Planet Hiker
2005-04-29 Letīs Tango, Buenos Aires, Argentina

The peripherals of the ballroom were packed with small tables, like islands in a sea of chairs. There were too many of them and one had to push some aside in order to be able to sit down. Dim, yellow light flowed from crystal chandeliers that were hung from a ceiling good 25ft above. There were also lighting fixtures along the walls that gave the ballroom a sense aristocracy and luxury. But dust has collected on them over the years and they were too high for anyone to clean. Along with that, the crusts of pealing paint on the walls and on the ceiling were adding to the story a more humble chapter. Yet everyone had come dressed exceptionally glamorous. Some men were wearing suits with a line of shiny buttons on their sleeves. Others, with more modest jackets, would show off their buttoned down, tucked in shirts along with new belts and slick buckles. Without exception, all wore polished out formal shoes. Some even had shoes that were specifically made for dancing, as hinted by the overly elaborate stitching designs.

High heals decorated the feet of all women and plethora of dress styles gave the ballroom wild variance. There were tight pants, tight skirts, tight blouses, and tight dresses in sometimes striking combinations. Complete makeup and stylish haircuts were the standard.

Predominately, this was an "older crowd", with most guests in their 40s and up. But there was also a good representation of 30s, particularly amongst women. The most interesting guests however, were so called "taxis". These were men hired by women as tango partners, as well as to provide company for the evening. While resting by the tables, they conversed maintaining their composure, raising smiles that were polite but never loud. They were all exceptional dancers and took their jobs seriously, continuously pulling out unexpected combinations of moves. But more over, they had a very pronounced way of leading the dance. They would push on the shoulder blade either by the palm of the hand or by the tips of the fingers to indicate which way to turn, use the inside part of the elbow to put pressure on the side of the woman to shift her into a crossed position, and lean with the right part of the chest when wanting to make a step forwards.

Other couples danced with less emphasis on correctness of particular step combinations. When asked for a dance, often with the eyes closed, the woman would embrace the man by putting her left hand around his neck and pressing her chick against his. After which he would very slowly, sometimes taking up to 10 seconds, raise his right hand and place it on her upper back and pause for a few more seconds. He would then gradually begin leaning backward and make a sliding step with his right foot. The woman would follow.

At times, the man would stop, catching the woman with her legs crossed, balancing on one foot. Swinging gently, the man would shift his weight such that the woman would remain standing on one foot but would slide her free foot in semicircular curves behind her, not so much as to maintain balance, but to highlight her sensuality to even the slightest moves of his body. When ready, the couples would slide across the wooden floor of this old palace like dandelion seeds flying over a field. In this flow of mixing sybaritic dresses and elegant shoes, the story of Argentina was being told. The old ballroom with pealing paint, at its hart, incubated the etiquette of these people, that would not be broken by economic turmoils. The beauty of the dance was as eloquent now as it has ever been, reaching across time undisturbed by the popular trends or even by politics that have devastated this country's prestige.

Photo by Boris Violentyev: