Buenos Aires is a city known for much more than just tango. In fact, only a very small percentage of the population dance tango. However, a great many more take pride in their cultural roots in this genre and appreciate the music and the dance. During the last half of August every year one would never know that this city isn’t ALL about the tango. The government sponsors two weeks filled with live music, lectures, films, performances, fiestas and, of course, the world tango competitions in both Salon and Stage tango. Virtually all of this was free to the public.
During the two weeks I was able to see live, and dance to, almost all of my favourite tango orchestras – Otros Aires, Narcotango, Tanghetto, San Telmo Lounge Project and Sexteto Milonguero (the lead singer reminds me of a Mick Jagger/Benito del Toro cross – yum!). I also saw more traditional concerts – Noche Canaro, Tango Contempo, some that I don’t remember the names of and so many more that I didn’t see – because – well – you just can’t do it all in this city – there is so much! I went to the Contemporary Ballet of Teatro San Martin where they performed Las Ocho Estaciones – combination of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with Piazzolla’s Four Seasons. Anybody who is anybody in the world of Argentine Tango – singer, musician, dancer – was outperforming in some capacity during these two weeks (except Gotan Project who don’t live here).
Jeff, bless him, stood in line twice, for hours, early in the morning, to score free tickets to the competition finals for both Salon Tango and Stage Tango. 427 couples from 25 countries took part in the competitions. During the Salon finals, four groups of ten couples each danced a tanda while twelve judges determined their scores based on a combination of skills and sentiment.
For good reason, both competitions showed strong representation from Argentina. But, included in the top ten finalists for Salon-style tango were a couple from Italy and a couple from Russia and for the first time ever in the eleven-year history of this competition, the winners were non-Argentine. Atypically Japanese the couple showed extreme emotion on stage at the acceptance of their award. Even more surprising was the level of congratulatory applause from the audience as their acceptance of foreign winners.
I arrived late to the lecture by Juan Carlos Copes. Copes, 78 years old, is still a world-class tango dancer, teacher and choreographer. He revolutionized the tango as a dance – the first person to choreograph Argentine Tango for professional dancers on stage in the 50s & 60s. He starred in the film ‘Tango’ by Carlos Saura. All seats in the room were occupied. People were standing around the perimeter and I found a post to lean against with a clear view of the maestro. Copes was speaking in Spanish and although I still don’t understand fluently I thought I might pick up some of the general content of his lecture. He was talking about starting his career by dancing with his sister, then Maria Nieves and more recently his daughter – Johanna Copes. He talked about the cabaceo and I realized he was looking at me – the tall skinny woman leaning against a post at the back of the room. He was making eye contact with me (mirada) while explaining this was done in milongas and people were turning around in their seats to look at me. I graciously returned his gaze, smiled and nodded slightly (cabaceo) – acting as if I completely knew what was going on (even though I didn’t). No, I did not want to appear foolish and ask someone (who in English?) what he had said – exactly what had he said about me or to me? I got the gist of it. I had been cabaceoed by Juan Carlos Copes. I accepted – but, unfortunately, we did not dance. In my dreams Juan Carlos, in my dreams . . .