Lo de Celia
I was chatting with a Toronto Milonguero and his Toronto Milonguera wife last night about their last trip to Buenos Aires. They had a great time, and enjoyed many of the milongas we had gone to. Unfortunately, during their trip, they got mugged. It was quite a terrifying experience for them as one of the assailants was armed - but luckily they both survived the mugging relatively unscathed, and felt well enough to go dancing the following night.
They are planning another trip to Buenos Aires next year.
Now, Man Yung and I have been very lucky in that in our seven trips to Buenos Aires, the worst we have encountered are: Two (2) rather aggressive panhandlers, One (1) remise driver who took us on a scenic route, One (1) counterfeit bill from a taxi driver, and One (1) shady looking person who followed us while we were walking around in broad daylight on Corrientes (and gave up). That's not too bad a tally considering we have traveled to Buenos Aires seven times. You would encounter these kinds of situations (or worse) traveling in any major city in the world - heck, you would even find these kinds of scenarios in Toronto.
Nevertheless, we admit that going on any pilgrimage - in this case, for the sake of Tango - has its dangers. There are the physical risks - the risks of having an accident, the risk of becoming a victim of a scam or of crime, the risks of getting sick. There are the financial costs - the cost of your plane ticket, your accommodations, the cost of food and entradas and for your classes and activities - totaling thousands of dollars and putting a good-sized dent into your hard-earned, blood, sweat and tears savings (or worse, putting you in debt).
We must also consider the psychological dangers. What if what you found in Buenos Aires was totally not you had envisioned? And what if you discover that you are not only not quite the "Tango Star" you had believed, dancing quite happily in your little Tango Community back home (heck, some might have been "tango professionals" in their home town)? What if you discover that you are in fact quite a dismal failure at Tango, attracting the evil eye everywhere you crash into because you lack the navigation skills to safely complete a ronda on the very crowded Porteño dance floor?*
* Which reminds me of a very funny story we overheard one time - an overseas Argentinian (yes, you heard right - an Argentinian) Tango Professional and Local Tango Community Tango Ace was complaining to his students that he got no respect when he went to Buenos Aires. Not only did no one stop to admire how "elegantly" he danced (and how 'big' he walked) when he danced in the milongas, locals actually had the gall to give him the evil eye!
"I was happily minding my own business when I was dancing at Sunderland when some guy bumped me," [OR DID YOU BUMP HIM? WE ASK. HMMMMMMMM] he said. "I yelled at the guy in Spanish, 'Hey, what the hell?' and glared at him. The guy glared back at me and muttered something about 'those damn foreigners causing hazards on the dance floor'. Ha, I really showed him - I told him that he was completely wrong about thinking that I was a foreigner. I told him that I AM ARGENTINIAN."
In our humble opinion, he would have been better off if he didn't admit he was Argentinian. With the non-navigational, four-directional-bouncing, dizzy-whirling-dervish, dangerous-high-kicking, callous-disregard-of-others way he danced, it would have been much better if kept quiet and let people think he was just another crazy foreigner, don't you think?
Let's face it - stepping out of the safety and comfort of your home and into the big, wide world is not easy. Some can't afford to travel to Buenos Aires - they either don't have the time or the money - even though they really want to. For those, we hope that you will be able to make it there someday soon.
...Some, however, won't go because they don't have the guts. They can't speak Spanish. They'd get lost. They'd get pickpocketed or robbed or they'd get run over by the maniac Porteño drivers. Or they are afraid of disillusionment - of not being asked to dance, of getting the evil eye, or - of being told that they are terrible dancers.
They may reassure themselves - it's so much better to stay home and be safe. We're in _____________ (fill in your own first world country). It's more "civilized" to do it "our way" here. "No way" to cabeceo - it's not "friendly" or "nice" to say no to an invitation to dance in our part of the universe. And while you are at it, "No way" to lead and follow too - it's too complicated, it's better if we practice "Tango Posing" and memorize step patterns so there's no "guesswork" and confusion. What, we are supposed to learn how to dance with strangers who haven't memorized the same steps as us? Are you joking?
Or maybe, after all, they will go - but only in a minimum-risk, strictly controlled environment. A full-service tour**, with all accommodations, meals, milongas, classes pre-arranged. No need to mix with the locals! If no-one asks them to dance all night, they can dance with their own group, or their tour organizers will arrange for someone to dance with them. If they discover they actually suck at Tango, someone will be there to hold their hand, rationalize their doubts away and stroke their egos. The less risk to their safety and sanity, the better. "Thank God, it's just like we never left home!" they'd say afterwards with much relief.
** We are talking about the very commercialized, slick, hermetically-sealed "Tango Extravaganza Experiences" here in which the tour group may never get to see the inside of a local Porteño milonga (ok, maybe just Confiteria Ideal or Dandi, and that's it). Conversely, there are many excellent tours run by either Porteño or Ex-Pat Tango Professionals living in Buenos Aires in which participants will get to meet and learn from Milongueros, learn about milonga culture (and the CABECEO!), and get encouraged to try it themselves in a real-life setting. These tours will teach people the ropes of surviving in the milonga and in the city - and some graduates may feel confident enough afterwards so that the next time they travel to Buenos Aires, they could venture forth on their own.
Some, however, may be disappointed to find out that in these authentic Tango tours, they won't learn how to chomp lasciviously on roses while posing in their skimpy sequined tango costumes and perform on stage in a little "End of tour Tango Gala" - for these individuals, maybe it is best to stick to your all-inclusive seven night "Tango Extravaganza Experiences".
So for the thousands who did have the courage and the resources to make it Buenos Aires and were touched, body and soul, by the Tango, like the Toronto Milonguero couple we were talking to yesterday - we'd like to say: Thank you.
Thank you for braving the perils of travel - and of exposing yourself despite the risks to cultural experiences and ideas that you wouldn't encounter if you stayed at home, all for the sake of Tango.
Thank you for learning to dance close - and for preferring it over any other way of dancing Tango, because you have brought back home the magic of the embrace.
Thank you for respecting other couples on the dance floor - because that's the way of the milongueros, and dancing in a room filled with considerate people like you makes dancing Tango outside of Buenos Aires so much safer and sweeter.
Thank you for experiencing Buenos Aires and Tango firsthand - because when we talk to you about Tango, we have a common ground and shared understanding, and we can, as a group, have some experience to enable us to differentiate between what is good and bad in Tango.
Thank you for appreciating what is traditional, danceable Tango music by listening to what is being played at milongas in Buenos Aires - and encouraging it to be played when you return home either by speaking out to your local Tango organizers, or becoming DJs who play traditional music yourselves.
Thank you for posting your photos and videos of Buenos Aires and Tango on Youtube - so we can see what it is like with our own eyes, and have material to fuel our dreams.
And for those of you who write books or blog about Tango - Thank you for sharing your honest thoughts and experiences of what it is like to dance and live Tango in Buenos Aires, so people who have not yet been lucky enough to have an opportunity to go won't be kept in the dark - and also so that "Tango Professionals" who want to keep others in the dark for business or other reasons cannot do so indefinitely.
Thank you, for you have brought back with you The Tango.