Posts Tagged ‘tango’


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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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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3 mistakes

I watched the band and the man for a little while and took the time to finish my glass of wine.  Unsurprisingly, the whole excitement from flirting with Mr. Gorgeous combined with a glass of wine produced the interesting effect of bringing me to a happier, more confident and talkative state.  Tina, who also had red hair from a bottle from what I could tell, did not seem to need much encouragement to reach my state. She was confident and approachable as she waved and nodded to everyone around, looking very at home at the milonga, and was ready to pick up our conversation in no time.

— I don’t think I had seen you here before, Gena.

— Right, I am new to London. I used to live in Yorkshire and I just started coming here about a month ago.

— And what were you doing in Yorkshire?

— I was studying for my Ph.D.

— So interesting.

— Thanks.

— Is there any tango in Yorkshire?

— Yes, there is some. We had an instructor from Argentina, Fabian, and there was even a milonga there, but I’ve never been.

— Right. Fabian… I don’t think I know him. Is he good?

— Yes, yes. I mean, I think he was good. I liked him.

— That’s what matters.

— Well, to be honest, I liked him a bit too much to judge anything properly.  We ended up together and that was not very good for me.

— Oh dear, we’ve all been there.

— Thank you. So, yeah, it all went terribly wrong and I stopped dancing and now I am trying to see if I can make tango my own.  It’s hard at times, though, ‘cos I still associate it with him…

— Of course, but you know we have three of them, right?

by Pierre Andrews

— Pardon me?

— Three tango mistakes.

— Oh no, is that right?

— This is what they say…

— And what happens after the third?

— Then I think you’re supposed to know better not to make them any more.

— Fair enough, I said with a laugh.

— I made two mistakes already, and I want to stop there!

— I hope you will, then.

Maximilian, an instructor I knew by name and who seemed to be a regular at the milonga, approached our table and sat opposite us, generating a sequence of head nods.

— Well, and there is my second mistake, Tina continued.

— Him?  I said very quietly.

— Oh yes, just opposite us.

I couldn’t believe it.  How had he just magically appeared as we talked about the mistakes? And, most importantly, I could not even begin to see what was attractive about him.  As if she could understand my puzzlement exactly, Tina continued:

— It is the dance, you know, not the person, that I miss.  There was no love and the sex was not even that good, but the dance… it just tortures me, because I cannot forget it and then I want more of him.

— ‘I understand’. I said without being sure I did. I could see how Fabian could be called a tango mistake but I was never that detached. Of course the dance had had a huge impact in my attraction for him and had cluttered my judgement, but it was never just the dance for me; loving the man was, in effect, my problem.

— And he is now with a young girl, who is starting to dance.  She follows him like a puppy, it’s so embarrassing, and he goes around showing her off.

— Oh, how original of him! The alpha male thing.  Isn’t it infuriating?

— Yes, but I could cope with it if we were still dancing. We haven’t danced since and that makes me feel bad and discarded. I’m telling you, the problem is the dance.

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I went up the few steps that led to the main dance hall, turned right to get through its door and was surprised to see it with the lights on. It looked bigger and more detailed with its stained glass windows, wooden floors and panels and little tables lined next to the walls.  It was the place’s anniversary so they were holding a special party with live music by tango negro and a music workshop before the milonga, instead of the usual dance classes they offered.  I had been there three times already, but only for the milonga, so I usually found the place much louder, darker and magical as it vibrated with music and people.

There were no seats near the door so I had to cross the bright room, where tangueros sat unusually still in a ring of chairs that faced the musicians, who were still checking the sound. I made my way towards an empty chair near the stage, just a few seats away from two young looking guys who talked suspiciously to one another’s ears and did not strike me as particularly friendly. It was, nonetheless, an available seat and a relief to finally rest on ‘my’ chair and wait for the workshop.

by Pierre Andrews

A few moments later the musicians started talking about different tango orchestras, their historical periods, styles and the impact of their way of playing on dancers. They also illustrated what they presented to us by playing some fragments of the music in those different styles, so we could get a feel for the information they were conveying.  That’s how the bandoneonist made me fall for Troilo’s melodic phrasing.  Enraptured by the music, I discovered myself lost in another sensual reverie. Sitting on the farther corner of the stage, near the door to the main dance hall, was a man of striking good looks: tall, with broad shoulders, long brown hair and eyes that, from that distance, looked as though they could be green. Argentinean, I guessed, and so rare to see good-looking man like him at the milonga.

Damn! I was starring at the man and he was looking back at me.  I looked down and away.  How long could it have lasted? I looked back, he was still looking, so I quickly looked away.  I looked back again and there he was looking at me.  Definitely Argentinean. This time I dared to sustain my gaze – if he could do it I could do it.

The milonga’s manager came to talk to him and Mr. Gorgeous went with him to say something to a man who was controlling the sound on this booth I hadn’t even noticed existed upstairs.  There was some coming back and forth with them and the man from the booth and I focused my attention on the bandoneon again.  The workshop had to be over soon, it was past half nine and the milonga was supposed to start at nine, so the manager was anxiously speeding things up. We were still supposed to go through some exercises. ‘What is this song’s tempo?’, 4/4, some of us said, but most were quiet.  ‘What orchestra would that be?’, ‘Di Sarli’… The gorgeous man walked felinely back towards the stage, holding his gaze at me a good for part of his trajectory.   I felt acid burns up and down my stomach and blushed as if everyone could see exactly what was going on inside me.

It was time for the band to stop so the musicians and some of the staff went to the back of the room as the manager took over the stage and announced their anniversary milonga was about to start.  Electronic music came through the speakers and the chairs that formed the ring were pushed back to the tables near the walls, clearing up the dance floor.  I pushed my chair just slightly back and sat comfortably by a table on the corner waiting for the milonga to start when the older man sitting next to me approached me:

–       Would you like to dance?

–       Thanks, but I am not good enough to open the dance floor with the lights on and all.

–       Okay.

–       But maybe later?

–       Sure.

I noticed there were quite a few ladies in colourful dresses standing by the dance floor near the bar, waiting for an invitation, but the man did not make his way towards them. Neither did a rather eccentric guy I had danced with once before and who ended up crossing the room to ask me for a dance.  He extended his hand to me, but I remained on my seat.

–       Sorry, but I have just told him I don’t want to open the dance floor with all the lights on, and cannot dance with you now for the same reason.

–       Oh.

He looked so insulted that I ended up feeling offended myself. The nerve! It was as if I had the duty to respond on demand and dance with him. I had always been nice and grateful for all the dancers who asked me, I just needed some time!

–       There are so many good dancers clearly waiting to be asked, why don’t you ask one of them?

He left and not once again asked me to dance with him, which was noticeable but not regrettable.  Ian, the man I had promised I would dance with when I was ready, smiled at me reassuringly and I felt I had done the right thing.

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