Sunday 11 April 2010


I'm sure there are a lot of people who come to Argentina, watch glitzy tango shows, and go home happy. I'd probably be one of them. Except after the life-changing meal at Cabaña Las Lilas, we went to a Milonga at Confitería Ideal.

Unlike the tourist shows that charge 200 pesos to watch accomplished dancers flaunt their moves, a milonga is an open floor for people to come along and dance. We don't partake, because we can't tango. Those that do, can. But they are not experts or professionals, just normal people.

I quickly realise something about Argentine tango. It is etched on the faces. The odd couples. Tall and short, fat and thin, young and old. Straight and crooked, quick footed and infirm. They clutch one another tightly, their expressions a fusion of thoughtless concentration and unparalleled joy. It's etched on mine too now, and it's not just the gin and tonic. There is just something beautiful going on.

They wear all sorts of clothes. Some are smart little old men in their Sunday best, another is in his AC Milan tracksuit. I watch him leave the dancefloor and he can't actually walk properly. But it doesn't stop him from dancing, because this is not physical. It is not two bodies walking together embraced and entwined. It is two people. And judging by some of them, they've been doing it together for a very long time.

For a few short intervals, the floor clears and we are treated to a couple of professional dancers. They are mesmerisingly good. The graceful economy of their steps, their embrace. The feet kick up between the legs and they turn and move and you don't even hear the music, just see it. It's almost as though the most beautiful thing is what is not happening, and it starts me thinking.

Were our lives a dance, what would they look like? A sweeping elegant tango in a glitzy tourist trap? A slow but loving shuffle of an old couple who have danced together for sixty years? Or a lurching drunk hamming up a moonwalk at his best friend's wedding? Learn to tango, and I might just learn to live a little better too.

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