Hearts of Tango - Produced and directed by Miguel Libedinsky.
Miguel Libedinsky begins his film, Hearts of Tango, with the words, “I left Buenos Aires in 2001 and I thought I had lost it forever, but I was wrong. Buenos Aires is here in Toronto, where people also dance tango.”
Tango is the iconic dance of Argentina, and some say that to really dance tango, you have to be Argentine, but Libedinsky discovers that, even though most of the tango dancers in Toronto are not from Argentina, tango is alive in this city. Through interviews with Toronto dancers, tango teachers, artists, and musicians, he sets out to explore why people living so far from Buenos Aires are drawn to tango. He asks, “Can one have a heart of tango without having been born in the south of the Americas?”
Tango has been called “a secret danced between two people” and a “walking embrace.” It is said that tango is not in the feet but in the heart. Dancers interviewed in the film say that tango is more about connection with your partner and expression of feelings than about choreography. The beauty of tango lies in being totally"present" and connected with your partner, the music, the other dancers in the room, and yourself. A tango is about three minutes long, and, for those three minutes, the connection can be very intense. Once you have experienced this connection, you long to experience it again.
Some of the Toronto dancers talk about initially feeling uncomfortable with the close embrace of tango. This may also extend to a lack of connection with one’sown body. One of the first scenes inthe film shows a Toronto tango teacher helping people to tune into their bodies using technology - a Wii board attached to a computer with a programme that shows them when they are off balance. South Americans may simply be more comfortable with being so physically close to someone else. Why, in this North American culture, in which people are not as comfortable with physical contact,would they choose tango?
Tango was born in the streets, bars, and brothels of mid-19th Century Buenos Aires and Montevideo, Uruguay, when immigrants from Europe flooded the cities with dreams of a better life. From this mix of cultures emerged the tango, with roots in the waltzes, mazurkas and polkas of Europe. Other influences include African candombe and Cuban habanera. At that time, one quarter of the population of Buenos Aires was black, since Buenos Aires had been one of the main ports of entry for the slave trade.
The reality the immigrants faced was very different from the life of which they had dreamed. Some worked long hours in slaughter houses and factories and lived five or six to a room in conventillos (tenement houses). At night, dreaming of the home and the people they had left behind, they looked for comfort, distraction, and a little happiness.
Tango arose out of the melancholy, nostalgia, pain, and desire of ordinary people far from home. In the tango, Pedacito de Cielo (Little Piece of Heaven), the poet, Homero Expósito, writes of a neighbourhood and a person left behind long ago, the essence of that place etched in his memory - a fence, the ivy, a balcony. Expósito’s little piece of heaven is a universal feeling, understood by anyone who has left a place to which they will never return. In the film, Aparna, a violinist and tango dancer, says, “You remember a leaf of a particular colour of green at a particular time of year… The new home can never really bring you back the old home. You live in two places at once.”
Every immigrant struggles to maintain the connection with the home they have left as well as embrace the new country. It is the only way to build a future. Aparna has established a tango orchestra and a friendship with Elena, a pianist, whom she met through tango. Lisandro, a co-founder of Sur Theatre, grew up during the “Dirty War” in Argentina, when the military dictatorship was responsible for the disappearance of thousands of people, including some of Lisandro’s friends. His memories have become the raw material for his theatre productions and a means for him to come to terms with past oppression. In one scene in the film, he dances a tango with Spirit, who uses a wheelchair. As Spirit says, we all have stories to tell, and it takes more than just legs to dance. Tango has helped her overcome the barriers associated with her physical challenges and connect with others through dance.
Buenos Aires and Toronto are both cities of immigrants. Argentine Tango is more than a dance or a musical style. It is a non-verbal, intuitive language that transcends nationality, personal background, and age. Perhaps this explains its appeal. It is a way to survive loss and oppression and connect with people and the worldaround you, creating new connections that help you move into the future. It is thought to have been Expósito who said, “Tango is more than music. It is the window to collect memories.” Tango offers us an embrace in which to share our unspoken stories.
The musical score by the contemporary tango orchestra, Narcotango, infuses the film with an intensity that is hard to resist. The editing of the film is seamless. Vintage photographs of Buenos Aires link past and present. The collage of shots of the colourful houses of La Boca (a neighbourhood known as a birthplace of tango) and well-chosen, equally colourful shots of Toronto forges a connection between the two cities. At times it is difficult to tell which city we are looking at. If I had never been to Toronto, this film would make me want to visit this city.
If, through the making of this film, Miguel Libedinsky was seeking a connection between the life he left behind in Buenos Aires and his life in Toronto, I believe he may have found it.
Linda Walsh is a writer and artist with a background in ballet and modern dance. In 2001, after 10 years of listening to tango music and the first of several trips to Argentina, she began to dance tango. She believes that to dance, you must become part of the music. Linda teaches tango at Joy of Dance studio in Toronto, hosts the weekly Palermo Tango Club milonga, contributes articles to dance magazines, and is a DJ for tango events. www.tangolirico.com