The first couple of weeks were the hardest, as expected. The peace and quiet, the beauty and nourishment of Portland felt as jarring as the chaos of Buenos Aires felt when I first got there. Somehow it was too quiet, too slow, too clean, it felt fake, pretentious, a facade. My body had been conditioned for survival, for long nights, and little sunlight, for enduring the demands of the city, for eating and sleeping little, for heat and sweat and music that is too loud and streets that are too dirty, and lack of fresh air, lack of fresh food, and always the hypnotic, all encompassing grind of tango culture. It was like I grew extra limbs and organs to thrive in an environment like that. Like a mutant creature I learned to suck energy out of whatever nook and cranny I could find, out of blasts of dulce de leche sugar, out of mate, out of the heart wrenching music, out of the feverish embraces, out of long conversations, out of the ever present mysterious aches in my body, out of my own fears and insecurities, out of desire and sex. And this is the creature that suddenly finds herself in a bed that's too soft, breathing air that is too fresh, surrounded by colors that are too intoxicating and people who are too kind, too friendly, too available, too honest. I don’t trust it, I don’t believe it will last, I don’t believe it is real. I long for the familiar.
Days pass, weeks, new memories, new conversations, new connections and little by little, this world, this reality become more familiar, more home. I am swept away by the beauty of this place; the smells, the colors, the landscape, simple things, things I used to take for granted. Those things are suddenly magical: the roses blooming over my head on the staircase, the fragrant air of the forest, the quiet safety of the city at night, the cleanliness of the grocery store, the cars stopping for me to cross the street.
And tango… What about tango? How does it compare? Do you miss it? Isn’t it depressing to be back? Those are some of the questions that I have heard over the past few weeks. Same questions I asked in my Buenos Aires delirium before coming back. How would I possibly dance anywhere else? How would I ever recreate this depth, this intensity, this out-of-body experience? How will I survive?! So melodramatic really.
So now, 6 weeks being back in Portland, now that I spend hours dancing, now that I am teaching tango almost every day, now that I have my own dance space to practice, now that I help to host a weekly milonga, now that I dance every tanda with beautiful friends, with laughter, with that intimacy that tango allows for, now I can say with confidence and surprise that it is the same. Really. Same fulfillment, same joy, same beautiful juicy connection, same passion, same love of the music, same sensuality, same tango. It only takes a few seconds of the opening phrase of that song, that waltz that I have danced to a few hundred times… Whether it is on the dance floor in somebody’s arms, at home in the morning, at a coffee shop, riding my bike at 2am, or on a train at sunset on my way to class, suddenly blinded by the fiery light through the window… I only have to close my eyes... that waltz... I am grinning, tears on my cheeks, I am “there.” That place... that feeling, sensing, listening, loving, throbbing place inside myself. A place where fantasy and memory take over the steering wheel taking me on an ecstatic ride… I am locked in an embrace, my body part of a machine accurately measuring out the heartbeat of the music. All the gears, well oiled, spin around each other, the whole mechanism spiraling through the dark cosmos of La Viruta… The song ends, I open my eyes, I am still grinning. I am at a milonga at Norse Hall in Portland, my partner and I reluctantly let go of the embrace. As we walk off the dance floor he says, “Tango is a one way trip…”
And so it is that I don’t really feel I have returned, the trip continues, and the tango that I found in Buenos Aires is not something site specific, temporary, limited, but something that is inside myself, timeless, without limits, without definition. That same tango continues to draw me through space and time now, through the bodies that I get to embrace, through the iconic music that I have come to appreciate so deeply, through the deep cellular memories of all my previous dances and the fantasies of future ones.
Photos, courtesy of Bassel Hamieh