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Mario Sabino is deputy managing editor of Brazil's weekly news magazine Veja, and author of the novel The Day I Killed My Father and two story collections.

Tender anger soothed

What makes a tango a tango isn't its mournful lyrics. What makes a tango a tango isn't the dead Gardel who sings better and better. What makes a tango a tango isn't the rehearsed steps of tradition. What makes a tango a tango isn't the orchestra with the tired air of those who have seen it all. What makes a tango a tango isn't the dancer's long legs, swathed in black tights. It isn't her hair pulled back now with a flower, now a ribbon. What makes a tango a tango isn't her partner's old-fashioned hat. It isn't his shiny shoes. It isn't his pinstriped suit. It isn't the folded handkerchief in his jacket pocket. What makes a tango a tango isn't Buenos Aires. It isn't any geography. Tango doesn't reside in the world of latitudes, longitudes, cartography, tourist guidebooks.

What makes a tango a tango is attraction and repulsion. It is temptation and fear. It is tenderness and anger. What makes a tango a tango is her taking his lead, and him taking her lead, until one tries to flee and the other blocks their way, in alternating flights that are drawn together and flung apart. What makes a tango a tango is the pain of one and the other transformed into symmetrical choreography. What makes a tango a tango is the meeting and parting and meeting. What makes a tango a tango is the twirling love of classical poems, of troubadours singing. The twirling love that is fired by pleasure and fury. The twirling love that grows tepid and quickly flares back up. What makes a tango a tango is the love that, in the imminence of an unhappy ending, finds a happy one. Because never in a tango that is a tango do the dancers end up separated, segregated, isolated.

What makes a tango a tango is me inside you in the flesh and you inside me in the soul, after the last chord, after the last applause, after the last tear, after the last shudder. What makes a tango a tango is the music that would be silence. The silence of lovers.

Translated by Alison Entrekin.

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