leaders, I stepped back and waited for the next round to start.  It wasn’t waiting exactly.  Alexa came to train the adornos with me and another lady in front of the mirror.  She was sweet and thorough as she demonstrated the movements and corrected our posture but what looked light and graceful on her did not translate as well on my body. I felt as if I walked with orthopedic shoes while others floated on clouds and everyone had noticed it by then.

Javier extended his hand to me, so I joined him to go through the steps. It was me, then, who went blank when a response was relevant and then had to speed the move up overcompensating for my hesitation. ‘Damn it, I can’t believe I came all the way here to make a fool of myself and Marcos hasn’t even shown up!’

—- ‘Sorry.’, I said awkwardly.

—- ‘It’s ok. Uhh let’s try again’, he stopped and looked at Alexa’s direction.  She was helping a girl so he continued in Spanish as he demonstrated the move to me ‘try to bring your attention to your body’.

—- ‘It’s ok, I understand.’, I replied in Spanish.

His face lit up.  He cracked on showing me the muscles I should be engaging, how I should feel it on my thighs and the difference from performing it mindfully, engaging my whole body in the movement.  Javier was evidently a trained dancer, not only tango, but classical, contemporary… and he was very serious about it.  He gave me precise instructions and brought my focus back on my body, the music and the classroom as he challenged me to respond to his body.  I was finally there and the happiness of getting things right and dancing soon caught up with me.

—- ‘Breathe with me.’

—- ‘I am sorry?’

—- ‘Breathe with me.’

I did not understand it immediately and my face surely showed it.

—- ‘Follow my breathing. Feel when I am inhaling and when I release it.  Breathe when I breathe.’

I tried again, but something stopped me. Javier had earned my full respect as an instructor but he intimidated me and following his breath  – as well as his instructions and his body – felt too close. Fabian and the memory of how we connected dancing came to my mind, making my breath short and shallow, as  it followed its own chaotic pattern which did not resemble Javier’s at all. The body was ok, though, so he let me off that time.

—- ‘Was everything ok?’, Alexa asked me when the class finished.

—- ‘Yes, thank you. Maybe a bit advanced for me, though.’

—- ‘No, no. Intermediate is the right level. It’s just a matter of getting used to the class really.’

—- ‘Good then, thanks. I really liked it.’

—- ‘Great.’

Marcos never turned up, leaving me puzzled and disappointed.  All the adrenaline, the waiting in vain. Again!  Okay, the forró was long shot, but this class was his idea and we had agreed on it!  Had I got the wrong night?  Maybe he had forgotten or had had a problem? Oh, more waiting!  ‘Aries and impatient’, he had rightly said, so why wasn’t he there?

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Tango flyers

I rescued my work bag from the bottom of a pile of clothes that had somehow grown on top of it. ‘Impressive, Gena, Monday morning and chaos beats Saturday tidying up 1-nill!’ I took the tango flyers out from the bag’s side pocket and picked up the flyer for the class Marcos had suggested. It was the biggest and most produced among the three: the front displayed a picture of Alexa & Javier showing beautiful dance lines and rehearsed passionate looks, while the

Sculpture by Carlos Kuziw

back had a table with class times and addresses. Monday, improvers; Tuesday, intermediates; Wednesday, beginners; Thursday, intermediates/advanced; Saturday, all levels.

‘Okay, Tuesday, intermediates!’  I checked the details, Holborn 8:30 PM, and had a quick look at the other studio’s flyer, the one that Tina had given to me.  They had classes from Monday to Thursdays as well, but Marcos’ flyer was like a trump card, it just beat the other one.

‘But wasn’t it supposed to be Wednesday?’  I tried to replay the goodbye scene with Marcos at the milonga.  ‘What was the day he suggested?’  I checked the flyer again before setting off to work: ‘Wednesday, beginners.  It couldn’t be Wednesday, it had to be Tuesday.  Yes, Tuesday, intermediates.  He must have said Tuesday; we would not be going to a beginner’s class.’

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The Forró Night

“We’ll be 31 for one day.” Bumping into Marcos on the N55 not only saved my night but also caused me to reinterpret his sentence (from Friday’s milonga) to indicate Marcos and I were meant to become ‘we’. That ‘we’ couples use to represent themselves as part of the institution of the paired up. A simple factual conclusion connected to our dates of birth, was somehow transformed into a prediction of us being together. On my romantic mind, that was. Tra-la-la-la.

The faint chance of him showing up at Arpoador was also enough to make me change tops 3 times before deciding on what would go well with the forró’s casual environment and suit me best. I put on my favourite pair of jeans and settled for a comfortable but flattering blue scoop top. Heels were out of question for a forró and I was quite happy about that, ballet flats were cute and would allow me to commute easily and dance comfortably the whole night.

"Caruaru, São João 2005 - Trio forró" by Allan Patrick

I arrived early to Arpoador to avoid the queue, left my handbag and coat in the cloakroom and went upstairs to the bar. I got myself a lovely passion fruit caipirinha to get in the Brazilian mood while I waited for Eduardo and Laura, but I never finished it. Soon after I left the bar towards the dance ring to watch the dancers, a tall man approached me and I parted with the passion fruit. He was Portuguese and a passable dancer, but much better than my next two partners: sleazy guys who couldn’t dance and sort of mistook the whole thing for pressing their bodies against mine.

“Less competitive than salsa and less pedantic than tango” people said. With that kind of clientele in view, the forró’s once endearing simplicity and inclusiveness – often backed up by the supposed, but apparently mistaken, origin of the word as deriving from ‘for all’ – didn’t seem quite a good idea. In almost two months of Friday milonga I had only encountered one pervert; it was clear to me that tango’s ‘pedantic’ image was doing regular dancers a favour in filtering the crowd and scaring off the freaks and pervs. I kept looking at the door, trying to find Marcos, Pedro, Laura and Eduardo. As I saw the latter coming into the room, I abandoned my second disastrous partner claiming I needed to talk to my friends:

— ‘Thank God you came, I got an excuse to run away from the perv.’

— ‘Already?’, Laura asked.

— ‘Um hum.’

— ‘That’s why we haven’t come as often, those types started coming after the success of the carnival parties. You must avoid them, Gena.’, Eduardo said protectively.

— ‘They are a pain! They don’t understand the dancing culture, so they try to hump you or just stare at your boobs while they barely move.’, continued Laura.

— ‘Freaks! I thought people came here for a dance.’

Laura’s friend Fabiano arrived and came to talk to us.

— ‘Dance with her’, Laura pretty much ordered him, ‘she just danced with clueless gringos so far.’

— ‘My pleasure.’ Fabiano said as he did the inviting opening and got me into his arms.

We danced a fast baião with little jumps and all and I was happy again. He was an awesome dancer and he seemed to take Laura’s orders seriously, so it turned out to be a great night for me as he was often inviting me for more dances, from the energetic quick ones to my favourite slow and sensual xotes.

Marcos did not turn up. I would have liked him too and I would not have minded the slightest if he was not that interested in the dance. I quit looking at the door and decided to leave just before midnight. Eduardo and Laura insisted on walking me to the bus stop before leaving to the tube. As we walked, the N55 went by us and a weird sense of alertness took me over. Every red bus in that city had the potential of bringing me a smile and open arms. London transport had also been altered for me.

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My bus was already approaching South Kensington when Laura called:

— Okay, what’s going on between you and this Marcos guy, Gena?

— Crazy, huh, to bump into him like that! Isn’t he super cute?

— Totally! And…

— And nothing. Ok? I just met him at tango yesterday and he seems to be nice and, well, interesting.

— You should go for it. He is lovely and very good looking too.

— Yes, yeah, he is.

— But young, right? He looks 19!

— I know!’, I said laughing, ‘Mind you, I even told him he looked 23, but apparently he is 30’.

— Well, sweetie, I don’t think I’d buy that, but he surely was all over you.

— Yeah, I thought he might be interested too.

— Whatever with ‘might be interested’; he most definitely wants to shag you. Anyway, I invited them to join us for the forró tomorrow night.’

— You did?

— Of course, and they said they’re coming.

— They’re coming? Hold on, what did you say exactly?

— I said we were going to Arpoador tomorrow and it would be cool if they could join, or something, and they said they’d come.

— Do they know where it is?

— They didn’t say but, yeah, it might be better if you send the guy a text with the right address.

— Well, I don’t- do you have his number?

— No. Don’t you?

— No.

— Jesus, Gena! How come you don’t have his number?

— I told you, I just met him yesterday.

— Does he have your number?

— No.

— Ugh! If I knew it I would have got his number. I was sure you had it!

— Never mind. Thanks for inviting them anyway.

—They can always look it up.

The image of Eduardo’s friend Leopoldo saying ‘Elcuador’ every time he tried to refer to the Brazilian club made me wonder if two tipsy guys would manage to remember and spell ‘Arpoador’ on the following day, if they even bothered trying, that was.

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