Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Where it all began

Everyone has a story about how they began dancing tango. For us, it all started with the December 2003 National Geographic feature on Tango.

Among the many riches that that particular feature has given to the Tango world, there is a mini-documentary called "Buenos Aires Tango" by Pablo Corral Vega, the photographer for that feature, in which Pablo follows milonguero Pocho Alvarez around to his favourite tango haunts one rainy night in Buenos Aires.

Back in 2003/2004, we couldn't see the video for the documentary on National Geographic's website because our computer really sucked - we didn't have the graphic capabilities to view the video.

We were finally able to see the documentary in 2006 with a better computer (but the download and replay times were still excruciatingly slow, and about 50% of the frames were lost on viewing). We thought the documentary was "nice" but we didn't think much of it, because we were looking for steps to steal and the footage didn't show anyone dancing steps! (Damn it!)

Ah, the miracle of technology, the passage of time and of YouTube! This year, we got to see a complete version of the documentary:

It's been more than four years since we have started dancing, but only recently we are beginning to understand what this documentary is all about. It's not about steps, it's not about the glamour, it's not about tragedy or drama or aspirations or any of the tango misconceptions and ideals you find floating out there in the tango universe - this is a documentary about tango as a part of life.

It's totally unexpected - we didn't think that something from National Geographic would be anything but quite superficial - but we have realized that this documentary actually reflects very much the Buenos Aires and Tango that we have gotten to know.

We too have been in a taxi hurtling down the rainy streets at night in Buenos Aires - far, far away from home, but full of anticipation for the places that we will see, the music that we would hear, the people that we would meet.

Life is lonely, we are all anxious, waiting, uncertain... and then suddenly there is the glorious voice of Roberto Rufino singing "Necesito Olvidar" (I need to forget) - the music and lyrics commiserates with us in our loneliness and pain, but the music soars and envelopes our souls and tells us that there is also beauty, love, pleasure, joy, and warmth in the company of friends and loved ones.

Tango brings us together: it is a secret, a code, a culture, a language shared not only between you and your partner but among all tango dancers who dare to live. We watch as Pocho revels with his friends at a private tango party - we share in the goofiness and giddiness, the impromptu singing and the laughter - and isn't one of the best things about tango the great times you have with the friends you meet on your journey?* We watch Pocho as he crosses the black and white tiled floor into a glorious tango salon and the world is transformed - have we not also danced, like Pocho, at Nino Bien?

There are a million little moments in this documentary that are so true. It only took us time and real love for the music, the dance and the people to realize it. What else will we discover dancing tango, or watching this documentary again a year from now, or ten years from now?

The link to the National Geographic December 2003 feature on Tango is here.

* we realize now, after two trips to Buenos Aires and getting to know the people there, that some of Pocho's friends at the party are actually our friends and acquaintances in Buenos Aires - Miguel Angel Balbi is the person who is singing a cappella, Elba Biscay is the woman who joins him, and Rueben de Pompeya is sitting in between two other people watching the whole show!

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