Pandemic Tango or Last Tango in Winter

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Tango in winter keeps you warm. This portrayal of tango in the snow is by Irish artist Alan Hogan; you can find him here

There’s something extra special about pre-winter holiday tango, especially if you live in a frosty white and cold winter city like Montreal. In summer, Montreal is a sexy coquette: a bit Paris, a bit New York but indelibly herself. But in winter that delightful warmth is scarce; the December air is crystal and glints, casting a shimmery light against the darkness of the early sun-setting afternoons. But if you dance tango, you’re in luck. Winter hearts have a reprieve because at tango there are golden rays of warmth still to be had.

It’s very simple: all you have to do is find your way to a quiet, unassuming, drop-in tango studio. Most tango schools have practicas and/or milongas which are informal, open times where you can drop by for a few dances or the whole afternoon. Both practicas and milongas are usually filled with people from your regular tango classes and dancers from other schools or the occasional tourist, thirsty for their tango fix.

Of course, I have my own favorite place, which is in Old Montreal and perched three flights up in an unassuming building, adjacent a toney French restaurant. You scoot up the stairs, tango shoe bag in hand and heave the industrial door open. Tumbling inside from the hallway landing, you land in the planet’s best kept secret, a magic kingdom of dance and music that chases the winter blues away in a heartbeat and a few bandoneon chords. There, away from the cold and darkness of December, is a hot spot of warmth, music, and humanity.

I always have a distinct impression when I first open that door, of flying bodies, tossing hither and thither in mad tango freedom — everyone moving to the tango music! I think of speakeasys of decades past and wonder if they were like this demi-monde world as well. This is where the winter sunlight hides and where there is not an undeniable life forced, fueled by a plethora of happy people enjoying a few hours in a way much of the world has forgotten, if indeed they ever knew it existed. This beautiful, movable tableau is Montreal winter tango.

I remember one particular afternoon of incredible winter tango one mid-December afternoon years ago. It was last practica before the New Year, before the crush and prioritizing of the holidays and other commitments, other ways to celebrate the season.

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Tango so pretty, even the trees are in awe. Brava, brava.

I remember one particular afternoon of incredible winter tango one mid-December afternoon years ago. It was last practica before the New Year, before the crush and prioritizing of the holidays and other commitments, other ways to celebrate the season.

I got there late, navigating the highway and icy city streets, and wondered what I was doing going out when I could have been home, reading a good book on a lazy pre-holiday Sunday or doing holiday gift shopping. But when I arrived, there was that pulsating pre-holiday feeling in the air. So many people were there — old friends, new ones. Immediately I got asked to dance nonstop (the tango gods were with me) mostly from men from my classes and guys I’ve known for years but also a few strangers. Some tango folk like familiarity and the easy of knowing friendly partners. I do as well but nothing beats that unknown adventure of someone you’ve never danced with before. It can be disaster or heaven and that’s the risk and reward. The surprise of the afternoon was the last guy, about 24 or 25 years old, weighing 99 pounds wet. He looked like he was at a frat party the night before and woke up in his clothes and running shoes and just rolled into tango. Surprisingly, he was a treasure of style and had an innate, flawless sense of rhythm. We did one tanda — each dance as smooth as silk. The second tanda began and predictably after a set of waltzes, then the music changed to Nuevo tango. My lead spoke his first and only words: “Bon — du contemporain’ which I took that to mean: “Oh now I have to switch gears and re-navigate -this is a whole new ball game…musically speaking). For a minute I thought he wouldn’t like the Nuevo music or would fumble in his lead or possibly quit the dance floor and me but he was fantastic — as good at Nuevo as he was at the waltzes. There’s something about Nuevo with its rogue rules that makes it double the magic carpet ride with a total stranger. All you need to go on this voyage is a bit of trust and your basics. It’s pretty simple — the lead makes space, you take up that space, you listen and respond. It’s beautiful.

Too soon, snow had begun to fall outside, many dancers had left and the bars of La Cumparsita , the last tango, signaled the practica was over. Still breathless and flushed with the exceptional dancing, I drove by a nearby Tim Horton’s Coffee shop for a cup of scalding hot coffee and then dawdled my way through Old Montreal before u-turning west through Westmount, comparing the magical holiday lights all the way on the home drive. When I tucked myself in my house, I was still floating in a tango cloud.

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So many steps, so many directions; they all lead to tango.

One/we/us/people all have to get out and find what makes us happy. Sometimes it takes a a couple of tangos or a few complete tandas but the joy I had that winter tango afternoon was enough to fuel me through evening and through the next morning in my day job as a writer and single mother to three sons who know better than to ever mimic me doing tango steps in the kitchen.

There are so many special tango memories I have and I’ve written so many of them down; for me, each one is a pearl. During this pre-holiday mid December in Montreal, in this tango-less pandemic, I cherish those memories in a new way. Not too far up the road, I’ll be making new tango memories but meanwhile there’s no one stopping me from tangoing in the snowy park amongst the trees. I’m waiting for vaccines and spring but tango is impatient. If you find circular footsteps in the snow and hear ghost sounds of a phantom bandoneon play Adios Nino, you’ll know I’ve probably been there.

Written by

Cookbook Author, Master Baker, Writer, contributer to Huffington, Washington Post, PBS Next Avenue. Find me and betterbaking.com.

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