(Photo caption: Tango dancers near the Plaza del Entrevero in Montevideo, Uruguay. Taken by Martina Castro, March 10, 2012.)
For me, there's no more obvious display of the art of waiting than during a tango.
Just go to any milonga and you'll see that all the couples move at their own pace. As the leader, you can decide to take the steps super s---l---o----w----l---y. Maybe you even stop altogether, for moments at a time. And as the follower, the only way you know how fast or slow to go and in what direction, is to.......just......wait.
You wait until he tells you – maybe with a squeeze of the hand, or the flick of a wrist, or maybe he doesn't have to do anything, you just sense when and where he wants you to go. That subtle communication is the game and the beauty of tango. And those long pauses between the steps, when you're waiting for the signal, when the dance is more of an embrace than a sequence of movements, when you're not even thinking anymore, you're just listening with your whole body to what this other body might want to do...in my mind, those pauses are what make tango tango.
Recently, I realized this is a cultural thing, knowing how to wait, and Uruguayans are true masters of this art. People are constantly waiting here, and unlike in San Francisco or other cities constantly on the go, they've learned to deal with it. They wait for a bus, and then they wait on the bus, all the while without a book or headphones connected to anything. They just wait to get where they're going. Imagine that. They wait on a stoop or on a park bench for something interesting to happen, or maybe just for time to pass. They wait on the beach for the sun to set. They wait in long lines to use the ATM, and then they wait for ATMs to be refilled. They wait until 3am to go out at night because that's when the bars will be full. They wait for the yerba mate leaves to steep, and then wait for their turn to drink the mate as its passed around. They wait for summer to arrive, wait for a sunny day, wait for the rain, wait for people who are always late. They wait to leave, wait to stay. They wait until they kiss everyone hello at a party, and then again goodbye...and I mean everyone, even if its 30 people and you're meeting them for the first time.
My first dinner alone in Montevideo was the other night, watching this group of people in the photo dance tango on the sidewalk, an informal gathering that takes place every Saturday night. I almost took out a book or my headphones, but I resisted. Instead, I focused on my meal. And the time I'd usually fill with conversation between bites – I just waited. I watched the dancers, listened to the music, eavesdropped on the couple next to me. And by the end of my meal, I couldn't help but smile at the secret discovery I had made about all this waiting.
See, when you're waiting – and I mean literally doing nothing to distract yourself, just passing time – you can't help but be instantly connected with the present moment. In that connection, you get to savor the here and now in all its fullness, to taste all its colors and smells and sounds...just like those dancers do, in that brief space between the steps. And I swear, over dinner that night, I couldn't imagine anything more delicious.