You can only understand what aging really means when a ten year span no longer feels the way it did for the first five decades of your life. It strikes you in the face when those you have known for ten years seem to look, with a few exceptions, the same, but the reflections in windows and mirrors insist on showing pictures of your father or mother back at you.
During the Halloween week of 1999, we came to New Orleans for the first time. Although it might seem superfluous to quantify the reasons for that visit, living in a city which recently placed 45 out 55 in order of smartest to dumbest America’s largest cities in the Daily Beast ranking, we came to New Orleans to teach the very first ever city wide Argentine tango workshop. Because that is what we have been doing full time since 1996, and still try to do.
The occasion was a succession of firsts for us. By 1999 we had three years under our soles as the only full time traveling teachers across the United States. We had been the first ones to teach and contribute to the creation of a large tango community in Anchorage, Alaska. We had taken Argentine tango to Hawaii and put into motion another group of passionate tango dancers. But coming to the Deep South was a first. It was the first time we didn’t stay at our hosts home. I remember being met at the airport by our Ecuadorian hosts, who in a very circumspect way drove us to some stranger’s house. Looking through the windows of that house into Claiborne Avenue, I had the willies thinking about the humid four days ahead before we would continue on to sunny Florida and then back to cool and dry California. It’s amazing what an aging mind remembers on demand.
The workshops were a major success with 19 couples participating of four days of hard and exciting work. It was held at the old studio on David Drive. Can I get a “who-who?”
This was also the first time that we stayed in a city beyond the prescribed amount of time needed to hold the workshops before moving on to the next stop. Sabina (far right with the classic foot extension pose that distinguishes tango dancers) had a lot to do with that. Something about cemeteries, vampires and po boys convinced us to accept her invitation to move to her home. As a matter of fact Sabina would have a major influence in the change of course our lives took over the next ninety days.
She was instrumental in inviting us to spend Halloween in New Orleans. We finally got to see a different side of New Orleans, the groomed side reserved for tourists. The visits to the French Quarter were charged with emotional recalls of childhood memories listening to traditional jazz and dixieland on a transistor radio. The architecture, the iron balconies, the narrow streets had an eerie resemblance to the rundown quarters in San Telmo before the tango craze. This city just didn’t feel American at all. It seemed to be part of a third world with people very proud of it. The artists creative juices seemed to seep from every daiquiri dispenser along Bourbon street.
She explained in detail the “natural” division of the almost non existent tango community: “Downtown people don’t have cars so they don’t go to the burbs. Suburbanites have cars but are not comfortable driving to the city, parking, and dealing with the diversity of bohemian characters found in the city.”
It was at a place called Cafe Brasil where we met a cast of characters wearing outlandish costumes, and playing unusual tango music. The hostess, who never considered greeting the contingent of workshop participants and the visiting teachers, turned out to be a nightmare and a pain in the ass to our unassuming, polite and respectful hosts. Such seemed to be the severity of the infighting that we were actually invited to move to the city “to teach that girl what a real tango teacher looks like.” Seriously.
When we realized how mortified these kind, educated and generous people were about the downtown dingbat’s perceived threat to good tango practices, we convinced them about assuming the leadership role the community needed, to become teachers and to move on. It took many hours of private and personal coaching and tutoring, and lots of encouragement over mojitos and Thai food to overcome their reluctance to take a leap of faith.
Two months later, we received one of the most rewarding emails in our tango life. They had decided to begin teaching a small group as we suggested they do. They began a process that eventually became the root of a congenial tango community.
Then in January 2000 we called Sabina to tell her that we had made the decision to downsize, sell our Silicon Valley manor, pack the cat and the dog in the bimmer and head down South. She said come, come on down, the Love Shack is ready for you… Was that really ten years ago? Where did all that time go? Well that’s another matter.