Sunday, October 10, 2010

El maestro viejo

He demonstrates something of the evolution of the embrace and way of dancing vals over the centuries since it was introduced to Buenos Aires, beginning with a very open, formal embrace and winding up with the close embrace that we are all familiar with. He remarks that his parents had met while dancing this way, before the war--that this was how he came to be--and warns, with a twinkle in his eyes, that you have to be careful when you dance.

He recalls how he began dancing as a child, leading his mother and his aunt at home, before he ever made his milonga debut at age fourteen. Now he is silver-haired, going on seventy-six years old but seems to have the vigor of a man a third of his age--although I notice how he rations his energy at the milonga, dancing only occasionally, and generally only one or two songs with any partner, so that he can dance with as many of the women as possible.

(We're lucky to have him again in my little town. I'm especially glad, as I was not able to attend his workshops in Nearby City, and thought, with disappointment, that I was going to miss him entirely. Happily, not so!)

Dancing with him is like solving a complex puzzle. His leading is highly musical and intricate--formed, I think, from so many years of creative improvising in the tiny space available in crowded Buenos Aires milongas; one of my favorite aspects of dancing with the milongueros there. Above all, he is clear, unhurried, easy to follow, and he can feel the way his partners' bodies move and adjust seamlessly if we have followed somehow imperfectly. Years and years of practice--there is nothing like it.

And yet I do not like to think too much about how old these men and women are getting. It makes me sad.

What can any of us do but dance as much as we can, while we can?

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