I believe that it was at the milonga “Lo de Celia” (photo at right shot in 2002 by my friend Rob Nuijten, "El Torito" from Amsterdam) that Maria Teresa briefly introduced me to Oscar, as we walked in and greeted her many friends. During an interval between tandas with various milongueros with whom I had already been dancing regularly for a few weeks, Maria Teresa drew my attention to Oscar on the dance floor. About 5’10”, slim, and perhaps in his 60‘s, he was dark-skinned, with a short mop of black, Harpo Marx-like curls. He wore a dark blue suit jacket that looked a little frayed and shiny in spots, and trousers of a different dark color. As he danced, he always had a little smile of pleasure on his face.
Maria Teresa told me, “Oscar has no home. He lives in the subway. But he’s a beautiful dancer.” I asked, “Then how does he pay to come to milongas?” She answered, “No one ever charges him.” I asked, “He doesn’t bathe?” She answered, her eyes twinkling, “Once in a while he puts on a few drops of eau de cologne”, dabbing delicately with her finger under each ear. What a contrast this was to my experience with most of the 60-to-90-year-old milongueros, who were always impeccably groomed and smelled wonderful.
I watched Oscar on the dance floor, observing both his joyous and finely-tuned interpretation of the music and the look of pleasure on the face of the woman with whom he was dancing heart-to-heart and cheek-to-cheek. I knew immediately that THIS Jewish American Princess from New Jersey was about to undergo another step in her evolution. Maria Teresa asked, “Would you dance with him if he invited you?”
I calmly answered, “Yes, I would.” I understood that Maria Teresa didn’t propose a 12-minute set with homeless Oscar to all of her guest tangueras from abroad, and that Oscar didn’t venture to invite them without checking first with her. She must have winked or nodded to him that it was okay, because he soon invited me with a "mirada y cabeceo" (catching my eye and nodding his invitation) from across the room. I was natural and relaxed, amused inside about how far I must have come to be happy and curious about opening my heart to tightly embrace an “untouchable”. I knew that he was going to give me a priceless gift.
Still, I confess that when Oscar met me on the dance floor in front of my table, and I received his embrace, the thought flashed through my mind that my mother might be horrified if she knew. Oscar did not smell too bad, just a little stale. I noticed no perfume. His expert embrace was so comfortable and comforting! He danced smoothly, softly, and rhythmically and before long I had a big smile on my face because his musical interpretation was uniquely his and a pure pleasure.
When he brought me back to my table, I was aware of having “Oscar essence” on my clothes and skin. (I said this was “a step” in my evolution, not that I had "arrived". [Wink!]) But that didn’t stop the other milongueros from inviting me for the rest of the evening.
I enjoyed dancing with Oscar a few other times before returning home to Italy. Maria Teresa later mailed me a photo of Oscar and me smiling for the camera in a half-embrace, like old friends. A few years later, when I inquired about him, Maria Teresa told me that, sadly, he had passed away. With all my relocations, I haven’t been able to find that photo, which I wanted to share with you. I recently found a 2004 video from a Buenos Aires milonga in which I recognized Oscar, dancing right behind a famous couple. He had become stooped and he had slowed down, and his mop of Harpo-curls drooped, but I recognized his form and embrace after all these years.
I’m sharing this reminiscence with you to pay homage to a milonguero who, regardless of his being what we would call “destitute”, had let his joyous soul shine through to me. I received that experience as a priceless gift.
What did I learn about YOU and your tango from Homeless Oscar?
YOUR soul is very special. There is nothing like it on earth. Don't make light of how special you are.
The real goal of tango is to let your unique and joyful soul shine through your dance to any partner you embrace.
I believe that tango lovers get hooked on tango because, whether or not we are conscious of it, tango, in essence, is about experiencing and expressing pure love.
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