Originally created 08/21/05

How one woman became entangled in the tango



Throughout "Kiss & Tango," author Marina Palmer displays an acute perception of details, nuances, facts, words and circumstances, and an uncanny ability to make them easily understood.

These are traits of a talented writer who has written a very good book.

Palmer's chronicle of her love affair with the tango begins innocently enough. She was working at a major advertising agency in New York when she decided to visit a cousin who was living with her husband in Buenos Aires.

Palmer knew little about Argentina and probably would not even have gone there if not to see her cousin. It was this cousin and her friends who, in January 1997, introduced her to the surreal world of the tango.

The tango is a highly sensual dance that originated in the brothels of Argentina during the late 19th century. No respectable person would dance to its music, which was not played at "proper" social events.

However, although shunned and condemned, the tango became increasingly popular. By the 1920s, it had taken Paris and other European cities by storm; it eventually became accepted in Argentina.

In recent years, the tango has had a rebirth and again flourished around the world, notably in New York. When Palmer returned to New York from Buenos Aires, she signed up for tango lessons at three dance studios.

She began attending New York's many tango venues and learned the peculiar rites and etiquette that govern them. She also honed her skills as a dancer.

Within two years, she realized that she was no longer satisfied with her advertising job and instead wanted to become a professional tango dancer. She moved to Buenos Aires in March 1999 to further that aim. Her honest and frequently humorous account of her infatuation with the tango goes into high gear when she describes her experiences there.

The many dance halls of Buenos Aires are open around the calendar and around the clock. Men and women eye each other dancing in crowded, usually poorly lit rooms and use subtle signals to indicate their interest in becoming partners. There are rituals used in going to a woman's table and certain gestures to invite her to dance. When paired off, a couple usually dances a set, that is, four or five consecutive tangos.

In time, dancers get to know who goes to which dance halls, who are the best dancers and who are regular partners. These change as some dancers disappear for "gigs" in Europe or New York. There is always an atmosphere of impermanence and the possibility of change.

Palmer quickly adopted the rich variety of expressions, attitudes and actions typical of Argentine men and women, and blended in so well that the reader could easily mistake her for a native.

She points out early on that tango dancing invites close physical contact, which often evolves into feelings of lust. She is quite frank in discussing her experiences in this regard.

She is also honest in judging herself and others, and not bashful about her likes and dislikes, nor about the decisions she has made.

"Kiss & Tango" is delightful, and so is its author.