Shelly is a Canadian woman living here in Buenos Aires on sabbatical. She came here first on vacation. After 2 weeks, she went back to Canada. A month later she asked her company for a year off.
She has been here about 8 months. She told me for the first time she has a real social life. Not for what passes as a social life in the U.S. and apparently Canada. Here you don't make an appointment a month in advance to have dinner with a friend. After 8 months of living here she decided to really learn how to dance tango. Enough to where she felt comfortable dancing in the milongas.
We met at a party in Pilar. Our mutual friend Victoria had rented a house and invited her many friends to share a beautiful summer day by the pool. Of the 20 or so people there were only a few of us who were not Argentine.
My Argentine friends always surprise me when they introduce me. They don't say here is Deby she teaches English, they always introduce me as "ella es una bailarina de tango." When the others have an amused expression on their face like where is my rose, my friends always preface that I dance really well.
This usually elicits one or two responses. Some decide they are going to quiz this American woman who says she dances tango and prove that she is a fraud. I mean an American dancing tango? Yeah, right. I always find this highly amusing because these are people who do not know or dance tango. But, as we say, bien.
They ask me who do I like to dance to. They hope I say some tango electronica group so they can attack me. I always answer with DiSarli, or Tunturri, at times Canaro. They wrack their brains for names their grandparents or parents may have mentioned. "Pugliese?" Yes, I tell them, but not in the milonga. "Piazolla?" Not to dance to, but to listen. They always nod their heads as if they know. Sometimes I feel like making up names to see what they do. Ohhhh I just love to dance to Scarlapegia...but I don't do this. I just think it.
Where did I learn to dance is another one. Here or there... I answer I had classes in both. The reality is I had very few classes. The men at Lo de Celia, especially Pocho, my friend Jorge Nassel, and yes Roberto, are the ones who helped me to dance. Pocho my 80 year old man at Lo de Celia always disagrees. He feels I always knew to dance tango, it was in my soul. Whatever.
The others are always interested in an American who dances tango. They want to know why. Usually they do not like tango, but respect it as a cultural icon. It was during this conversation that Shelly mentioned that she wanted to learn to dance. She told me she had had a few lessons in Canada, but when she came here the first time, she found that what she learned in Canada was not what they danced here. Not even close.
She took some group lessons, but was disenchanted. She was looking for someone to take private lessons with. Since Fernando and I do not give group lessons, she asked if she could come to see me dance. I invited her to come to Celia's with me on a Sunday.
I told her that I do not dance show tango. I dance Salon Tango. For me there are only 3 steps - the caminata (walk), the giro, (turns) and the ocho. (Sort of a turn kind of sort of) I told her these 3 steps combined with posture, axis, become 40 different movements. "In Salon Tango," I told her, "We feel the passion in our bodies from the music. The beauty is to be able to transmit it to our partners. To be able to translate the music the same. This is pure passion. Not 50 million steps, and kicks, and twists, done as fast as possible."
We meet on Sunday to go to Celia's. Shelly tells me she is glad that Fernando and I don't teach complicated tango. I tell her that it is not that we don't teach it, it is not tango. That is tango for shows not tango to dance. We enter Celia's. The place is packed.
I explain to her that this is more of a barrio milonga. Most of the people who come to this milonga live in this barrio. There are almost no foreigners here and almost no one under the age of 50. I tell her about Pocho and also about this other man I die to dance with. Pocho is 80 and the other man must be close to it as well.
We take our seats. It is the middle of a tanda. I see Pocho going back to his table. He sees me. He tries to act cool. Men! I smile at him. They play DiSarli. Pocho invites me to dance. I knew he would. I float into his arms. He dances Villa Urquiza. This is a style where the man does many giros. The woman if she has her axis will look elegant and graceful as she moves through the turns. If not, she looks, clumsy. If the man does not know how to turn leading with his chest and pushes the woman through the turns with his hands, they look terrible. Pocho is the only man I will dance this way with. OK, I lied. I would dance it with Roberto. Or Dany.
When I come back to the table Shelly is very animated. "I want classes with you." she says. "You look so elegant." I laugh. She tells me she hopes that one day she could dance with Pocho. I tell her all I have to do is ask him. She tells me no, it will be a long time before she can dance with him.
I tell her that he dances with women he doesn't like to dance with all the time. I tell her the first time I danced with him I got dizzy. I imagine that first time for him must have been pretty bad. I am not sure why he bothered a second, third,time. He told me it was because I understood the music and it was only a matter of time before I learned what to do with it.
She doesn't believe me. We make a date for her to come to a lesson with Fernando and me. She is excited. "Finally" she says to me, "I am going to learn how to dance tango."