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Review: A Marathon Virgin in Tango Heaven


I stare at this image of my arm, my hand warped and twisted in reaction to the moment. I hardly recognise what I see… Me? Surely not! Only the cool blue nail polish gives me away…


Lets see… Locally known as Gänsehaut (German for ‘skin of the goose’). “In medical terms, Cutis Anserine; the bumps on a person’s skin at the base of body hairs which may involuntarily develop when a person is cold or experiences strong emotions” – Wikipedia. Also known as an established side effect of Tango Heaven.


Hmmmmm indeed. In the weeks prior to this little adventure, my mind flooded with questions. What is a tango marathon exactly? Can anyone go there? Is it like a milonga or a tango festival? Am I good enough to dance? How many pairs of shoes should I take? Is it actually possible to dance 30 hours? What should I wear? Who will I meet? Are there rules I don’t know? Will anyone dance with me, a complete stranger?You see, I began learning tango in my own little tango community, dancing with my friends, always a ‘beginner’ in my head. I had heard all kinds of stories about marathons. Exclusive, closed doors, invite only, ‘you have got to be good to dance at a marathon’, elite and cliquey… It didn’t sound like my kind of place at all…In any case, there was only one way to find out!

Getting to Tango Heaven was simple.

I flew to Dresden, in Germany, and jumped in a cab right outside the terminal. 10min later, and at the cost of about €10, my taxi turned into the short drive leading to the very striking Festspielhaus Hellerau, a beautiful, old, fully refurbished, festival hall and the European Centre for Arts.Wide steps took me beyond the stone pillars and through the doors into an elegant and expansive interior. I was immediately lost amidst the cool stone floors, spaces filled with light and shadow, the quiet bare simplicity muffling the rude echo of my heels as I began to explore the corridors, doorways and stairs leading to other spaces. Other secret places. Somewhere through the building I heard filtered voices ..and music. Tango music. That sound never left me all the days I was there.

There were signs. This way down the stairs, and down again, to clean, communal showers and spacious dressing rooms with lights around the mirrors. This way up to the large dormitories of blankets and mattresses neatly placed across the floor, jumbled by luggage and sleeping fellows. This way to the bar and out to the terrace of long benches, people laughing and telling stories. This way to the leafy trees and cool grassy shade, yoga classes and picnickers dazed by the sun.. This way to large floor pillows for lounging and peaceful massages. This way to dinner! Tables of coffee, tea, water, bowls of pasta, salad, fish, scrambled eggs and ice cream served almost always.

And. This way to the dance floor, a huge space given over entirely to the expanse above our heads that reached up and up and up into the very extremity of the festival hall itself. High above us, light flooded in through the windows, creating shadows across the dancers and making it impossible not to refuse the compulsion to stop and gaze upwards. As darkness fell each day that same expanse closed in, hanging silently above the dancefloor, an abyss of nothingness to dance under.

What struck me was a sense of time.

There was so much time. Time to sit alone in the crowd. To simply enjoy the music and feel the energy of the dancers in the air. Time to grab a sneaky second bowl of ice cream going spare. Time for wine at 3am with friends outside on the terrace. Time to slip away and sleep, shower and return to dance again. Time for a second tanda with a favourite partner or two. Time to take a trip into pretty Dresden and stroll around the lake. Time to shiver in the cool morning air with tango fellows, whose feet hurt as much as mine, and watch the sun come up. Time to dance, and dance, and dance.

Oh… things were not perfect.

I smile for these little things that make an event so great.

The beautiful polished wooden floor was just a little bit too slippery for some. The state of the art sound system had a tiny hiccup over one distressed DJ. Afterall, the maestros of sound, the Tango Heaven DJ’s, were coveted by all! The tables and chairs didn’t feel quite right. There were a very few too many tanguera’s at some point. The pasta had garlic in it. This, that and the other. Little things made dramatic by the protectiveness of all who reveled in this space and time.

There was one host, but this was very definitely a community affair.

Someone ran for floor chalk, someone talked to the chef about the garlic who, in turn, responded with even better bowls of deliciousness. A literal team of ‘techs’ sprung from nowhere and ‘advised’ about the sound equipment. It was the leaders who worried to the boss (NOT the followers) about not managing to dance with absolutely ALL the followers. On the second morning the tables and chairs (a mammoth seating arrangement hosting some 250 dancers) had moved to a greatly discussed and agreed ‘better’ position. All overseen by a calm and smiling host. Everything was taken care of.

The cabeceo was the way to secure a dance.

The level of dancing…? Argh, so irrelevant… I would rather remark on the impressionable and reverent ‘understanding of the dance’… A lesson unto itself.  The Rhonda; a moving work of art, as ever, constantly critiqued by the artists themselves. The crowd; open-minded, friendly, explorative. Everyone came to dance! So lets dance.It was enormous fun to explore every tanda with someone new. There were many firsts in fact. Tango’s I had never heard before. Steps I have never taken. Interpretations I have never shared. In fact, in three days I learned so much about tango, I am probably changed forever. Perspective is a precious thing.
All of this was wrenched away on Sunday afternoon at precisely 1645hrs.

My taxi had returned to the doors of heaven to collect me. No time for goodbyes with newly found friends. No more time. Outside, reality waited stubbornly, determined to rescue me from bliss.

Yes… In short, Tango Heaven was my first. And it was good. Very good.

posted by: Rita Maree Horne

About the author: Social Dancer, Writer from Edinburgh

Published: 29 Jul 2014 @ 20:10

Last modified: 24 Oct 2021 @ 04:35

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