Tango Queer is not quite as I remember it. Yes, it’s still in San Telmo – where it’s been for the past eleven years – but there’s a raised platform in the middle of the room where an open dance floor used to be, and my charismatic teacher Sole is nowhere to be found. The price for class, and the milonga afterwards, has gone up to 100 ARS. The increasing expenses of maintaining the event have hit hard – with the difference having fallen on those who organize it.
As Mariana gives the call to warm up, I look around and notice that we’re dancing in a considerably smaller space. Less room means taking smaller steps, and paying more attention to the couples that are dancing around me. It also succeeds in making the 20:30 class feel a bit more intimate – as if dancing pressed up against another person weren’t intimate enough.
Following the warm up, we pair up, and I find myself staring at a short, formidable looking woman with curly blonde hair. She glares at me, as if it were my fault that she were here right now, and grudgingly, agrees to lead me around the floor for the first dance. We move counterclockwise, as is traditional in tango, and I do my best to relax and let myself follow my partner’s cues. Unfortunately, it’s been months since I last danced, and I know that it obviously shows.
My next partner is much warmer. She dances beautifully, and makes me feel like I can too. Taller than I am (and that’s saying something) she’s all laughter and smiles; her demeanor puts me at ease and that makes for a much more comfortable dance. I find myself less worried about making mistakes, and adventurous enough to try some new moves. Mariana, one of the original founders of Tango Queer in Buenos Aires, demonstrates a series of steps from the middle of the floor.
As the lesson progresses, things start to feel more familiar; I feel more at home and relax into the haunting chords of each song. It’s like picking up an instrument, that you once played in your youth, and getting reacquainted with it after some time. Or taking your bike out for the first time in the spring, and finding that you remember how to pedal after all. At around 10 PM, when class is over, Mariana introduces a young woman from Cuba, who gives an “express” salsa class. I decide in the end that salsa is too much for me, and despair at how nimbly the rest of the room is moving its hips.
As regulars start walking in, and students scatter around the room, I sneak over to where Mariana’s sitting. She doesn’t have much time, and I have a nagging feeling she’d like to brush me off, but she shares a few comments about tango with me, and exactly how it’s danced. “Tango is a meeting between two people,” she says to me thoughtfully. Glancing at me from behind her computer she adds, “the dance is an embrace.” A simple definition, but succinct, and profound – the tango as a meeting of two solitudes; a mutual embrace.
I sit down with a few friends I’ve made during class; we share a glass of wine, and talk about other venues for Tango Queer in the city. La Marshall, run by Augusto Balizano, also encourages reversing the roles, and is incredibly popular, but rumored to be a bit more ‘upmarket’ or what a local might call cheto. Class takes place on Fridays at 22:30, and is located at Riobamba 416. Perhaps once I have a few more classes under my belt I’ll consider it. And then there’s the International Festival of Tango Queer that will take place this November in Buenos Aires. According to Mariana, it’s been going on for approximately ten years.
As I watch the storm of the milonga move around the room, illuminated by red and blue-white lights, I am struck by the beauty of this nostalgic dance: cheeks graze, fingers touch, and arms are held taut as a bow. Undoubtedly it would take years to achieve a dance that appears so seamless, to move with such emotion to the rhythm of each song. But I won’t get any better lamenting how far I am from perfect, so I give in, and get up with my friend. Together we steer a course across the floor.