18 Minutes of Love: TanGO TO Istanbul
The lights were dimmed, leaving the room softly illuminated with the warm hues of a late sunset. The air was filled with the eclectic energy of ongoing tandas and passionate embraces. I had just sat down to rest my happily exhausted feet that had not once gotten the opportunity to do so during the last 4 hours. Watching the silhouettes of dancing couples float by in the darkness, I felt surrounded by a soft cloud of contentment and pure bliss. It felt as if the concepts of time and space had been erased and the usually oh-so reverberant city of Istanbul had been put on hold. Just for that night. Just for that milonga.
The unexpected energy of someone’s gentle yet wanting gaze pulled me out of my thoughts and I found myself looking straight in the piercing dark eyes of a tall and handsome stranger across the dance floor. He smiled softly, with a hint of doubt in his expression, as if he was unsure of whether I would accept this dance. I gave him a gentle nod and before I was up on my feet, he had already crossed the pista - his right hand reaching towards me - and gently pulled me onto the dance floor, that was slowly filling up again with tightly embraced couples in colourful dresses and suits. We delicately held each other’s gaze before moving closer. He patiently waited for my body to slowly approach his and for my left hand to tenderly find rest on his sharp shoulder blade. His Herculean arms built a strong frame around me, and yet I knew that should I require space, he would soften up immediately and grant me that freedom generously. We embraced. Softly. Slowly. The first few musical phrases of the songs passed with only the intense sensation of our bodies touching and our breathing slowly calming down and synchronizing with each other to D’Arienzo’s “Adios Corazon”. One of my favourites. Intense and nuanced; its energy further amplified by the presence of the Solo Tango Orchestra. He knew all too well when the moment that marked a nearly perfect connection had come… on the next beat he led a long, low step and I closed my eyes to give in to the lead... to listen for the pauses and surprising little musical decorations that would allow me to embroider our dance with beautiful embellishments. He was not surprised when those moments came, his musicality seemed intrinsic, yet I did manage to surprise him here and there, painting a beaming and cheeky smile on his otherwise so serious and captivated face. He was an excellent tango dancer. Exceedingly experienced, with every single muscle of his body delicately proclaiming to be built for tango. He knew every song we danced to by heart, gently humming it while gingerly twirling me around the wooden floors and playfully lifting me for sudden changes in direction. Time stood still and the three tandas we danced softly melted into one, blurring out the short cortinas inbetween.
We did not exchange a single word, afraid that speaking would break the spell between us and take away the magic of the moment. We both hadn’t come to talk that night, at least not in words… we had come to dance. Our connection was intoxicatingly beautiful, and at times it felt like - just for a split second - we had become one. Each step, each softening and tightening of our embrace, each touch felt natural; like we had been dancing together for a life time. He was a stunning man, his face sculpted like the human manifestation of a marble statue. The reflection of a Greek god. But it was not his beauty that captivated me. In Tango, the outside reflection of a person does not matter, particularly to me, for I always close my eyes to truly feel every little detail of my partner’s movement. It is the inner warmth, the ability to listen, the passion, the connection, the patience of a person that matters. That was what mattered that night. He led so graciously yet strongly, challenging my personal space before gently letting me out of our close embrace for a planeo, only to then tightly embrace me again like a long-lost lover. The presence of the orchestra only intensified our dance, filling the majestic Ottoman ballroom we were dancing in with the bittersweet sounds of Buenos Aires. The violin in particular was alluring… giving away a hurting tune, resigned, a cry of heartache for all in the world that fell apart. For love, for a home. As I listened to D’Arienzo’s words, I realized that, for us tangueros and tangueras, these words hold different meanings. When we dance tango, we fall in love with our partner and their embrace becomes our home. It’s a freeing kind-of love, for it is limited to the dance floor and for it requires nothing but openness to the movements and the touch of a stranger; for it blossoms with the music and ends when the orchestra falls silent. But we also dance to seduce ourselves. To fall in love with ourselves. When we dance with another, we manifest the very thing we love about ourselves so that they may see it and fall for us as well. For the duration of those nine songs we danced together as lovers. Lovers of each other’s energy, of our own energy, of Tango. We danced fearlessly as two people who could shine on their own, but who chose to light up an entire city together. With a closed pause, a “chan chan” as one of my maestros used to say, the orchestra came to a halt, around us movements slowed down, last poses were struck and it felt as if suddenly, all at once, the entire room exhaled. With the cortina we were all pulled back into reality, thanking our partners and honouring the time they spent with us, before returning back to our seats in anticipation of our next dance.
He gracefully walked me back to the table, kissed my hand and disappeared in the royal and colourful crowd that was spread around the palace like the stunning rainbow freckles reflected in a window by light. I was hugged by my cloud of contentment and bliss again, thinking about how, that night at the milonga, I fell in love countless times: with the sweet cry of the music, with the many passionate embraces I found myself in, with the tumultuous faces around me, with Tango Argentino.