Rory Aurora Richards. Photographed by People of Tango in San Telmo, Buenos Aires, 2016.
When the Syrian refugee crisis started, I applied in vain to the Red Cross. But they wanted people with medical skills, or that were bilingual. What do I know? I know how to dance tango. They didn’t care about that so I flew to Lesbos on my own as a volunteer. Then the refugee migration patterns changed from the North to the South and there were no people there, no resources. The Turkish smugglers were playing cat and mouse with the Coast Guard and started sending refugee boats in the middle of the night to abandoned parts of the island. Myself and another woman lit a fire one night on a beach. In seven hours twelve boats landed, each carrying about 60 people. I stayed there after that.
During those dark nights pulling people from the water, I learned that refugee work and tango aren’t all that different: to embrace the stranger is the mantra of tango. It is what we do. To ensure the person we are with does not feel alone in our embrace. To provide sanctuary.
I took my first steps in tango here in Buenos Aires. I learned to dance in the arms of the milongueros here. For my first chapter in tango, it was all I knew. Their embraces are burned into my circuitry. I miss them when I dance in other places, and so I often lead as a way of grounding myself in my tango roots. Instead of waiting for my ideal porteño to magically appear across a dance floor, I endeavor to be the milonguero that I dream to dance with, including channeling their customary chamuyo (smooth talk). If I dance with a woman, I will always find something unique about her to compliment, much like the men in Buenos Aires. That is also one of the ways to inspire the sweetest tandas with a partner. Let her know she is honoured and safe, and with luck, she’ll open up like a flower.