Oh, of course. Valentine's tango. Combine a Hallmark holiday with the inherent cheesiness of tango, and you've got a spectator sport. I like to think that I have come to terms with this holiday. Rather than wearing black and heading to the nearest cave, I started the evening at Triangulo. I wanted to see what couples do on a day like this. Coupledom is a foreign culture to me: the expectations, the drains on one's personal time, the need to have fancy pajamas (oops, negligees), require decoding. Hence, my field study about the customs of coupledom during times of enforced romance.
At Triangulo, young couples converged for chocolate covered strawberries, champagne, and a first tango lesson (for most). Participant observation requires sacrifice, and it was back to cruzadas and ochos for me. While the couples shuffled and tried to avoid squashing each other, I found an impromptu partner. The man had a story. He was alone on Valentine's Day, but wore a wedding ring and looked shellshocked. I didn't pry. I danced, and found myself preaching with the zeal of the newly converted: the key is facing each other, chest to chest, heart to heart, it's how we connect in tango, how I know where you're going (how I avoid getting my toes trampled, I thought). I encouraged: you've got it, I wouldn't be able to dance if you were doing it wrong. It was noblesse oblige from an aspiring tanguera to a novice, but we all need support on Valentine's Day. Is that one of the rituals? Is weathering Valentine's Day together (this being the key) necessary for creating the codependene that makes or breaks couples? I had more work to do.
Next stop: Highline Ballroom. There was a live tango band, followed by a live tango show, followed by a live milonga. In short, the place was hoppin'. It was dark and filled with couples sitting at tables and eating overpriced Valentine's prix fixe dinners. Waiters carrying plates filled with red meat pushed through the crowds. I stood by the bar, observing. It's what I do. I was born observing, ask my mother. She'll say, she [that's me, change of speaker] was only a few days old, just lying there in her crib, not crying, just looking around, observing, and I [that's my Mom] wondered, who is this little person? I [that's me, another change of speaker] am the last of five kids, and spent my childhood observing the older ones. It was easier than talking over them (darn near impossible).
At Highline, there were men in red shirts, men in ties, men dressed to impress. Their women wore tight, tight dresses, teetered on high, high heels, and draped arms around their men, claiming their territory. There were old couples, talking comfortably without the pressure to fill in silences. There were new couples, twittering and nervous. There was an arguing couple, who left early, to my relief, and vacated a table where I could sit and rest my feet. There was a self absorbed couple, each member preening and staring in the opposite direction, checking out the crowd checking out them. There were well-matched couples, you could see it in their relaxed smiles. And there was Media Noche, the Gibson Girl burlesque dancer who undressed sinuously on stage. She had a petit hourglass frame. When she reached the tiny glittery bits pasted to her tiny special bits, the men's eyes popped. The women looked the other way. I made note: another Valentine's ritual. Adversity again, either it makes you or breaks you.
After the stage show the place cleared out fast. It was Monday night, and most of the crowd was eager to get home to complete the Valentine's ritual, for which the earlier evening had been a mere precursor. That's when the milonga started. The tangueros came out of the woodwork, and I danced. I did boleos, ganchos, embellishments, and even one dip. At some point during a Piazzolla piece, I forgot about participant observation and became part of Valentine's Day. And perhaps that's the Valentine's message, that the rituals aren't just for couples. That, taken less seriously, the day is about partipating in love and all its different forms. Pink really is a pretty color, and hearts are kind of cool shapes.
As I left the milonga, a man handed me a long stemmed red rose. I held it in my lap during the hour long subway ride home. I was alone, but I wasn't the only one.