The Chateceo

Who knew that sitting by the men’s bathroom was the cabaceo hotspot? Not that I was really looking anymore. I just wanted to hide somewhere. It was getting to that delirium hour, sometime around 4am, when physical pain begins to outweigh the pleasure and the chase after that perfect dance feels like too much for the soul. 

I should just go home but I decide to find a corner where I will be out of the way and I can rest my throbbing feet. Instead of the privacy that I desire, the spot by the bathroom attracts the most attention. 

I’m in a cloud of physical agony and sleep deprivation. The music holding me hostage, somehow I can’t just leave. I spend my time looking away from the repetitive gazes pointed my way, feeling my aching feet pulse in time with the music. I become aware of his gaze somewhere between passing out and taking off my shoes to leave. He calmly looks my away amidst all the commotion and traffic gathered around the spot where I’m sitting. 

“No way” I think to myself. There is just no way I can get my body to get out of this chair. I continue to look away, my body glued to the wall behind me. It’s all I can do to remain vertical. But before I realize what’s happening I find him sitting next to me. At first he doesn’t look my way or say anything, pretending that he was just interested in the seat rather than in me. I continue to give into the gravitational pull of the wall... “there is just no way,” I say to him telepathically. As we sit side by side for some time I am patiently waiting for the inevitable exchange

 “Bailamos?”

“Gracias, no”

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The ready answer is on the tip of my tongue when he turns to me and says “what did you do on your last birthday?” I’m taken aback, my body suddenly jolted into wakefulness by the unexpected question. “I went to the beach,” I say, suddenly feeling disarmed. “Where was the beach? Who did you go with? What was it like?”

The conversation flows between us with the ease of long term friendship, his lightheartedness and plain good cheer overriding the inertia I had succumbed to. All I can do is helplessly watch as my earlier resolve gradually melts under the warmth of this jolly older man. Eventually it becomes clear that not only am I ready to agree to a dance, but I am hoping for one! How did this happen?! I’m speechless. 

With the perfect timing and precision of a migratory bird that is in tune with the ebb and flow of nature, he finally swoops in with an invitation to the dance floor. His dance is simple and to the point, free of the ambition and intensity that I am so used to feeling, free of any flair or embellishment. In fact the dance feels secondary, a consequence rather than the focus. The pure joy that seems to radiate from this man, enveloping us in a personal utopia, takes center stage in my awareness.

How is he like this? How is he so happy? He tells me a little bit about himself between the songs. Like many other milongueros, he has been dancing for a few decades and now, being single, he spends his time traveling all over South America dancing under the stars, on boats and beaches. 

His skin is like well-worn leather crafted by the sun over decades, his wiry body feels full of childlike restlessness, his intense eyes seem to glow in the dark, he is ageless. His aliveness and joy are contagious and through our tango I feel myself transported into an alternate, much more expansive reality. In this reality, tango is not a goal or a destination, but doorway to walk through, an excuse for something bigger to occur, a conduit for life itself.