Thursday, March 12, 2015

Children of Tango

"Hasta mañana," Martha and Manolo used to say to us every time we had to leave Buenos Aires.   "See you tomorrow, we'll see you tomorrow - " was their promise, supposedly to spare us the pain of leaving our beloved teachers and friends again.  It didn't stop us from crying like babies though, our faces wet with tears, not caring when the random Porteños we passed on the street were looking oddly at us and shaking their heads at the crazy sobbing Chinos.

We've been crying ever since we got to know Martha and Manolo the first time they were in Toronto.  We knew that whatever time we had together was precious, and when we had to say goodbye it was far too soon.  But there was nothing we could do - they lived in Argentina, we lived in Toronto.  And always, lurking in the back of our minds was the terrible thought: would this be the final goodbye? 

Every year we send birthday cards, call with birthday greetings.  There's another photo on Facebook - another birthday party, another birthday celebration.  One more candle on the cake - one more year has passed.  Time to celebrate - and yet we know, we all know that it's all one step closer to the end. 

When people become such integral part of your life, it is easy to take it all for granted that they will be there forever.  We cried a little less at "See you tomorrow" each passing year.  We'll see you six months later, one year later.  We will get together for asado, for Canyengue, for coffee at the corner café from Galerias Pacifico.  We'll hold hands and catch up with the latest news, like old times. 

We didn't expect that Martha would die so soon.  Out of all our maestros, she was the toughest, the strongest, most full of life.  Her mother lived until well into her nineties.  We fully expected her to dance on, filled with laughter and vitality, with a quick smile and even quicker feet at one hundred, one hundred and ten..."I am Martha Anton," she once said to us, and she was not only Martha to us but also The Martha Anton, a colossal figure in the history of Tango, the Icon, the Goddess..."All the women at the milonga would watch Martha, watch her feet whenever she danced, you thought Geraldine was great but it was Martha who was the greatest," we were told by so many who knew Martha from the golden age and it was true.

After Martha died we felt guilt.  She wanted more for us - more from us.  She wanted us to teach, she wanted us to perform.  But we never taught, and performed only reluctantly, basically only at gunpoint.  Nevertheless, Martha was proud of us - but puzzled.  "Why, Irene, are you dancing so plainly?  You have to show what you have learned.  Man Yung is giving you plenty of time to show your footwork - you must enrich your dance with your embellishments."  She would demonstrate to me an exquisite adorno.  I would try and copy it dutifully under her watchful eye in class... and then rebel when out of her sight by going back to the plainness that she found so odd.  

It wasn't odd.  It was just me. 

When Martha called me "Hija" I did not feel that I was good enough to be her daughter at all.  Or maybe, I knew what she wanted from me, but I couldn't give it to her.  I cannot dance like Martha Anton - not in a million years.  She wanted us to be more than what we were willing to be, like all good parents, who wouldn't want their children to make something of themselves? 

She had hoped that we would teach her Canyengue in Toronto, her Milonga Fantasia, her Tango Salon of the 50's... but our personalities and abilities would not allow us to achieve her wishes.  We failed her.

The last time we talked, Martha didn't call me "Hija" anymore.  But not because she had stopped loving me.  No, Martha was not like that.  Her heart was bigger than the whole world.

In the end, we think Martha realized we were who we were, and she did not blame us for not wanting what she wanted for us.  When I called her "Maestra", or "Amiga" -

"No," Martha said.  "Sisters.  Hermanas." 

Manolo agreed.  "Hermanos."

No matter what we called each other, the most important was the love we had for each other.  Martha and Manolo will forever be our respected teachers, dearer to us than even family.

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