I’ve come so far, only to watch tango die.
I sit in vigil at the historic Clärchens Ballhaus, where people have persistently come together to dance amid the ruins of Berlin for so many decades.
The dancers fade away, week by week. Their frailty shows in fewer and fewer efforts. This week they seem to do nothing much more than side steps in different rhythms. These sexy girls don’t realize how much more there is to want from a tanguero.
At my beloved’s bedside I guard his corpus against the authorities who seem to be practicing careless amputation (“ganchos aren’t tango”) and bizarre bloodletting (“voleos aren’t elegant“), justified with dishonest claims about tradition.
The repetition of sequences (fewer and less demanding each week) numbs the girls so that they have no reason to concentrate. Zombies collide in determination to complete their sequences because they don’t know how to improvise.
I stay awake to intercept the doping administered by ill- trained volunteers who appear in the night muttering insipid reactionary truisms ingrained by tango’s Fox Newscasters: “steps don’t matter, only musicality”, “don’t show off”, “you only need the embrace and connection”.
Anyway if all you want is the embrace, stay home and have tantric sex. Tango is something else entirely. It is the analytic and athletic method for spiritual unification of two beings. The girl’s sacada is crucial to balance the psychological dynamic of the dance, demanding of both partners the courage and trust that can only come from self-confidence. It is already gone.
• • •
We are dancing in a squat, a cathedralesque brick factory now missing most of its roofs. This room has been renovated into a warehouse-volumed gallery with chalky white walls and grey non- slip paint sealing the concrete floor. The audience: haggard men and younger women, smoking, ravaged by alcohol and art.
Perhaps some of them were famous in a more forgiving and chaotic time. They clearly know what they are doing. One grabs the microphone to succinctly launch his hat in service of a band of Danish teenagers: “These guys need to record their music. Recording costs money.” Another, in well worn suit and cravat, pours his power through the available electronics to drench us in a voice that would give Leonard Cohen a hard run for his money.
We start to dance in the shadows and they jump up to pull the chairs out of the way to make us a path. They cry out, strike their beer bottles with their rings, and give us opulent compliments.
We struggle against the floor, I lose control of my step twice, but my shame is invaded with their emotion and a new knowledge breaches: No one gives a fuck about tango.
They do care about the intensity, the nuclear power of our irreversible fusion of physical unity and improvisation.
Tango is nothing more than a technology we use to do that well.
It’s the best technology ever developed for dancing with a partner, and we should not squander it on superficial elegance, pseudo- tradition, and gender fantasies, nor confine it to milongas.
The goal is to make our emotions visible, and to move through them together.
And the greatest possible honor is when others give us their attention, and are willing to be moved as well.
Vio y Antoine . TangoForge with WilderGarten . Werkhalle Wiesenburg, Berlin . 4.May 2018
camera by Heather Allen