Jack spent his fortieth birthday at work. He’d recently been made an associate director and, it was predicted he’d be a full director within the next few years. Investment banking was a serious and competitive business and the company expected total commitment and long working hours from its executives. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Jack didn’t come from a privileged background and he had worked hard for his success. But, it had all been worth it – he had a beautiful house in Stanley on the southern coast of Hong Kong Island, a brand new Porsche and money in the bank. He wasn’t rich, not yet anyway, but he was well on his way and being rich was all that Jack had ever wanted. Until recently that is; something had caused Jack’s values to change and, as he sat at his desk, on this, his fortieth birthday, Jack had no thoughts of career, or success or even money.
Music was swirling around in Jack’s head with shadowy images of moving bodies in close embrace, legs intertwined, and feet flashing in Ganchos and Voleos. Jack was lost in reverie and his body ached with an all-consuming desire - to dance the Tango.
Jack had a reputation as a sober, sensible person, and yet, before this working day was over, he would happily, even joyfully, give up his career and walk out on everything that he had worked so hard to achieve.
Jack’s metamorphosis began exactly one year ago when his girlfriend Raquel gave him a birthday present consisting of a voucher which entitled the two of them to three months of dancing lessons at what he presumed was a local dancing school. Jack had danced disco of course, but only to pick up girls and he had never had a dancing lesson in his life. He wasn’t too happy about the idea but Raquel could be very persuasive and the very next week she dragged him along to a strange and eccentric little bar in faraway Sai Kung. The bar was called El Ocho, but was known to the locals simply as ‘The Tango Bar’. It was located in a beautiful area of sea and mountain views and was decorated with Tango memorabilia from Buenos Aires. It had a small tiled dance floor and Tango music played quietly in the background. The dance instructors, and owners of the bar, were Pablo and Luly. Pablo was from Argentina, Luly was Hong Kong Chinese and, Jack suddenly realised, they were teaching that most exotic and intimate of dances - the Argentine Tango. Jack perked up; he didn’t know much about Tango but he was aware of its sexual element. In the 1920s and 30s it had been considered lewd and indecent, the original dirty-dancing. He hadn’t managed to bed Raquel yet and, he figured some sexy Tango might just be the key.
All the students were beginners and, like Jack , they were eager to get started. But, before he would begin, Pablo sat them down and, in his faltering English, explained a little of the origins and history of Tango. He especially wanted everyone to know that Tango was a serious thing, that it was important. Pablo wanted everyone to understand this before he would impart his knowledge, before he would reveal the secrets of Tango.
Then Pablo and Luly gave the class a taste of Tango. Luly draped her left arm around Pablo’s neck, leaned forward and placed her ample breasts against him. Pablo embraced her tenderly; he raised his left hand and gazed at it, as if it held some kind of mystical power. Luly took Pablo’s hand and the connection was complete. Their bodies turned slowly as they absorbed the rhythms of the music. They glided to Pablo’s left, bodies taut, Jack could see the muscles in Luly’s beautiful, arched back, her eyes were closed; she followed Pablo’s every movement, as if she had surrendered her will. Pablo had an expression of intense sadness, or was it joy, on his face, as if he were living only for this moment, only for this dance. They moved with an energy, power and passion that Jack had never seen before, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, sometimes they were almost motionless. But always, their movements, their very beings, were perfectly tuned to the hypnotic beat of Tango. This was no light-hearted Waltz or fun Salsa – this was indeed a serious thing. This was more than dance, this was art, and this was life. Jack didn’t know it then but Tango was to invade his soul, become his obsession and change his life forever.
Jack’s initial instincts proved to be correct and after their first night of Tango Raquel followed Jack to his home and into his bed. But it couldn’t last; like many other couples, their relationship was unable to endure the sexual tensions and jealousies that come from dancing Tango with other partners and, in particular, Raquel became increasingly upset at how closely Jack would dance with Luly. Eventually, when Raquel asked Jack to choose between her and Tango he didn’t hesitate for a second.
Following Raquel’s departure it wasn’t long before Jack could be found almost every night at the Tango Bar. At first he thought he was falling in love with Luly, later realising it was mere infatuation. Luly had the poise and feline grace of the professional dancer that she had been before meeting Pablo who had taught her Tango. She worked hard, arranging all the classes and looking after the business of running the bar. But Pablo was clearly the boss and he often treated Luly with disdain. Jack would always remember one occasion when Pablo was trying to teach the men how to lead. With some exasperation he stood in front of the class and, raising his voice slightly, said, "listen! Tango is the same as life, the man must lead and the woman must follow." Pablo said this without a trace of humour or irony. To him it was a self-evident truth and required no further elaboration. Jack saw a faint smile cross Luly’s face and, again, he thought he loved her.
At the Tango Bar it was possible to learn and dance Tango on any day or night of the week. It became Jack’s spiritual home and the place where he began to question the value of the life he had worked so hard to create. Whilst Luly was immediately open and friendly, Pablo was often moody, with more than a touch of arrogance. But Pablo seemed to sense something in Jack, something which caused him to single Jack out, to provide him with extra tuition and to spend many hours talking about life and Tango and how one was nothing without the other. Pablo’s only lament was the poor standard of Tango in Hong Kong and he explained that he would like to open a full-time Tango Academy but that he had neither the money nor the know-how. It was the only time that Pablo let his arrogance slip when he said that he was ‘only a Tango dancer’.
Despite their long conversations Jack could learn little of Pablo’s past. Other than with reference to Tango, Pablo talked little about his former life in Buenos Aires. There were rumours among the bar patrons that Pablo stayed in Hong Kong because he was wanted in Argentina for killing a man in a bar-room brawl. He was certainly an imposing figure with the muscular build of a labourer, thick black hair and a vertical scar down his left cheek. Often, when Jack danced with Luly, he would feel Pablo’s deep, brooding eyes following their movements. Nevertheless, Jack envied and admired Pablo. Somehow, in this high-pressure city of Hong Kong, he had avoided the rat-race; he had no interest in the Stock Market or property prices. Pablo lived in his own self-contained world in Sai Kung. Most days and evenings he could be found lounging around the bar, his small dog at his feet, drinking cheap wine, listening to Tango music and waiting for someone to come in who wanted to dance Tango, learn Tango, or just talk about Tango.
On the night before his fortieth birthday Jack had been out
to a business dinner with some clients. He had taken his Japanese guests around
some of the seedier girlie-bars in Tsim Sha Tui and Wan Chai and it was after
midnight when he started the short drive to his home in Stanley. As he drove
along the southern coast of Hong Kong Island Jack listened to Tango music on
his CD player. It was the orchestra of the legendary Juan D’Arienzo and the
intensity of the music caused a wave of emotion and nostalgia to sweep over him.
Jack again felt that now familiar longing for the embrace of Tango. When he
arrived at the mini-roundabout, where a right turn would take him down into
Stanley Village, Jack drove straight on, down Tai Tam Road, over the reservoir
bridge and soon he was speeding through the Eastern Harbour Tunnel and was well
on his way to Sai Kung. It was almost 1.00am as Jack pulled into the small car
park and he breathed easier when he saw the twinkling lights and heard the music
coming from the bar. His oasis was still here, it hadn’t evaporated. Even
though it was late, the dimly lit bar still had customers, but the patrons spoke
in hushed, almost conspiratorial tones.
Jack wanted to Tango and quickly looked around; he saw one of his favourite partners, a sultry airline stewardess, but felt a pang of regret when he saw that she was already taken by the handsome Uruguayan from Montevideo. When it came to Tango the South Americans seemed to have a definite genetic advantage mused Jack as he took a seat at the bar and surveyed the scene around him. On the dance floor he could see a portly wine salesman with the more up-market Campari executive and a recently married TV news reporter with his lovely Japanese wife. A young French construction worker was being seduced by one of the many married ladies who frequent the bar, having long since lost interest in their boring, workaholic husbands. In a darkened corner of the room there was a teacher from the nearby all-girls school in a dangerous liaison with one of his students. At another table was the nanny with purple hair and a ring through her nose, deep in conversation with the beautiful but shy secretary who always arrived and left alone.
Who were these people who travelled out to Sai Kung to dance Tango? In many ways they were ordinary, but Tango gave them all a special indefinable quality; but what did they have in common, what drew them to this rather seedy, sparsely furnished little bar? There was only one answer – the thrill and excitement of Tango.
Jack isn’t sure when his passion for Tango became an obsession. It seemed like a drug to which he had become addicted, he could think of nothing else. He lost interest in his work, career and possessions. Every moment away from Tango felt wasted, without value. This is what Jack was pondering as he sat at his desk on his fortieth birthday. He was also thinking again about what Pablo had said about opening a Tango Academy. It sounded so grand, but as Pablo always said, Tango is a serious thing. It was an idea that had taken root and Jack had decided that he would finance the Academy and even assist in its management. But Jack’s dream was bigger than this, much bigger. Jack had developed a wild and crazy idea – he would quit his job and become a Tango dancer and teacher. He had broached the idea with Pablo a few hours earlier, fully expecting Pablo to tell him not to be stupid. After all, he was already 40 years old! Surely, at his age, it was impossible to acquire the skills necessary to become a professional dancer? Pablo answered that he had recognised the Tango passion in Jack and that, with the passion, anything was possible. It was all the encouragement that Jack needed and his mind was made up. Of course, Pablo said, no one ever got rich dancing Tango. But even as he said it, they both knew that it didn’t matter.
Jack came to work that day intending to give the three months notice that his contract required. But he knew that he couldn’t wait; his new life beckoned with an irresistible force.
Jack walked out of his office without even clearing his desk and he never returned. On that last day, as he got into his car and headed for Sai Kung, the only things he took with him were his black and white Tango shoes and his dream of becoming a dancer and teacher of Tango.
- The End -