The Other Side of Tango

Somewhere on our way down South, we drop in on another Tango evening. It is amazing how varied Tango events can be… this one is an evening Milonga, connected to a workshop weekend. A huge blow-up Father Christmas greets us at the door and the entrance hall feels a bit like the duty-free zone of an airport: Before you can get to the dance floor, you have to pass a hundred Tango shoes on display, as well as a rack of clothes, and a friendly Argentinian selling imported wines and empanadas. The organiser greets us and talks to us a little while sporting her new Madame Pivot shoes with a series of lapis.

Three guys behind the till try and convince us that the entrance fee is 100 euros. “ Don’t worry, it’s just a joke” – but actually it does sum up the slightly mercenary feel of the event.

We thought we’d missed the performance but no such luck – we are just in time to watch a fireworks display of a choreography, complete with very sultry looks. I look around and wonder how the predominantly beginners level audience is taking it in. What kind of an image of Tango do the organisers want to portray to these newcomers to the dance?

Nevertheless, Frank and I really enjoy a few dances with each other– it’s been a while since we’ve danced together due to Frank’s dodgy back – and I spend some time trying to attract any other people who want to dance. Cabeceo seems unknown, so I go and ask, but it’s not really flowing. Somehow it seems a very selfconscious environment, with chairs and tables around three sides, so you are always being watched by someone, or if not, you see yourself while dancing past the mirror on the fourth side. The music is the best bit of the event, the DJ trying very hard and chosing good music despite often no-one daring to get up and dance the first piece of the tanda.

The bar offers a lemonade-vodka mix or water, and one can help oneself to marshmallows.

After a few hours of dancing and watching, bed in Emma seems a very attractive proposition.

On our way out, the guy on the door asks did you enjoy it? Will you come back for the Festival in June? Well, what can I say, I’m german, so I tell him that for me, one of the most central ingredients of social Tango was missing this evening. In the 2.5 hours that we’d been there, and we obviously were strangers, no-one came up to us to invite us to dance, or maybe even just to say hello, have a conversation. Not even when we rub shoulders with people at the bar. This is something that can be forstered by the organiser, but it is not solely up to the organiser to uphold it, it’s a culture that can develop in a group of people – or not, as the case may be….

While we are talking, a woman who is about to leave stops and listens. We then leave the building together. Outside she says you are so right, it is very difficult here. You are lucky to have each other to dance with. Treasure this while you have it. Close to tears she tells us that her husband died three years ago. They had all these plans of what they were going to do when they retired and then he died of cancer. She then came to Tango and in the first year it was ok, but after that it became more and more difficult and often she doesn’t dance at all. Apparently there is another Tango organisation in the same area but that’s even worse. I wonder what keeps people coming to Tango when it is such a painful experience all round?

We invite her for a cup of tea into our van and we talk a lot about meeting special people in special circumstances, about travelling, and about languages and culture, about regional accents and her parents’ farm in the countryside. Despite her sadness, she has a lot of passion in her and her eyes light up more and more.

Eventually, we say good-bye, promising each other to grab life by the horns even in moments when it’s hard to do so. It is past 3am by the time we climb into bed. It’s been a rich evening, a special meeting with a special woman. Even visiting the Tango event was good – from an organiser’s point of view, it’s always interesting to experience other Tango scenes, no matter what they are like. It’s all educational.

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This is a tiny town in Bretagne that goes absolutely crazy with Christmas lights. We meet up with Hans and Heike, share food and traveller stories and wander into town to see the incredibly involved Christmas decorations, complete with dropping icicle lights, cascades and stars, and some huge nativity scenes that have all sorts of animals in them in addition to the usual ox and donkey. The next morning, we hunt for an internet connection but everything is closed. A young woman takes pity on us and invites us to use the internet at her house. This is how we meet Nick and Sophie, both French but fluent in English. They recently have moved back to France, having bought one of the large, medieval houses of which there are so many in this village, and doing up another for holiday lets. Nick is a physiotherapist, still occasionally working in London, and when he hears of Frank’s back problem, he gives him a treatment there and then. There is so much passion coming across for his profession, for his particular method and for helping people to heal. Nick and Sophie are a young, dynamic couple in the thick of creating their lives, with two delightful school age children floating in and out of the living room at different points. We talk about Tango too, and it captures their imagination, but as often with people busy with smaller children, there seems to be no energy at the end of the day to start something new. However, Nick suggests that next time we pass, he’ll drum up a group of people to have a workshop. Who knows…

In the evening, we drop a glass of Frank’s orange marmalade outside their door – a small gesture of thanks for the treatment and a little note to say good-bye. This truly was one of these special meetings one can have when in travelling mode.

On my way down to the van, I stop by the horse that’s in the field adjoining the one we’re parked in. I try out calling the horse in the way we learned from Charles about two years ago. The horse pricks up her ears and comes clopping over. We stand each side of the fence and commune with each other. After about 30 seconds the horse starts to yawn and yawn (or stretch her mouth in a strange way). I need to find out what that means in horse language, because often when I’m on my own with a horse, they seem to do that. After a few minutes, Frank joins me – the horse instantly stops her stretching exercises.

The nights are frosty and cold now, we use quite a bit of wood to keep our stove going. It’s time we head down south! The next morning, we set off early into a beautiful misty dawn.


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