Buenos Aires was hot. I went from a cold winter to summer in a snap. It was a shock but not as much as the shock from culture. Buenos Aires was busier than cities in the US at night. People were out. The faces were different, the clothes more formal. The dialect of Spanish had my brain working to squeeze out some understanding of the syllables that bounced around in my cerebral word-recognition engine. I longed to quickly find a milonga, where I could communicate it the language of a walking embrace, a moving expression of the music both my partner and I loved.
During the short transport, I was given a booklet "Milonga Etiquette" to read and sign.
- As a man, I was to never ask a woman to dance but give her a knowing look and a nod. If she did not look, then I could not nod or dance with her. (I initialed that paragraph.)
- I was to take the lady to the dance floor, and return her to her chair. According to the booklet, the chair would not automatically move itself by means of feminine hands, that would be my job. (I initialed that paragraph.)
- I was to take the woman out to the floor and catch the eye of the man who is dancing and protecting his partner in the line of dance. There was a added note: "Unlike some foreign milongas, the woman will not step out on the dance without looking, pulling you out there too. She will expect you to fulfill your role." (I initialed with a smile. This was going to be different.)
- I was to wear clothes that would honor the woman who had spent money and time to look nice -- no jeans or polo shirts. (Initialed.)
- I was to talk about her, finding something to say that would make her hours of preparation for the dance all the more worth it from my notice. I was not to expect that any other man had done this. The paragraph of "what to say" said nothing about any mistakes I thought that I might have made or what maneuver I was trying to master. (I initialed.)
- "Most importantly" the last paragraph said, "you must hold her as if she were the only woman in the world. If she is much older, hold her like your mother or aunt. If you are not at all attracted to her, hold her as if by doing so, you can sense her life story through your arms and chest. Honor her story. If you are attracted to her, hold her as if you have loved her for many years and don't want the time to be over." (I initialed. I knew that the upgrade fare would be well worth the cost.)
- Last paragraph to be signed: "Tango is the easiest dance in the world. You have been told it is one of the most technical. Walking in an embrace is primal and natural. Take each step as one more step to her trust that she is being honored. You need not impress her with all the expensive moves you have learned from theatrical tango teachers. It took $800 to learn that volcada you have perfected. Leave that in your suitcase. You don't really need it here. If you sense that she is fully with you, and you are embracing her as if she were the only woman in the world, the music will lead you to use the tango 'vocabulary' you have learned." (I initialed with glee. And signed at the bottom, dating it January 8, 2011.)
The night went by quickly and with absolute delight. Each of the things I had signed ended up being very important. The ambiance remains strongly in my mind: The smiling faces, the women who melted into my arms and made me glad that I was a man, the closeness of the dancers all keeping their own little space, the new movements I had discovered with the guidance of the music and my partners unique way of moving. Precious moments in Buenos Aires. It was very much worth the the upgrade from Germany.
When I awoke this morning in Washington D.C., I wished my dream had never ended. Maybe another "upgrade" tonight? Will you join me? I will help you fill out the paperwork.
I am accustomed to going to Buenos Aires for a night. That is what a milonga is.