Kapka Kassabova: Twelve Minutes of Love: A Tango Story


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.

11 thoughts on “Kapka Kassabova: Twelve Minutes of Love: A Tango Story

  1. And of course there is the Finnish Tango (suomalainen tango) which is written in a minor key and is often about yearning for the old homestead. Finns aren’t so concerned with all that love rubbish.

    Other Gert

  2. An intriguing story, oh yes the magic of the dance floor, though I’ve never danced tango, watching it unfold is like appreciating a good story.

    I recently read The God’s of Tango by Carolina de Robertis and enjoyed learning about how it evolved and the addition of new instruments and finally the singer, and it’s upward movement and eventual social acceptance thanks to its arrival in Paris. It’s fascinating to learn about the progress of music and dance and the tango particularly, how it is taken up by immigrants, looking for a kind of refuge.

  3. Fascinating. The only tango couple I’ve known were a lovely talented Israeli woman who somehow ended up in Anchorage, married to a very well-off lawyer, probably about her age (early 60s when I met them). She is a artist, set designer, and more; he drove a sports car, and adored her, and she him. They would tango for us at parties at the home of another deeply arts couple, often after the mariachi band had finished playing to celebrate whatever birthday or play opening was currently on the calendar. So — don’t know about the tragic part, but while they were dancing, the room swirled with passion in way that the mariachi band just never generated. Sadly he died suddenly about a year ago, and that means that we will never again have the pleasure of watching them. It is easy to see how obsessive it could become.

  4. Wonderful! I would love to be able to dance the tango. It’s the dance I would most like to do as I watch Strictly Come Dancing each week, from the comfort of my sofa. I really enjoyed listening to an edited audio version of this author’s memoir/travel book ‘To the Lake’ when it was featured on Radio 4 last year. She sounds like a wonderful writer. Very thoughtful and eloquent.

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