Two to tango

I discovered the unnamed Uruguayan butcher shop in Jackson Heights by accident. I’d stopped in the bakery next door for coffee and a pastry and noticed a sign announcing a tango night. I drove by to check it out. Tables had been brought in, white tablecloths laid out. A small combo – bandeleon, guitar, bass – was playing back by the butcher’s counter. No room for dancing, but I returned with friends each Thursday evening we could for a couple of years. There was enough space for a flow of tango singers from the neighborhood.

Fast forward half a decade. The place was gone. I wooed my wife at La Nacional Spanish Benevolent Society on Fourteenth Street, in Manhattan, where they’d host tango classes before their weekly milongas. The music was recorded, but once, arriving early, we found several members of the Uruguayan combo playing for a downstairs dinner crowd.

There’s a theatrical passion to the tango. It’s steps can be complicated, but at their base it’s all about sexy walking, a peacock-like promenade with partner. It’s a show. The music that accompanies the dance floor preening is all about improvisation on generalized themes of self-pity. Consider it a Latin blues, like Fado or Flamenco. Consider it, too, as an addiction once experienced.

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When Fawn and I heard there was going to be a tango night at Pine Hill’s Colonial Inn back in the early Aughts, we knew we had to go. We did.

Driving out Wittenberg Road from Woodstock for our dinner reservation, we zipped by an overgrown driveway. In the driveway was a small pickup. In the back of the pickup, hood up, was a couple making love. Butt naked. Missionary position, as if modeling one of those lascivious early-1970s zodiac calendars.

“You see that too?” I asked my wife, still doing 45 mph westward. “Uh huh.”

We touched hands.

The crowd was light at the Colonial. Best of all, the combo was the same one I’d seen years earlier in Jackson Heights. They all nodded in recognition.

My wife and I danced with the memory of what we’d seen on our drive earlier.


Read more installments of Village Voices by Paul Smart.