It’s amazing that after a year and a half, tango clubs and festivals are opening as if the pandemic was a dream, one to be forgotten as dancers cast aside masks, step onto dance floors, and embrace each other cheek-to-cheek.
I went to my first milonga in fifteen months this past Friday in Los Altos, hosted by Andrea Monti and Adrian Durso. The two also host the Argentine Tango USA Championship and Festival in the Bay Area, taking place in July.
For certain, the past year wasn’t a dream, and to go back to dancing tango is not entirely the same experience.
While milonga hosts in the Bay Area and Southern California slowly start to open their venues, many struggle to accommodate those who are vaccinated and those who are not. Some only allow vaccinated dancers. Others try to accommodate both by only allowing those who are vaccinated to switch partners. The non-vaxxed must wear masks and can only dance with the partner they came with.
Some hosts are not ready to start their milongas yet. It’s difficult because vaccinations are not one hundred percent effective, and new COVID variants are a concern.
In addition to being anxious about the health risks, I was nervous I wouldn’t remember how to dance the tango—I’ve only danced once in the past fifteen months when a friend, who I considered “safe,” visited me last August. We danced in my studio for several hours.
What would it be like to walk into a milonga and encounter people I haven’t seen in so long? To sit, wait, and do the cabaceo (a nod to invite or accept a dance)?
How would it feel to embrace someone so close I could hear them breathe in my ear? Would it be safe if we’re all vaccinated? What if people used fake vaccination cards?
I put my fears aside and walked into the American Legion Hall where the milonga on Friday took place, wearing a peach-colored, long cotton dress. No black that night—it’s spring, and the world is opening to new life, new dances, and new connections.
After I showed my vaccination card and paid the entrance fee, a friendly cohost welcomed me with a huge smile.
“Thank you,” I replied with a similarly big smile, “I am soooo happy to be here!”
We all laughed and smiled at each other, elated that we could gather together and dance the tango again.
The first invitation I received to dance was to a fast-moving milonga. I wasn’t ready to go onto the floor, especially to a faster type of music, which is not my favorite. I prefer the slower tango.
The person who asked me to dance wore a white face mask, layered in black lace. He was the only person wearing a mask. Instead of nodding yes or no, I walked over to him and explained that I hadn’t danced in a year and wasn’t sure I would do well with a milonga. He encouraged me to try, so I said, “Why not?”
After a year and a half of yearning, I embraced my first dance partner. I tried to keep my face apart from his as we circled the floor. To my surprise, I followed his lead quite easily, and my first tanda was a success.
I danced almost constantly for the next two and a half hours and ended the evening dancing in my sandals. I was ready to leave and had already changed my shoes when my last dance partner of the evening, Omar, inspired me to dance just one more …
As I wrap up this post, I am readying to dance the tango again tonight at Alberto’s in Mountain View, a lovely intimate spot that survived the pandemic.
Hopefully, more and more people will get vaccinated, and we’ll beat back this virus until we can dance again without care until the early morning hours, just like we used to.