Tango and Other Addictions

Hi, Boomers,

My favorite doctor friend, one of the most important opthamologists and plastic surgeons (neck up only, please) in Los Angeles, said to me today, “I wish I could live just one day of your life.”
She has no idea what a crazy day inside my body and mind can produce. And sometimes, I’m even surprised at how my day turns out. Be careful what you wish for, my adorable and brilliant friend because your world is incredibly fulfilling. Besides, my friend studied music at Julliard, which makes her the envy of my eye, and she and her doctor husband go to Africa to to take care of those who have so little in their lives. Now, that’s a life worth living!
I went to a tango festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico, over the weekend with a stay-over in Santa Fe for two nights with one of my very best friends, a designer of tango clothes and other fabulous outfits. I went to the festival with my load of books to sell (Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer) and with my best intentions not to dance like a maniac for two and a half days. I was mindful that I did have a serious condition called pneumonia. That condition doesn’t go well with high altitude and Albuquerque is about 5,000 feet (Santa Fe about 7,000 feet). I barely made it to a couch in the Hilton Hotel where the tango festival was going to be held. Except for Thursday night when I arrived, I found out we had to drive to another destination for the milonga (the venue where we dance tango).
I walked in to a warehouse that had been transformed into an urban chic, totally cool atmosphere. We could have been in Soho for all we knew. Old doors from around the world lined the walls and tables were decorated with clever bright paper flowers. The dance floor was full and tango music filled the room. My expression changed from dog tired to excitement.
My addiction began to take hold. I’m like Pavlov’s dog. I hear tango music and I have to dance. This has been a sixteen year addiction, but not the kind of addiction that I trekked off to Buenos Aires and lived there for years and forsook my family and all personal responsibility. Although I have been to BsAs thirteen times, I only once heard the call to move there and then it passed as quickly as it came upon me (Hey, Joan, why don’t you teach English as a second language to Argentine executives every day and dance all night and that would last about a week and I’d die of exhaustion).
But I stil have a deep love affair with tango music and dance. I’m often thrilled and elated by its rhythms accompanied by the characteristics sound emanating from the bandoneon, the instrument created by a German just for tango music.
Three years ago, I decided to try to lead a normal life unlike the nomadic life of a tango dancer. I stopped cold turkey from going to Buenos Aires every year. I realized that I’d never see more of the world if I just kept repeating myself as a tango dancer going to Mecca once a year. What more could the Argentine world offer me in terms of personal growth and experience?
I pulled away reluctantly that first year and went to Costa Rica in March, the usual time of my trip to Buenos Aires. I felt liberated. It was like I had abandoned my pack a day habit and my trip to someplace else became a triumph of personal strength. And then I went to Spain and Morocco the next year, and then I went to Bali and I was seeing the world through different eyes and difficult cultures. And I felt I had choices once again.
And suddenly, I began to notice that I was becoming a better dancer, a more mindful interpreter of the tango music. a dancer whose detachment found a deeper attraction to the tango world.
I was dancing one night at the festival with a really adorable young man who has danced about three years. And he was a very good dancer, rhythmic, sensitive to the dance conversation, attentive to his partner. He has a smile you could drown in . There was a break after the tanda (three or four tangos played in a row after which there is a break) and Rick was telling me how much he loved to dance tango and how he wished he were me – someone who had danced for sixteen years and traveled to Buenos Aires frequently.
“Be careful, Rick,” I said. “You can drown in tango and never grow. It’s kind of a trap like all addictions. One sees the world in fantasy when someone is an addict, no matter the drug and it’s dark down there in addiction-land. It’s hard to climb out but I haven’t been to Argentina in a long time and I don’t miss the scene.”
Rick looked at me totally riveted and was silent for a short time.
“You’re right, Joan. I’ve felt that, the darkness sometimes when you feel too much or go too deep in tango. Too much tango can stunt your growth and it’s hard to come up for air.”
“Too much of anything can stunt your growth. Tango doesn’t produce growth. Tango produces more of tango and that’s when there’s too much attachment, too much fervor, and too much of anything is never good.”
I danced the weekend in spurts because my breath wasn’t fully back. I did see my old tango maestro on Friday night and we danced like we had been dancing for the last decade together. We danced seamlessly and he glided me across the floor as if I had never left his arms. Tango is still my drug of choice but I was sure that I would continue to take steps toward personal growth and exploration in the future. Let’s hope it lasts.

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