Keep the candles burning



It wasn’t promising at first.  Three couples dancing insipidly.  Ten men sunk deep into boxlike chairs from which it looked difficult to get up.  It took a bit of convincing to get the unsmiling woman nearest to the moneybox to do her job.

I chose a chair and checked out the dancers to be sure I didn’t need to dance with any of them.  Then I reached for my phone.  The other milonga was closing in an hour and it would take 45 minutes to get there.  Stay put Chica.

One inoffensive tanda,  followed by one not so tolerable vals,  followed by a few dances with an adequate Argentine whose girlfriend then confronted us on the floor, believing it to be the last Tanda.

In fact the DJ had announced,  in customary Berlin style,  the “last 3 tandas”,  and girlfriend had misunderstood.  The Argentine brushed her off asserting his right to “medio tango”  (half a tango)  with me.  After which  I forcefully thanked him and sent him off to her,  but not before he pressed his business card into my hand and asked me to email him where I’d be dancing the next two days.  When the tanda finished without cumparsita,  they sat confused.  Another tanda started and he popped up and dashed over to me.

“Prefiero respectar la chica”  I insisted. He proceeded to tell me she wasn’t even his girlfriend,  just his dance partner,  and even there,  she was just one of three as he had a partner for each of three styles,  milonga,  salón,  and nuevo.  I stayed in my chair.

On his return 1/3 gave the room a piece of her mind.  Eventually,  the DJ,  unappreciative of her impromptu contribution to the arrangement,  interrupted to gracefully explain his announcement in Spanish.

But sometime before all this drama was the interesting part.  In which a woman sits down next to me and asks if I know anyone here.


Then all the usual questions, except about my shoes. Which people are now starting to apologize for asking about.

And then provides an impromptu interview.  She’s the organiser of the school and milonga. She tells me that women have been teaching and marking tango in Berlin for a long time.  And then she dances with me.  And was the most supportive nonjudgmental revel I’ve ever had in my arms.  Several times she said “oh I just realized that,  I was too late.” of course it was certainly my mark that was too late.  She simply wasn’t rigid about a perfect mark.

And she runs the school with the same generosity of spirit.  “I have 13 teachers,  but no single pedagogy.  I make them have pedagogic meetings to tell each other what they do, so they will understand,  but they don’t have to agree.  And I invite all kinds of guest teachers as well.  For a time there was an insistence about salon – THIS is right.  But that’s gone now.”

Once the final tandas sorted themselves out she invited me to stay for a drink.  In fact everyone who made it to the end was welcome to a free cocktail,  coke and fernet or “girls”  gra,ss vodka.

But the two truly remarkable things about this milonga is that not only the host was friendly and welcoming,  but the DJ as well.  Usually this role authorises insulation.

But the most right on was the fact that the barstaff replaced the burned out candles even in the second to last Tanda.  No cleaning up while people are still dancing here. Keep the candles burning until the last guest is gone.  That’s style!

Mala Junta, you have won a fan.

The organizer is Judith Preuss, one of the first three people to dance tango in Berlin, who I later had a chance to interview.

Silences in history. Silences by code. Silences of fear. You already know that Tango’s silences can be sublime and they can be devastating.

What I do in my blog is use myself as a lens – sometimes a microscope, sometimes a telescope. I try to be as honest with myself and you as words concede. Then I try to find a deeper meaning and imagine a pathway for us.

A blog post can be a fragment, a wisp of inspiration, an outline for thinking. A book must complete and reconcile it all. Now I drag the social scientist to the scene to enumerate the facts of the case, the mystery which brought both stardom and tragedy to my life.

I invite you to join my resolution to take a look at the dark silences of Argentine Tango in our lives. It’s time.


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