With the roadmap to summer 2021 shared with the general UK public, overseas trips and hotel bookings went through the roof. Unofficial countdowns and a myriad of social invites materisalising here and there, alongside the first showing of yet another confined spring. Going on walks to my local park, I am greeted by tiny furry bundles of colour on very bare twigs and branches. Just as temperatures are rising and the sun staying longer with us, hopes for a return to some sort of “normality” are very high indeed.
I am being modest with my plans. I had plans last year and they all failed, so I am not heading down that road again in 2021. For now, my intentions are relatively particular: to enfold in the arms of friends I haven’t seen in a long time, or even met yet. Video calling is the contemporary version of penpals. I have been lucky to form great friendships over the past year within my writing community, the majority of whom I have not met face-to-face. Bonding over shared love for certain authors, common creative outlets, life experiences, or the singular fact we were going through a memorable event together, was more than enough to enjoy screen time in each other’s company – and to a certain point, to even revive the art of letter writing and the sheer joy that comes from receiving unexpected post, rather than the expected overpackaged brown boxes (funny how one method of digital communication enticed an much older – and for some, much beloved – form of communication).
Over the months I tried to digitally cleanse. Bombarded by different versions of truths, I retreated from what used to bring me joy. As social media platforms remind me daily of what I posted over the years, I noticed what I haven’t shared in 2020: photos of dancing are very lacking indeed. Oh, how I miss it all! For a while, I was ready to leave Tango. Now I am missing it too much to ever turn my back to it (not anytime soon, anyway). Miss seeing and greeting people as I walk into a milonga; miss cabeceos and miradas; miss the joy of listening to the first few bars of a favourite Tango song; miss chatting to fellow tangueros during tandas and cortinas, and losing track of time; miss dancing to a fast-paced milonga and miss dancing to a lyrical vals; miss birthday cakes and birthday valses; miss watching and admiring people’s musicality; miss seeing tango smiles and milonga laugthers; miss the sound of feet shuffling on wooden floors; miss hugging dance partners after a magical tanda; miss watching people dance the chacarera; miss hugging people goodbye and saying “see you at the next milonga/practica”; miss pre-milonga dinners and post-milonga snacks; miss it all.
And there’s that word: missing. I missed a lot of things and I missed out on a great deal more. Me and everybody else. That sense of collective grief is still very raw. I miss, we miss. It’s no surprise to me that Portugal’s Word of 2020 was saudade. I have mentioned saudade before and I truly believe this word perfectly sums up what last year was all about with its “what ifs” – the longing of the lost past and the lost future.
Saudade is a very powerful emotion, one perfectly distilled by the Portuguese language. How I miss…this place…that person…those memories. One word encapsulates one whole human experience: noticing the absence of those dear to us but are too far to reach out and touch. I grew up in a Mediterranean culture where it’s custom for people to greet each other by kissing cheeks, placing hands on your acquaintance’s arm while having a conversation – the latter being the equivalent of meaning “You have my full attention”. When I moved here, I had to quickly unlearn those cultural norms and live with that touch hunger. And then Tango came along and order was restored!
“If you have a voice, sing;
but if you have good arms, then go in for dancing.”
As a social dancer, I crave touch. I miss being hugged and hugging in return. One of the most fundamental skills of Tango is the embrace. How you hold your dance partner within that bubble of trust and surrender is crucial. If you are uncomfortable in someone else’s arms, your dance will show it – what your heart feels, your body manifests. Not having danced socially since March 2020, I have no idea how long it will take to restore that trust in my body again. I might even hold back, because that beast has been tamed. That energy that took up more than my body could contain, has shrunk. It simply had to. That safe space where two people meet their torsos, arms, forearms and hands, has evaporated. It has for me. I wonder if I will ever go back to dancing once restrictions are finally lifted.
Meanwhile, my dreams have been invaded by images of Tango. Clearly a part of me doesn’t want to let go of it – that or hugging. How I miss hugging my friends and family; how I especially miss hugging my parents, whom I’ve only seen through a screen this whole time. Dancing Tango reminds me how precious a hug can be in a fast-moving city like London. It also reminds me how much I miss touch when I am so far away from my loved ones. In pre-pandemic times I took hugging for granted. Now, I won’t be saying “Until I see you again” but “Until I hug you again”.
From the day we are born until our last breath, touch is part of our fabric as social beings. Skin is the largest organ in the human body but also the most social one. From a newborn with a strong grip designed to grab anything that hoovers over them to skin-to-skin contact to soothe our need for comfort, touch guides us through nearly every day of our lives…that is, until there’s a pandemic and a national lockdown.
Instead of believing something has been lost, I like to think it has been momentarily misplaced. Just like dust that lands on one place to be dusted off to a new spot – never entirely gone, just in a different location. Like grains of sand with metronomic precision, moving from one glass bulb to the next, qualifying time in an hourglass. Contained. Ready to act when it’s time to turn over and start the clock once again. Whilst not making big comeback plans, I still have the lasting imprints of where hugs used to land against my arms, torso and the side of my cheek. It might be muscle memory, it might be longing, or it just might be saudade…Whatever it might be, let the countdown for hugging begin!