It Takes Ten to Tango




The ad in the paper for the show entitled ‘Tango in the Shadows’ caught my eye, and since Yigal and I have long been aficionados of the tango in every shape and form we decided to buy tickets for the performance in Jerusalem. The fact that the event fell exactly on the day of Yigal’s birthday made it especially attractive.

Yigal and I met at a student party many years ago, and as we were dancing together I have a clear recollection of him telling me that he particularly liked the tango. My knowledge of dancing of any kind was sketchy at the time, but I knew, or thought I knew, that dancing the tango meant striding along in close contact with the other person. At any rate, that’s what the tango represents to people in England, the country of my birth and from which I had recently arrived in Jerusalem. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but other matters took priority, and at our modest wedding a few months later in the garden of some friends there was no dancing. Already before we met, Yigal had been familiar with Argentinian folk music, and did his best to impart his love of it to me. In doing so he had to overcome the mental barrier of my intellectual snobbery, used as I was from infancy to a diet of classical music. Eventually I did come to love that music, which found its way into my heart when I was first exposed to Ariel Ramirez’s ‘Missa Criolla.’

I came to know the music of the Argentinian composer, Astor Piazzolla, many years later. Piazzolla took the traditional tango rhythms and instruments used by Argentinian musicians, especially the bandoneon, which is something like a mini-accordion, and elevated them to a higher intellectual plane yet one that is still as all-embracing as the traditional tango. The way the tango is danced in Argentina differs in some respects from the way this is done in Europe, but both forms require the woman to follow the man’s steps faithfully, giving her little freedom to express herself. That, of course, goes against my nature, but I do my best to comply.

The Argentinian tango emerged in the early years of that country’s development, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in the nightclubs of Buenos Aires and other towns of that enormous country, where immigrants congregated in an attempt to find comfort and companionship far away from their homes in Europe. It provides an excuse for combining the physical attraction between a man and a woman with the hypnotic spell cast by the all-encompassing rhythm of the music.

Yigal’s dream had always been to visit Argentina, and on his retirement we took a long trip there. We travelled from its southern tip (Ushaia) to its northern-most region (Iguassu), visiting the regions in between. We also spent some time in Buenos Aires. Apart from discovering long-lost relatives who had fled there from Germany at the same time as my own parents found refuge in England, we attended several tango performances, took lessons in tango dancing and even attended a Milonga, where one can dance the night away.

The music of the tango still manages to exert its magic, and the performance of Marcos Ayala’s Tango Company in Jerusalem was no exception. The company consists of ten dancers in addition to its lead dancers, Marcos Ayala and his partner Paola Camacho, all of them from Argentina. The music by various composers, including Piazzolla, was pre-recorded by the company’s orchestra and transmitted over loudspeakers.

The dancers were all outstanding professionals, displaying elegant footwork and consummate artistry. In the first half of the programme their outfits echoed the simple clothes worn by the first immigrants to Argentina, while in the second half the men wore stylish suits and the women donned what appeared to be either black bikinis or something akin to underwear. This contrasted starkly with the stylish, figure-hugging dresses that one generally sees in tango shows and seemed out of place, though it certainly gave the ladies a chance to display their shapely legs.

For the finale the women changed once again, this time into what appeared to be sequined swimming-suits. So once again, there were no elegant, slinky dresses but plenty of legs on show. As is customary for tango dancing, the women all wore high heels, requiring them to display considerable aplomb and equilibrium. The dancers acquitted themselves admirably, displaying breath-taking acrobatic agility and strength. I would have preferred some elegant clothes, but there is no doubt that the display of lissome female bodies was not displeasing to most of the audience.