Southern tip: An epic tale of South America

Cecy and Meme: Tango in Buenos Aires

Posted in Uncategorized by tothetip on December 8, 2009

It wasn’t clear if they were lovers or just friends. I don’t think they even knew. They had a chemistry that radiated from their intertwined bodies and spread over the crowd in tangible waves. Ceci and Meme were like yin and yang. Ceci was a storm of uncontrollable, violent passion. Meme was the anchor that grounded her and kept her from flying off the stage into the crowd. Dancing the tango was their life. They danced all day for tourist and then all night in milongas, or tango clubs, scattered throughout the sleepless city of Buenos Aires. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” Meme told me.

Ceci felt at home in the milongas. Her grandparents began to bring her to the clubs when she was fourteen, a bit too young, she admitted. Older dancers had taken her under their wing and showed her the ropes. The soothing rhythm of the dance calmed her nervous energy, and she lived for the magical feeling of the tango. Meme used to go to discos, but dropped that lifestyle for the tango clubs where you didn’t have to push your way through crowds to get a drink, where bouncers were unnecessary, and the night never ended in fights. Ceci loved to improvise, and Meme was the perfect partner, allowing her to express her inner self through her movements and to carry on a dialogue between their bodies.

The tango was supposedly born in the brothels of the port area on the Rio de la Plata in the late 19th century. It was practiced in the cabarets of “El Caminito,” the small street where Ceci and Meme now dance for tourists. The people of Buenos Aires looked down on the tango, until it boomed in the 40’s. Then, the need for Rock and Roll completely smothered the traditional dance until it became cool again in the 80’s. So it skipped a generation. Meme was taught by his grandparents. Now the milongas are full of people of all ages passionately moving across the dance floor under dim, colored lights.

I clutched onto Meme’s back as we sped through freeway traffic. I screamed nervously in his ear, “Have you ever crashed?”

“Only four times,” he replied, “but none of them were my fault.” We were on our way to the gym, where he liked to clear his mind in between work and the dance clubs. In Argentina, men are expected to kiss other men on the cheek when introduced. So I spent the next half-an-hour kissing sweaty men.

Back at Meme’s dad’s house he helped his little sister, Rocío, with her dance steps. Meme’s dad, Manuel, cooked potato pancakes and steak and complained about tough economic times. I wandered into Meme’s room and realized he was just leaving adolescence. Life-size posters of The Simpsons were pinned up on the walls alongside Bob Marley. He later explained to me that, as a teenager, he was a mix between a “Rollinga” and a “Rasta.” That means he liked the Rolling Stones and reggae music.

We found our way back to a milonga, where we met with Ceci and the rest of the dancers from “El Caminito.” Meme began making out with another dancer from their group, and Ceci pretended not to be jealous. At 2 a.m., a famous dance couple showed up to perform. They mysteriously tiptoed across the dance floor like vampires from another time. The show ended, and the night was just getting started. We walked the vacant streets of Buenos Aires, singing, dancing, and laughing with Meme’s dance friends. The whole group of dancers was extremely sexual, and the lines between gay, straight, and bi were blurry, if they existed at all.

The next day Ceci and Meme danced with mad passion. Tourists stuffed themselves with over-priced food as the couple floated above the sounds of the guitar and accordion. Afterwards, they counted their tips on the floor in a back room of the restaurant. We then headed to Ceci’s house with the crew. Jumping from bus to train to taxi, we finally made it to Ceci’s parents’ house in a wealthy neighborhood in the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

There we sat eating sausages and drinking wine in a beautiful outdoor patio. Ceci, her friends, her parents, her fourteen-year-old brother, his friends, and the two of us were arguing about everything from politics to music piracy until 4 a.m. In the morning, I saw Ceci wrapped up in Meme’s arms. The morning sun slipped through the blinds bathing their beautiful young faces in a golden tone. It brought me back to what Ceci told me. “Naturally I’m impulsive, disorganized and too sensitive. Meme is more relaxed. When the two of us mold together to make a whole, we are much stronger than we are on our own.”

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