The "Last Tango in Paris", a 1972 film of Bernardo Bertolucci (Ultimo tango a Parigi), is an art film that portrayed an American widower Paul (played by Marlon Brando) in midlife crisis over the suicide of his wife. He takes up a relationship with a Parisian mademoiselle Jeanne (Maria Schneider), bumping into each other while checking on an apartment; they kept a totally anonymous sexual liaison in the apartment, until Paul decided to live in facts rather than fiction. The Parisian woman was alarmed, and Paul’s move proved fatal.
There is great emotional expenditure in the imagined lives that we live, until the truth bumps us into the light of day, and the carefully constructed fantasies of our imagination begin to unravel and fall apart. In politics and personal biography, truth often comes as a villain and foe, rather than as a welcomed friend. We are either on denial, or flying high on a flight of fancy!
The earthy image of the tango came to us on a stopover in Buenos Aires airport on a flight to Santiago, Chile from Rio de Janeiro. Argentina’s airport security marched in goose steps reminiscent of Der Fuhrer’s stormtroopers of the Third Reich in the late '70s, a reaction to Juan Peron and Evita’s perceived misguided popularity among the masses.
At the airport, we saw a poster of a lady leaning back with red rose clenched between her teeth in the arms of man with whom she was dancing the tango. Raw and powerful, the Argentine dance of proletarian roots in Rio de Plata combines European and African music, beat, and moves, a rather unique concoction that has since flashed across global dance floors. The fear of the gun muzzle was replaced by argentine verve!
Our tango image returned when we reunited with high school classmates in North America. On its 52nd anniversary this month, INHS60 met at the Waterfront Hotel in Burlington, Canada, by the shores of Lake Ontaria an hour away from the mist of Niagara Falls. I had been gung-ho on being present there, having missed the 50th gathering in the old hometown of Laoag City two years before. We didn’t make it.
What has been kept alive, however, is the promise of a tango between a cuddly diminutive classmate and I, with no less than a red rose clenched between teeth while we would lean into a dip from an engaging abrazo. Never mind that our legs may no longer execute the fast clip of the staccato steps that sometimes is mixed with the long drawn 2-4/4-4 slide, nor could our arms hold a body leant outward for the dip. The dance is a movement of the body with the feet following and supporting where the body leads. All of these are fun to picture in the mind.
Our class president and his wife did get on the ball in Toronto and found a red rose for our dance partner, who gamely promised to keep it pressed in her diary. The class plans to meet again next year in Hawaii, and though the class numbered more than a hundred at G-day, close to a fourth have said their 10-4s. In the sixth decade of our existence, our bite is often more ambitious than our chew! I might finally get the diminutive one to the dance floor, though by then, the tango will have given way to the less demanding Hula!
In a sense, this reflection is less about Tango and Toronto as about the decision to dance one’s life away! Dance is the language of revolution, avers Yes magazine in its latest issue, as it explores why the word "vagina" associated with lust is more feared and despised than "scud missile" and "plutonium".
Anthony Quinn in the movie version of Kazantzakis’ Zorba the Greek plays the main character next to a Greek-English novelist, the narrator, played by Alan Bates. Bates’ character wants to revive a lignite mine he inherited in Crete, and accepts Zorba’s proferred help. They need timber to keep the mineshaft from collapsing during earth’s tremors. After securing the local monk’s permission to source from its forest, they tried to cable the wood down the slopes. The cable collapses on the third attempt and with it, the mine’s hopes, but instead of falling into despair, the formerly cold Bates asks Zorba to teach him how to dance the sirtaki.
The plot is more complicated than our telling but the 1964 classic movie and its haunting line-dance music played in the santuri, deeply struck us and got stuck in our heartstrings.
Well, they are not dancing the sirtaki in China, but parks in the summer gather many folks in colorful traditional attires, and for two hours after p.m., they flap and swirl their fans away into the night as drums beat, wind instruments blare, and the pluck of string instruments are amplified.
In the summer of our sunset years, we might have missed the tango in Toronto, but the Pinoy bamboo dance tinikling is in our blood, and like the birds that dance in between the flapping branches of bamboo in the fierce winds, we shall continue to tap our toes, come what may.
Many surrender to the commercial call of the times and regulate lives on sheer economic goals. Others are diehard practitioners in the political game of power grab. We take the wisdom of the ancients who long ago, from the hora to the cha-cha, the tango and the Dong Bei da yang ge, discerned that the human spirit expresses itself in the dance.
Shall we dance?
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Jaime R. Vergara (email@example.com) previously taught at San Vicente Elementary School on Saipan and is currently a guest lecturer at Shenyang Aerospace University in China.