The Last Tango Christmas Show

December 23, 2009Graciela feet

Eugenio MariaEugenio Maria follows me around like a puppy, trying to be heard over the din of music and chatter. He is telling me I’m beautiful or something similar. We’re milling around at the Christmas party awaiting the Tango Show at Jose T. Borda psychiatric hospital in Buenos Aires where I assist in tango classes a couple of times a month. This will be the last tango class until March because it is too hot and humid in summer here. The bright, airy cafeteria has ceiling fans but no air conditioning. Too many of the residents, all men, smoke. But I’m not about to make a fuss over that addiction when they’ve ostensibly conquered others worse.

Last time, I let Eugenio hug me but today he is beaded with sweat. So I press his arm Christmas Jose T Bordaaffectionately and keep him at a distance. He speaks English, not badly. He says he lived in New Jersey once. He doesn’t tell me why or how. I sense his memory is fragmented. His teeth are brown as shoe polish. He is paunchy. He says he’s 47. And he looks younger. He has a baby face despite all the abuse his body has taken.

Last time, a psychologist told him he shouldn’t just go up to people (like me) and bother them with touching.  But I don’t find him annoying. Or dangerous. Having danced more than a thousand tangos, I trust my well-attuned instinct to accurately interpret touch. He rubs my arm. Eugenio just wants someone to meet his eyes. I do that. I thank him for the compliment (the tenth or twelfth one). Then we get swept into the dancing toMatias & Christina Borda the disco music that plays as we await the show. The wardees are way more Matias J T. Bordaanimated than last time. They sit at long tables and kaffee klatch. A lot of sugary drinks are passed around. Pizza and pan dulce sit on paper plates.

You can tell the medical staff by their white lab overcoats. You can easily tell the residents by the look of wrecked by hard life—whether imposed from within or from without. They are men without home or family, no kin to take care of them—unusual in Argentina. They have been ravaged by drugs or alcohol or both and by lack of good healthcare and habits.

I smile at one man who looks slap-happy with most of his left ear missing. I walk around IMG_0010the room and admire the artwork, naive, childlike, and optimistic, a word that describes the atmosphere here. I don’t doubt for a second that every human in this room has their corner of despair—but all of us are lifted up by the festivity and lightness of the affair, all greater than the sum of parts.

It’s easy to be upbeat and optimistic when you look at someone like Matias, a glowing success story. Two weeks ago he was the one with the wild and giddy eyes. Now just look at him in his black suit with white tie. He’ll perform with Christine, a volunteer like me. He has gone through a period of rehab here, moved out, and he is teaching tango at a venerable Buenos Aires cafe, El Progreso. He hands me IMG_0001his card with his business name, Tanguito. I see his last name is Italian, Barrabino. That explains his stunning beauty. Nothing about him today bespeaks former druggie. He looks innocent as a priest (back when priests were innocent), even with his little silver earring and curly tail down the back of his neck, totally guileless (that’s him with Christine in photo).

If you want to call Matias for tango lessons, his number is 15-5095-44767 (a cell).

Soon enough the show begins with a little skit. Matias and Christine feign sleeping on a bench. A fairy with blue and silver sparkly mask comes and waves heGraciela Gonzales Bordar wand. Fairy dust awakens the dancers and they magically dance tango. Another couple also performs and I don’t know until later that the woman is none other than Graciela Gonzales, the famous Argentine teacher who is known for her adornos, foot decorations.

No wonder I kept pointing my camera at her feet and shooting, more than a dozen photos; those are her legs (top right). Her partner wore burgundy pin-striped pants and burgundy suede shoes and they rocked.


We offered a class to the men after the show, teaching them the six-step baldossa box. They really focus and learn it. Among other things, tango addresses the urge to be seen (affirmed) and the urge to be one (with god, the cosmos, yourself). It is great therapy for them. For anyone.

Come Nochebuena (Christmas Eve in Latin countries), these men would be alone, while every other Argentine was at home with his/her family. So they appreciated this fiesta more than anything.

Tango Jose Borda

Teaching the baldossa (6-count) box step, Christmas 09

Jose T. Border dancer - cumbia

I didn't get his name but he could dance cumbia like a champ.

Artwork Jose T Borda

The artwork is attractive and optimistic at Jose T. Borda

Graciela Gonzales and partner

What a surprise--Graciela Gonzales and partner.



  1. Camille,
    This is fantastic! Good for you!
    I taught tango to street women at the Anglican Cathedral on 25 de Mayo for the first couple of years I lived here in BsAs, and it was a wonderful experience for me.
    It’s a great way to give back, but also to appreciate what dancing–and especially the tango to Argentines–can mean to folks.
    Merry Christmas!

  2. Hi Camille,

    I always love reading your articles. Wish I could call Matias! Love, Lisa

  3. I’ll be on that dance card too, Lisa. I want to know if it’s ok to tango with flats as I never learned to walk in high heels. I love them and think they are the sexiest but whoa is me I need my feet on the ground!!!lol, Terry

  4. grace becker says

    I wouldn’t mind a tango with Graciela’s partner!
    love, grace

  5. Camille,

    You are a woman of many talents and much compassion!

    Mary Jo