Argentine tango is, what I like to call, a narrative dance: it moves forward, counterclockwise, in the line of dance, moving around an invisible center, a force that seems to structure the dance and its codes. People dance tango anywhere: a living room, a street corner, an outdoor gazebo, the beach, even an airline terminal.
But wherever it is danced, it moves in that counterclockwise system, inexorably around this absent center. What is this absent center? What keeps drawing us back to that place, to that space? And when we stop, what keeps us away?
That space where we dance tango, counterclockwise, that physical community space, but also that virtual space, with its codes and unwritten symbols, this is the milonga, where dancers fall into familiar roles and patterns. All evening we switch partners through a set of rituals and codes like the cabaceo, exchange of glances, nods across a room to accept an invitation, averting one's eyes to refuse. We switch partners all evening, hoping for that moment of bliss where identity diffuses into an experience of shared touch, shared movement creation. We feel bliss in this movement of co-creation, and then we switch back to the logic of desire and possession through the gaze. Movement and vision. For me, tango expresses at once the conflicting modes of human nature: its potential for deep connection, one that lies beyond or beneath language and logic, one that binds us together in these spaces in between; but also its desire for the other, its desire to possess the other, and its projection of identity on the other through the gaze, this indefatigable thirst for the spectacle. Movement and vision. This, for me, describes in large part this invisible axis that structures the codes of the milonga. Tango is both felt and seen. Borrowing from Michel de Certeau, in his Practice of Everyday Life, tango is "seen from above" or rather here from the sidelines, but it is also "walked through" or danced and felt "from below," on the dance floor, around this invisible axis.