By Eugene S. Robinson
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because Argentine tango stage champs Gustavo and Jesica Hornos serve up stylish, sexy and suave like they invented it.
By Eugene S. Robinson
It’s whisper-quiet at first. Like the hush before a religious observance.
The bandoneon, or mini-accordion, wheezes to life and behind it a whole band of musicians begin playing what is unmistakably tango. The two dancers, poised and silent, stand in a quavering nimbus of spotlight until the man – who doesn’t so much walk toward the woman here as he eases toward her — closes in with an embrace. And it’s this embrace, definite and definitive, that kicks off something so intimate that you feel almost like you shouldn’t be watching what you’re watching.
I fully believe in the spiritual, psychological and physical ability of tango to actually heal.
”I fully believe in the spiritual, psychological and physical ability of tango to actually heal,” says Gustavo, done with the dance and looking decidedly unrumpled and well-composed. The sentiment would be bold enough coming from a dancer, but coming from Gustavo, who practiced as a clinically trained psychologist in an earlier incarnation, it seems pretty plausible.And what you’re watching are USA Argentine Tango Stage Champions and Buenos Aires transplants Gustavo and Jesica Hornos. The dance is all at once both improvised and so perfect that it seems planned. Three-plus minutes later, you’re surprised to find yourself standing, screaming and applauding. The second song in what is usually a three-song tanda , or set, begins, and it’s almost like you never saw what you just saw. You’re drawn in as it begins again, and there’s no better word to describe the experience than transfixed .
The son of a musician father, Gustavo grew up dancing as a child in Buenos Aires, but on a parallel path he also studied karate and judo before settling on aikido, a Japanese martial art that stresses keeping your opponent imbalanced. Pair that back to back with hours and hours invested in an art that depends on keeping your partner in balance, and you have what can only be called a beautifully rigorous obsession.
Which is what Jesica’s mother noticed about her when she was no more than two years old. Toddler Jesica wandered in front of a television and caught a performance by Argentina’s ballet great Julio Bocca. Her mother came back an hour later and saw that Jesica had not moved. Not even to sit down. She finally turned to her mother and said “I want to do that.”
Two years later, at the age of 4, Jesica repeated her request and her single mother thought, “Ah, this kid is serious.” So serious that four years later, she beat out 200 other girls for 22 spots in the best dance school in Buenos Aires, where she eventually met, kismet being what it is, Julio Bocca. “I was featured on the cover of the newspaper handing him part of a birthday cake,” Jesica says of a celebration for Bocca’s 26th birthday.
All of which set her up nicely for a dance residency with Alonzo King in San Francisco where, one weekend night, missing Buenas Aires, she decided to go to a milonga to meet other folks from Argentina. One of whom was Gustavo. The connection, a word they use a lot when talking about tango, was immediate and life-changing. Not too long after, they were dance partners and married.
Such is the power of the dance.
And though there are the accolades, the competitions and the weird twists of fate that have seen them doing shows with India.Arie, an HBO movie and even a hush-hush upcoming gig with a former head of state who has tango dancing on his bucket list, at the root of it all is still a deep and abiding respect and love for the dance.
”This is really the art of paying attention,” Gustavo says from his San Francisco Bay Area dance studio . “Because in tango, between two people, amazing things can happen.”