Volunteering can be intense, especially when, like me, you have come from a first world country and am witnessing some challenging situations on a regular basis. When i first arrived, I quickly realised that I needed an outlet, a way to relax and let some steam off. And what better way than to hit the Milonga dane halls of Buenos Aires and learn some tango steps? So, I did and it was exactly as I had hoped; fun, varied and a dance spectacle every time, for a measly 80 pesos the whole night!
I started going to a place in Palermo called LA VIRUTA, which is located in an Armenian centre and is one of the better known centres around town. Despite a vast proportion of beginner dancers being tourists or ‘gringos’ (me!) as they are best known, La Viruta still has a pretty good reputation for quality classes and a relaxed atmosphere. There are, of course, millions of milongas in town but most are usually strict, with rules to follow (e.g the man does not ask you to dance, he nods from far away!) so I preferred to stick to the tourist trail a little bit.
As weeks went by, I realised that my beloved flat shoes that I was dancing in were not allowing me to get my feet stuck into the steps (I find that in tango, your feet take on a mind of their own and you have to let them seek out the floor beneath you!) The heels not only give your feet the shape they need but also I noticed that people in heels look a little more regal and a lot more elegant.
So, I finally went shopping for the infamous tango shoes. A friend recommended Comme Il Faut, a boutique store in Arenales 1239, which makes handmade tango shoes and tailors them to your height, ability and of course, feet. When I arrived down a little European-like alleyway and up some flights of steps and rang the bell, a lovely lady answered the door and I was whisked inside the secret world of this important Porteno shoe. I was asked my size and sat down (whilst desperately trying to steal a quick click of my camera as photos are prohibited) to try on a million and one pairs of shoes; high heeled, less high heeled, thick heels, fine heels… spotted, silky, satin, velvet, leather designs...you name it, I tried it. I told the lady my size was 39 in Europe and asked if it was the same here, to which she indignantly replied ‘but, mi amor, we are European’, bemusedly, if not a little indignantly! In any case, the name of the shop says it all.
Of course they attest to being European because tango is a result of the diverse European community that settled in this very port and Uruguay. Tango itself is an amalgamation of all the colour and character of the italians, spaniards and many more immigrants who settled on these shores but who remained restless, passionate and nostalgic. The shoes are testament to that and almost characterise the fiery spirit of the dance. These shoes are there to be seen and so are you. If you dance tango, you are making a statement about the world you know and the person you are.
I ended up putting some shoes on hold, as I really could not decide which ones I would wear. I like my tango shoes simple, as it happens and black. The rest I will leave to the pros.