My first visit, I almost immediately understood how people come here for a fortnight and end up staying for ten years. My second visit, I actually got as far as semi-serious discussions about moving here. This time, I’ve felt that pull more strongly than ever. I really didn’t want to leave.
There are a zillion reasons not to do it, ranging from practical issues around property to being so far away from London friends …
I’m 98% certain that I’m not going to do it, for every one of those zillion reasons. Just … not quite 100% certain.
Tango is a massive part of it, of course. The dance here is just perfect. All the things I wrote last time.
Tango is all about connection, and for me, being back in BsAs is all about reconnection. Reconnecting with what is really at the heart of tango. The reason tango exists. The reason she has me enraptured.
Being reminded that, whatever complexities may be involved in the learning process, the essence of tango can be summed up in a few simple words: this person, this music, this moment.
But tango isn’t all of it.
I’ve been doing a lot of personal growth work in the past few months. A lot of reconnecting to myself, after a few rather challenging years – but also emerging as a more open person. A person who shares more of the ups and downs with friends than was previously the case.
Despite the language barrier, in some ways I now feel even more at home here than in London. The way that people just connect with each other here, outside milongas as well as within them, is a true joy. Sharing far more of themselves than is typically the case in the UK, and where in-depth philosophical and psychological discussions are as commonplace here as weather commentary in the UK.
Of course, when you’re a tanguero/a, you can never completely disentangle the two: who you are as a person, and who you are as a dancer. There have been times on the dance floor when the dance has felt like the most authentic expression of my true self. Free from the overthinking, and complexity, and contradictions, and the general messiness of being a human being; just me and this stranger-who-isn’t-a-stranger expressing ourselves without need of a single word.
The Argentine embrace turned out to be big deal
The warmth of the Argentine people is of course felt most strongly inside the walls of a milonga. Inside the embrace.
I finally feel like I understand the uniquely Argentine embrace.
Prior to my trip, I’d thought of it as sustained close-embrace – that is, not opening the embrace for pivots – so had booked a private with Emma to work specifically on that. Which is challenging and fun. But in my view, that’s not what is really happening in the Argentine embrace.
Most couples here actually dance in flexible embrace. It’s just that the close embrace is closer, and the opening is smaller – and returns to chest-to-chest contact at the earliest possible point. It can look like sustained close embrace, until you watch closely. (There are exceptions, of course, especially among the ‘cuddle-shufflers.’)
There is a technical advantage to the closer, more enveloping embrace. The degree of precision it allows makes a huge difference. I found I could reliably lead three different types of pivot around me literally using nothing more than small changes in the amount of space I created with my right arm. Essentially remaining in what would be considered close embrace in London, with minor variations in the flexibility within it.
I could also consistently lead a two-step cross, again using nothing more than two turns of the chest within a closed embrace.
But for me the real essence isn’t about sustained versus flexible, it’s about the nature of that embrace when you fully close, and that truly close embrace is always the default to which you quickly return.
There are times when I open the embrace a lot. For example, some followers absolutely love it when I lead a back ocho and let them lean right out into it before I turn it into a collection, a forward ocho, or a giro (beginning with that forward ocho). But three things make it different to what I was doing before.
One, the close embrace is closer to begin with. The default position for my right arm is completely around the follower. Almost under her right armpit if she is slim, and otherwise as far around as I can reach. (Though without any pressure on her back – it’s containing within the inside of the elbow, not clamping with the hand or forearm, which is how it had previously appeared to me.)
Two, when I open my arm, it’s still a smaller opening than before. Followers here don’t need much space, even for what I had previously thought of as a wide-open movement, like that backward lean.
Three, I always return to the full close embrace. Even if I’m intending to move from one pivoting movement to another, I always at least go through that closed embrace. Bringing the follower back in, back home. In a sense, this is like always collecting first, then doing whatever comes next.
Followers say they feel fully enveloped by the Argentine embrace. Fully accepted. Fully welcomed. And I’ve found it’s the same as a leader: by fully embracing my follower, she’s in turn able to fully embrace me.
I did a workshop in London one time where the visiting teacher had all the leaders close their eyes and be embraced in turn by each of the followers. There was one follower whose embrace was incredible. I couldn’t understand what it was that made it feel so amazing. Now I finally understand, because I’ve felt it here on a daily basis.
I owe a massive debt of gratitude to Gonzalo, and to Alessandra for the introduction – and the confirmation that she was feeling with me what she felt with local leaders.
It will be interesting to see how successfully I can import it to my UK dancing. It does, I believe, take two to tango, so it may be that the same signals aren’t picked up elsewhere.
Tango’s illusions are a cautionary note
I talked above about the dance sometimes feeling like the most direct and authentic expression of who I am. But the opposite can also be true, of course: tango can create a false sense of intimacy. Something which likely explains the high rate of short-lived tango relationships.
And that phenomenon needs to be a consideration in this decision. Tango is its own bubble, and tango in BsAs is a very special one. The warmth and mutual joy when dancing together in a milonga isn’t (generally) an illusion, but it is very contextual.
That warmth does, in Argentina, go beyond the dance floor. But a tango bubble and a warm culture is a rather flimsy basis for emigration.
It needn’t be all or nothing
I’d initially seen this as all or nothing – but have since been informed that there are a few time periods between ‘one month’ and ‘forever.’
I don’t have the financial means to be one of those fortunate people who seemingly dart back-and-forth at will. But I am lucky enough to be able to work anywhere in the world, so there are feasible options which could see me come for a longer stay.
Laura recommended a ‘tango house,’ where I’d get an en-suite room, and access to other shared facilities – including a terrace. This would be significantly more affordable than apartment rental, and with a built-in social network. I would need to explore the feasibility of setting up a proper workspace there. That might involve buying a proper desk and chair, and potentially a monitor or two: my ad-hoc three-monitor setup is workable for a short stay, but not ideal for a longer one, and there are definite limits to how long I can work from a dining-room chair!
I could also look into renting out my room in the London flat on a short-term let – a possibility I’d already considered as a survival mechanism until my ex and I can sell. I’d had to reject it at the time, as the after-tax rent wouldn’t cover anywhere to live in London, but it could certainly cover space in the tango house.
I could also do this with my own studio apartment once I’m finally able to move. In that way, I wouldn’t have to exit the London property market in order to live here. Even after tax, that would likely cover apartment rental here if arranged locally, rather than through Airbnb.
I’d have to get used to 6.30am starts, which is an admittedly frightening prospect, but I do now have medical evidence that it’s not always fatal.
I’d also need to stick to afternoon milongas, at least on school nights – but as I discovered, that is no hardship whatsoever! I could happily live in El Beso.
Up to 90 days could be done without any fuss, as that’s the duration of the tourist visa issued on arrival. I’m also told that a single 90-day renewal is virtually guaranteed to be granted, provided you can complete 800 pages of forms. So conceivably I could live here for up to six months without much in the way of formality.
I know a couple of followers who visited in the off-season, and found it an unhappy experience because they struggled to get dances without fellow visitors. But in the afternoon milongas, I was easily dancing with 90% locals. It’s unfair, but it is different for leaders.
The Castellano Question
One of the barriers I’d previously been hung up on was my extremely limited Spanish – or, rather, Castellano.
But what I discovered here is that, in everyday practical terms, I get by just fine. Seeing no shame in using Google Translate is actually a perfectly viable approach, and after a few times, I find I can remember more of these phrases. I’ve probably learned as much Castellano from that process as I have in over a year of Duolingo. There’s no substitute for immersion.
Of course, daily living is one thing; friendships are another. I’m still a million miles from conversational Castellano, so true friendship opportunities would be limited to other visitors, and those locals who happen to speak good English. But again, as I’ve found, neither is in short supply.
I’ll write a longer post about my Castellano experience another time.
Climate, likewise, may not be a deal-breaker
There had been one other issue I’d felt would be a complete deal-breaker: I was manufactured without a thermostat. I fry in temperatures approaching 30C, die at 40C, and really feel the cold at night in winter. (BsAs doesn’t get any colder than the UK, but the lack of central heating, and buildings with poor insulation, means I’m going to feel much colder here.)
However, I found from a freezing cold stay in a caravan in Devon that electric blankets are wonderful solutions in winter! One in bed, and another under a sofa throw, is a very effective way of keeping Bens perfectly toasty, at minimal cost. And outside, as the Scandinavian saying has it, there’s no such thing as the wrong weather, only the wrong clothes.
A surprise heatwave during the first ten days of March also demonstrated that I might not die in the summer. Sure, I burned to a crisp when I was foolish enough to do the mad dogs and Englishmen thing (or mad Italian woman thing, in this case). But darting from air-conditioned home to air-conditioned bus to air-conditioned milonga proved remarkably successful in keeping me alive, even when it was 38C outside.
Living exclusively in an air-conditioned environment had also seemed impractical. I love to walk, and to cycle, so how would I manage here? But my body’s opinion is that three hours of dancing per day is sufficient exercise: I feel fit, and my waist size has dropped two inches in one month. I might even have to increase my extensive dulce de leche consumption if I stay here long enough!
No decisions needed now
I started writing this at the airport, and finished it on the plane. The thought has occurred that this may be a trifle early to make a decision of this magnitude. I should probably think it over for a day or two before booking my open-ended flight.
London has always felt like home to me – but so too does BsAs. I have to say, that in the course of writing this post, my 98% certainty that I’m not going to do it has dropped to no more than 50% – even if the potential meaning of ‘it’ has changed.