Tango is one big trouble with a twenty-four-hour soundtrack.
Kapka Kassabova’s life changed twenty years ago in an empty tapas bar in Auckland.
“What is this?” I asked them.
“Tango”, the man said….
For the next decade, I would breathe tango, dream tango, love-and-hate tango.
Kapka was a lonely, deracinated 26-year-old when she fell in love with tango. Having migrated with her parents from Bulgaria when she was 18, trying to make her way as a writer, she was ill-at-ease in the sporty outdoor culture of New Zealand. The complex, emotionally dark rhythms spoke to her and bred a longing for “a place in your soul that you can call home”. Over the next ten years she pursued it from Buenos Aires to Berlin, London and Paris, dancing seven nights a week, living almost exclusively in the world of tangueros.
Kapka has made a speciality of the memoir that weaves her personal life into a many-layered common existence. Tango is its own world, with a fascinating history, being invented by those dispossessed, woman-starved early migrants and no-gooders in the porteño slums, to express their homesickness and their woman-sickness…and, like a religion, various factions – Tango Nuevo, for example, where the dancers keep an open embrace with some distance to allow for fluid turns and fancy footwork, is scorned by Milonguero dancers, who dance in close embrace, keeping constant contact from chest to waist, sharing the same axis. Then there’s Salon, Orillero and Canyengue, the oldest form of Argentine tango … you can see I’m getting a bit carried away here. The difficulty and passion of the dance envelops Kapka, but just as much the tanguero community across the world, from Auckland to Buenos Aires to Berlin:
subtly sexy, serious, silent
smiling but sad
exiles from [their] own lives
overflowing with all sorts of yearnings
seized by some incurable heart sickness
Kapka’s search for a place she can call home, embodied in her addiction to tango, involves two serious love affairs. You may be surprised to learn that love and tango don’t go together:
Is there happy love in tango music? Yes, the one you had in the past…
You can fall in tango love with your dancing partner, but it never works off the dance floor. The “12 minutes of love” of the title is the 12 minutes of a tanda, a sequence of 3 or 4 dances.
If you are a person of a certain age, like moi, this book will fill you with remorse for the life that might have been – if you had been a completely different person, of course. Read it at your own peril. Tango makes you long for things you can’t have.