Tango Is A Movable Feast

Kat Zhang in New York City (Photo: Nejat Öz)

Vivi is my tango mama, and she is legendary.

I met Vivi on a hot midsummer day in Buenos Aires. It was back in early 2016. I was on a tango tour that she organized for a few students of a NYC-based tango teacher, her long-time friend, to learn more about the dance in its place of origin.

The woman from Buenos Aires, as Vivi humorously addressed herself, changed the way I danced tango with enriched feelings of “living the present". Amazing was far from enough to describe her. "Tango on and tango more,” said Vivi to me when we parted.

Photo courtesy: Carlos Canedo

Then came a year-long period during which I struggled with my tango practice back home. There were times that I was told I’d better stop going to milongas as other tangueros hated me. There were other times that I was told I would never be able to dance great no matter how hard I tried. It was one of those frustrating days that I came across VAWAA’s post 5 Minutes with Viviana Parra, Tango Guru. I told myself, “All right, it is time to go back.”

Without hesitation I booked a vacation with Viviana. I simply wanted to see my tango mama, to support her with what she enjoyed doing, and, above all, to give her a big bear hug. Plus, I always wanted to return to Buenos Aires - the city has magical healing powers over wounded hearts. I hope it would calm me down in its delicate embrace.  

Four months later, I landed in Buenos Aires on another hot midsummer day.

Viviana Parra, Seßastian Americo, Kat Zhang in Buenos Aires

Vivi was exactly how I remembered. We started by working on the foundational elements of tango: walking (forward & backward), pivots, and musicality. She referred complicated dance techniques to simple everyday examples, “How does a tanguera lean forward? It’s like how we Argentinians greet each other! You reach out to them with you cheeks, chest and arms without invading their space. That’s the same as in tango.”

Photo courtesy: Kat Zhang

We listened to her favorite songs such as El Adios over and over again, and marked what the music was composed of on a piece of paper, and how dancers found their interpretation between beats and melody. “Play, always!” Vivi repeated as often as she could, “That’s the real freedom you’ll find in tango!”

We also talked about those heartbreaking moments. She watched me bursting into tears over coffee while sitting outside a beautiful cafe in Palermo. “Tango is a powerful dance, darling. It gives a dancer, especially a good one, so much power that s/he may hurt others.” Vivi smiled, “But, Kat, don’t ever let anyone take YOU away from YOU. It is the same in dance as it is in life.”

Viviana Parra and Kat Zhang

Time seemed to flow much more slowly with Vivi in Buenos Aires. Of course, there was tango in each and every stretched second of it.  

One night we went to Torquato Tasso in San Telmo for La Juan D’Arienzos performance. They are a rising star tango band of young artists who aim at bringing Juan D’Arienzo style back to life. Seßastian Americo, Vivi’s dear friend, another passionate tanguero, joined us in this incredible music feast. Immersed in music and wine, we indulged all our senses to absorb every energy from a firing performance.

La Cumparsita started - and I was distracted for barely a minute before I realized that I had lost track of Vivi and Sebastian! Where had they gone? Then suddenly I saw two crazy tangueros jump in front of the band and start dancing. There they were! I felt like screaming- and very likely did! I always love watching these two warm, melting, and enthusiastic human beings dance. I loved watching every part of their body breathing to the beats and every piece of their soul dancing to the melody. That was truly unforgettable.

En la tarde que en sombras se moría, buenamente nos dimos el adiós... Vivi and I bid farewell in our last tango lesson, dancing to our beloved song El Adios. I felt serene, free, happy and stressless, just as I had hoped I would feel. I hope these positive emotions live in me for a long, long time.. But if they disappear, I will know it is time to visit the woman from Buenos Aires again.

Written by Kat Zhang. She lives in New York City.
Vacation with Viviana Parra

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