The passion of the tango

A long, long time ago in my mother's village we danced the wild tango! During the summer months there was always a religious festival and on Saturday nights one could always find a village with yet another religious festival with an evening dance, sometimes just the tango and sometimes also the waltz, rumba, samba and mambo.

When the heavy rhythm of a tango commenced the people would scream: Tango! Tango! And everyone rushed to the wooden platform that was intentionally erected in the village square, that was flanked by multicolored lights and that was crowned with a bonfire that seemed to swallow the sky.

To suggest to these people of a time now largely lost that they should take a lesson to teach them to dance was as absurd as asking them to take lessons on how to eat the magnificent roasted meats and drink the moonshine that was freely available at all the festivals. These people were born with the dance in their blood. Everyone danced without prejudice from age 4 to age 90.

These were villages that had known great poverty and even starvation, they had endured every plague including the plague of the Nazis and when they came to the dance they used the dance to purge all the sorrow and to embrace the great joy of the wild dance.

There was no permission needed; one approached the partner without words and stood in front of them and extended the hand and there was rarely a refusal.

I was a teenage girl and I remember one partner in particular. He was a stout man with beaming eyes who was at least a foot shorter than me. I remember him because he tossed me violently, with great force, so great a force that I could not break from him. We danced from 9 at night to 5 in the morning, till the dawn broke the sky and this was the custom with everyone.

We never spoke or exchanged names, but of course I remember his intense gaze since it became my focal point and all the world faded other than his eyes. I was challenged to maintain form, to shape the circuitry of space with perfection, to add the elegance to the extreme edge that his rhythmic inertia commanded. It was my job to punctuate this force with elaborate precision.

Here there were no judgments and no clichés. Who was dominant or submissive and who led or who followed was not in the least important. There were no leaders or followers and no one crashed with any other dancer. It was a sublime synergy and the only leader was the music, the fire, and the blazing starry sky. It was a return to the primal and a complete state of surrender by all the dancers, young, and old male and female.

These dancers all moved rapidly around what seemed an endless center. They merged with their partners and with all the partners. There was an instinct, a prescience of motion evoked; it was the mass rapid motion that drove them, called them, the rhythm forced them to obey, everyone was mesmerized, it was one great unit spiraling through time/space.

I remember most my mother who at one of the dances broke free of her partner and stole the Barrett of another man and performed a soliloquy of dance in perfect time arriving back to her partner without hesitance or the missing of a second. My mother loved the dance above all else and she has won many ribbons during the Second World War.

This is what I miss the most, as there is not such dancing here in NYC. Of course I know that there are tangos but the dancers are so choreographed, so feigned, so forced, so pale and bloodless, and so alien to my original experience that they are an atrocity to me.

The Empress

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I've never cared for the tango, or any kind of ballroom dancing, but reading this stunning article makes me long to give it a go! This is SO hot!

"There were no leaders or followers and no one crashed with any other dancer" I love that. A sublime synergy indeed.

I've never read anything on this site that has made me long so much to be able to experience the same. It's just terrific.


It was fashionable to be madly in love!

Thank you Louise for the kind comments: I too long for this dance. Too many years have passed since I danced like that.

I watched a movie called A Walk in the Clouds and I wished so desperately that I could go to such a Bacchanalian harvest festival where they danced to crush the wine.

Alas, I have little hope of finding such a thing in the USA. The tango of my mother's village has several essentials. To produce this alchemy, you must have the stars, the omnipotent bonfire, a great feast and fountains of wine and moonshine. Most importantly you must have the music of the old tangos now lost in time. With this music one never needed lessons because the rhythms were so pronounced. The tangos that I have attended here in NYC have limp little rhythms and the dancers remind me of people who are trying to climb a ladder that has no steps. This truly takes studying. The old tango had a rhythm like thunder, it made the loins quake, it set the chest on fire, it made the breath heavy and forced everyone to the dance floor to march unabashedly for release.

After writing this I remembered the most popular song of the time. The rhythm would stop suddenly and the man would sing a cappella in a raspy seductive voice " you will die in the mud without me" and " you will die at my feet during the fall” this is poorly translated of course and in it's original tongue this was a rhyme and the fall would translate into the deep dips that are done in the tango.

I fell in love for the first time in my mother’s village so long ago. It was a great love and this man commanded my soul, as he still does from the grave. One can have several great loves, as I have had, but he was my first. It was not shameful to be consumed by your lover, or to be consumed with the madness of love. This was indeed the fashion.

The song was true for me. I died in the mud without my first love and I died at his feet. Oh, how I would have loved to die at his feet a thousand more times!

In those times the countryside was wild. There was no electricity and no plumbing, no modern commodities. Those without transportation (which were many) had to dance the entire night. A walk at night meant a walk under a black velvet cloak. The night was so thick that if you held out your hand in front of you you could not even see it's silhouette. The night was a drink of black ink, and what nutrition there was in that.

My mother and I had to wait unit dawn to walk home. We did not bring lanterns or flashlights to guide us back. By dawn our feet ached unbearably (these dances are done in heels). We found that we could not walk a straight line and the only way to get home was to spiral and spin. So with our arms stretched out under the orange dawn we spiraled home laughing.

The stars and the fire

Your descriptions are so vivid and lyrical I can see everything you write about, it is the most powerful writing I have ever read on here. Have you ever thought of writing a book about your life in those days? It all sounds so fascinating, and so different from life as I know it, I think many people would love to read your story. I particularly love your description of you and your mother spiralling home together laughing, that made me laugh too! It's just wonderful.



Yes, Empress, I also wish that you would write a book. Your writing is as gripping as any I have read since Angels's Ashes, which I could not put down. A different type of book, of course, but when Louise used the word, lyrical, that is what it brought to mind.

Bring us some more of your poetic passion.


Taken In Hand is being taken over by a tango invasion! I'm not complaining.


How beautiful! I watch the men in Lebanese restaurants dance, and they have that wild abandon, too. They are a dying the old tango dancers of your country.
Thank you!

This is a wonderful hearth

Thanks to all of you and to our hostess for providing this platform. I have learned a great deal from everyone. My life has been very relative to the book Angela’s Ashes so it is an interesting comparison.

I don't agree with many things I have read here but I have found that the words are not so important. When I come to this place it feels like I am cupping my hands near a flame. It is not the words but the heat that is projected that is delightful.

wistfully dreaming of the hearth...

Empress, I could sit at the hearth by your feet (with John), and listen to your reminiscences until you ran out of them, and then beg you to tell them again... and again...