Me voy a Buenos Aires

Mafalda sitting on a chair comforting a feverish and bandaged up globe placed by her side.

Were you aware that there is such a thing as a Tango conference? Up until recently, neither was I. Seven days straight of workshops and evenings with milongas. So of course, I booked me a ticket far enough in advance and got organised. I’d more or less relegated that to the class of things that are making me happy even though they are far, far away. People would say, “Well now, aren’t you excited?” and I’d say “yes” and think but it’s a while away still. And I’d got so used to doing that that it wasn’t until last week that I really realised that I’m going. And soon!

I have never been to Buenos Aires and you know, my ignorance is wide-reaching and fathomless and the only thing that I know I have to see is the house of Quino (and the statue of Mafalda). For those of your who don’t know who they are – Quino is Joaquín Salvador Lavado – an argentine cartoonist – and parent to Mafalda – the protagonist of a comic strip he created. In my head, Mafalda is in Spanish what Calvin and Hobbes are in English. It was the first comic strip I read in spanish. And I think it would be fair to say that it was the comic strip that made me want to learn more spanish. Reading (and understanding) One Hundred Years of Solitude (by Gabriel García Márquez) was what started me down this path of learning the language. Mafalda was what made the getting there seem both worthwhile and achievable. My spanish is still not good enough to read the comic strip without a dictionary at my side… so I have a ways to go, but it’s fun getting there!

Some of my favourite strips include Libertad. Libertad is the most radical and overtly political of the characters in Mafalda’s universe. And she is also the tiniest, (freedom being this little ball of hopeful cynicism is kind of a running gag) and totally awesome! And the strip below is perhaps my absolute favourite with her in it. There are others that are more political and what not, but this one is genius.

[Image description and translation: Single panel four-window comic strip with Libertad and her Dad. Dad indicates the potted plants in the corner as he kneels on the floor and asks Libertad if she likes them. Libertad responds “In pots no, I like plants to be in the ground proper”. Dad, “Yes, of course, but that is impossible. I live in an apartment”. Libertad, “You asked me if I liked the plants, not if I liked your life.” The end!]

And then of course there the one where Mafalda asks that the world stop spinning because she’d like to get off! I feel like that a lot. At any event, I get to take a bit of a break and step off the merry-go-round for a bit – a tango conference in Buenos Aires isn’t a usual stop, but one that I’m quite looking forward to!

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Tango with an absence of pretension

I have been learning to dance for the better part of my life.  And I do mean better.  Over the years I have come to understand how and why I dance and what happens when I don’t (hint: not hugs or puppies).  One thing that each of the dances I’ve learned over the years have had in common is that they are solo acts.  By this I mean that my dance space is my own.  Which is not to say that they can’t be danced with other people.  They can, but in the way that mimics the ‘everybody dies alone’ kind of way.  You see?

The argentine tango is the only dance I have every wanted to learn that requires another person to be allowed into my space.  And as always, the reason I’ve wanted to learn it is that I love the music.  If you’ve heard the music you’ll understand when I say that it requires it be a dance between two people.  Because the dancing is not contained in the body of the dancer but in the gap between them.  So I guess everybody still dies alone… just the fact that often it’s with someone else there is what this dance highlights.

An unfortunate by-product of the international revival of the argentine tango is the links that have been created between the dance and slink.  I like slink quite a lot, but it’s a relatively small part of what makes the tango incredible.  At it’s heart it’s still the dance of immigrants; a movement that follows the music that has followed the people.  If you strip away the glamour and the slink and the rise and fall from nationalism it’s what’s left.  A bit like this:

and a lot like anything else.