Growing Up While Dancing

I was born into music. My dad’s biggest passion was classical music. He would know every composer, every note, every symphony, he would read books, take notes. He would breath classical music. Every morning we would wake up to some beautiful recording he had started to play immediately after he woke up as the earliest person in our household.

My mom loved all sorts of music. She told me once that when she was pregnant with me, she would place beautiful music close to her belly so that I would become a musical child when I was born. And then my grandma. She loved classical Turkish music and that was a little clash with my dad. She also had a beautiful voice and she would love to sing for herself.

When I was a child I loved to dance. I would just throw myself in the middle of the room and start dancing out of nothing. I would dance anything, just move. Over time my mom realised that I started to do some ballet figures. I remember that too. I would tiptoe, try to stand up straight, do something with my hands. As she kept observing, she decided to send me to the conservatory in Istanbul for ballet classes, just so that I could do what I loved as a hobby. My grandma took me there for enquiry one day about admissions and it turned out I had to pass an exam, which happened to be exactly on that day. I didn’t know what this was about and obviously I was not prepared. I saw many other nervous girls lined up there. I must have been about 6 years old then.

To my own big surprise I passed the conservatory exam for the ballet school and continued to go there for 2 years. I loved it but at the same time I was a fragile child and I got sick often. I missed many classes, especially the music classes, and eventually I was so behind with everything that it did not make sense to continue. Sometimes I contemplate about what my life would have looked like now, had I not been sick and had been able to continue the ballet classes. I will never know.

Years went by and I was leading a totally different life as an academic and a businesswoman in computer science. Yet, my love for music, creativity and self-expression had never died. In 2004, after my graduation from the University of Munich, I got my first job at a European research institute in a very small town called Ispra close to Milano in Italy. As it was a very small place, there was not much to do, hence the employees would organize social events for themselves.

One evening I went to a “dinner with tango show”, being all curious about how it would look like. Tango music was very popular in Turkey and there are even Turkish tango songs. We used to listen to them at home, especially during the New Year’s Eve. That evening tango entered my life forever.

I loved what I saw and listened to so much that evening that I started taking classes, practicing, going to milongas, thinking about tango all the time, listening to the music nonstop and all that beginner’s package. I got the typical tango hook and kept practicing and dancing and dancing. Three years later, I left Ispra and went back to Munich to resume my life there. I did not like the tango scene in Munich and I anyway had to have a totally different focus in my life. I had started my PhD, had to sustain myself financially and wanted to build a career, so there was not much space for tango. I would still go out every now and then, and would dance when I was on travels, but it was not the same. Also, I was secretly missing the tango in Italy, the sharing, the passion, the musicality. I put tango to sleep.

In 2010 my life started new in Cologne and I felt alone. I decided to wake up tango again, and I woke it up big time. 2010 to 2013 is probably one the most intensive tango times of my life. I would travel almost every weekend, take classes, go out in the evenings to dance. In hindsight, I see that tango was helping me through a very sad period of my life then. It was holding me up before I broke, it was giving me a means to express myself, my sadness mostly. I was also having “friends” around me, who gave me a sense of belonging without any commitments, which is what I had needed then.

In 2013 I returned to Munich and did my first trip to Buenos Aires. My goodness. That was it for me. It was not only about tango, it was about everything I found there. The people, the city, the relationships, the body awareness, the spirituality, the courage, the wisdom, the joy, the sadness, the playfulness, the respect, the care. I was mesmerised and my tango transformed as I did myself. There I started to really communicate with myself through my body. The body is so wise. It knows when you are happy and when you are sad, when you are strong or vulnerable. It wants to talk to you and help you if you learn how to listen and understand. The body lends itself to you so that you can express your deepest feelings and share them with other dancers you choose to share with. And then you listen to them in the same manner. Buenos Aires opened me to a completely new life.

I went to Buenos Aires six times. Each one has been a significant journey of personal growth. I danced through my fears, my anxiety, my sadness, my loneliness, my vulnerabilities. I danced it all. And sometimes I could not. Sometimes my fears came between me and my body so strongly that I got stuck not being able to move. I left many milongas in that condition not knowing what to do with it other than sit with myself and lean into it. And then I danced through my explosion of joys, my happinesses, my gratitude, my celebration of life. I danced it all. I left many milongas in that condition, not being able to sleep for days because of the wonderful beauty of life.

Over the years tango has become a language for me that I speak. It has no words. My soul wants to share everything it holds dearly with those who appreciate it. And I am grateful that I can use my body to do that. When I dance, I dance what I lived, and that I lived. I feel it from my dance partner too. When someone has lived a full life, with joy and agony it is in his dance, it speaks and I know. Then, it is the two of us sharing our life stories and the present moment without using words but our embrace. It is wonderful.

Had I not been a fragile child, I would have been a ballerina. I would have danced my life story on the stage instead of a milonga. I would have been tiptoeing and flying dressed all in white, instead of embracing and grounding dressed all in black. In life everything happens for a reason. Tango came to my life to teach me the language I have always been seeking to speak. I am so grateful. And to my my family, who taught me that we can share ours souls through music and that sharing is a blessing of life.

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