As I walked into the dark bar in central Ushuaia a stout man with fluffy black hair forming a perimeter around his shining bald dome greeted me with his eyes as if he knew me. With confidence he walked up and saluted me the handshake and kiss on the check that is formal here in Argentina.
“Are you here to learn tango?” He asked me as if the answer was predetermined.
“No, I am here to meet some friends,” I replied in fear of having to learn anything at all. “I’m on a permanent vacation in hopes of learning as little as possible,” I thought to myself.
“Well, you are here now, so you might as well learn. I will teach you!”
Without further warning he grasped the concave region opposite my elbows and whisked me away on the dance floor as my face glowed an embarrassment coloured red. He said to me in a stern voice, “just walk! Walk as to the rhythm of the music playing on the loud speaker.”
I couldn’t help but wonder where my night was going, if this is how it has begun. After a couple of awkward minutes of “walking to the music” he looked at me with stern eyes and said to me “yes, you are ready.”
“Ready for what?”
I worried quickly to myself that somehow without knowing I had accidently entered an amateur Argentine tango competition and my embracement was about to paint itself purple.
The man, who I later discovered to be named Aldo snapped his fingers in urgency and hailed a name of which I cannot remember. And as if responding to a command a tall thin girl popped from a nearby table and gracefully waltzed to the dance floor. Without hesitation she grasped my hand and pulled herself as close to me as possible.
“In the tango,” she lectured me in Spanish, “we bond at a different level. We feel each other’s movements from our connection at the chest, hands, but mostly the connection that takes place here” as she tapped on the external shell protecting my heart.
As we began to make the walk around the dance floor, I wondered if my luck had begun to turn for the better. Only to realize in a matter of a couple of moments that I had no idea what I was doing. I’ve never really even seen someone dance the Argentine tango before, let alone danced it myself. In my head I sauntered across the cement floor in grace as she gazed sensually into my eyes with a thorned rose pressed between her teeth and Marilyn Monroe coloured red lipstick. In reality, however, my feet seemed to weigh of thirty pounds each and at times I wondered if they were somehow attached to the floor.
“Thank you,” I excused myself, “but I need to watch from the side for a little bit so that I can see what it is I’m supposed to be doing.”
I sat down with my Argentinean friends who looked at me with their faces obviously holding back giggles, although they would be far too polite to admit it.
I hadn’t prepared myself to be learning the Argentine tango; I had no idea going into the night that I would be so deeply trapped in such an intricate part of the Argentine cultural fabric. I watched the dancers circle the floor this time in curiosity. On the dance floor partners of all ages join hands and dance as if they are a mirror to the other’s actions. The feet are the main focus for viewers. It seems that with each male step there is a response from the feet of the women. It is almost as if a code must be learned to dance in this way, each action causes a reaction depending on the action.
“Far too complicated for me,” I state as I soak my taste buds with a splash of the local ale.
In between stories shared with my table mates I glance over at the dance floor to watch the matrix like code unravel itself.
And it is then that I notice something that I hadn’t seen before. I see the connection that my female dance partner was talking about. The majority of the dancers have their eyes closed, or in a state of trance, as they whirl around their moves on the concrete floor. The cheesy cliché of how the dancers become one in these moments seems to be true.
One of my new found friends looks at me and gives me a nod towards the dance floor.
“You want to dance,” I asked her in sheer terror.
“No, I was nodding to the door,” she replied quickly “let’s get go somewhere else.”
We picked our resting coats from the backs of our chairs and wandered down the street. On the horizon an Irish pub appeared like an oasis in the 1am southern hemisphere twilight of Ushuaia. We walked into the crowded bar where not a soul danced, in fact little movement in this pub was needed at all beyond the rocking of the arm from waist to mouth at each drink.
“Ok, tonight lager, I’ll work on the tango some other time!”