We know that Roger Ebert couldn’t dance. He told us in his 2006 review of “Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dancing and Charm School,” that “When I was 8, I did not even take ballroom dancing classes, for which I thank the nuns of St. Mary’s Grade School.” But Roger did go on to learn dancing as he later explains, “I have written before about the Thelma Leah Rose Ballroom Dancing Academy, which was above the Princess Theater on Main Street in Urbana, and where I learned the foxtrot, the waltz, the mambo, the canasta, the pinochle and many other dances, all of them, my wife confides, very badly.”
Yet in 1997, Roger Ebert wrote about the independent movie, “The Tango Lesson,” saying that “`The Tango Lesson’ is a fictional film in which almost everything and everybody seems to be, in some sense, real.” The movie is about a British film director named Sally (Sally Potter) who has writer’s block in her head and wood rot in the floorboards of her flat. Together, these two things result in her taking leave of her beautiful flat in England and going to Paris where she sees a beautiful man, Pablo (Pablo Veron), dancing tango. She is transfixed and begins taking tango lessons. Eventually, she dances well enough to perform with that man, Pablo. But Sally isn’t used to being a follower and Pablo, in order to really dance, needs someone who will follow and not lead. Roger noted that “Most dances are for people who are falling in love,” but “Tango is a dance for those who have survived it, and are still angry about having their hearts so mishandled.”
That was me, in 1997. My first love affair had ended badly, requiring a restraining order, and my hot-tempered ways seemed more Latina to many who didn’t understand the fierceness of my Kyushu ancestors.
Roger’s review also included this line which made me curious: “The score, partly composed by Potter, is so seductive that for the first time in years I walked out of the screening and down the street and bought the soundtrack.” I also bought the soundtrack and I bought the lifestyle.
Unlike Roger, I am a dancer in my soul. I grew up listening to Latin music. Think of Herb Albert and the Tijuana brass, flamenco and mariachis. Tango music had always intrigued me. In 1997, I was still writing theater reviews, and rarely made time for movies. I would read Roger’s reviews and “watch” movies vicariously and occasionally only actually see movies. I went to see “The Tango Lesson” and would venture on my own into Hollywood to learn Argentine tango. By the next year, when Carlos Saura’s “Tango” played for one week in Hollywood in December, I was already dancing tango. I would see that movie in December. Roger wouldn’t review this movie until late March. “Tango” or “Tango no me dejes nunca” was for a long time, the only movie I watched frame by frame.
Roger helped introduce me into the world of Argentine tango, which eventually led me meet many new friends and marry a little over four years ago. I was contemplating competitive dancing until Roger changed my course by choosing for me. He invited me to write for the Demanders and then to be a panelist at Ebertfest last year in 2012.
Even though I’ve read nearly all of Roger Ebert’s reviews since about 1996, that one sentence sticks with me. I met Pablo Veron in Los Angeles. My husband and I took tango lessons with him only very long day. I would have never seen that movie if Roger Ebert hadn’t written about it and my life would have been so very different. Tango often expresses the ache of lost love, sometimes this isn’t romantic love such as with the 1937 “Mi Buenos Aires” which ends with the lines: “Cuando yo te vuelva a ver, no habra mas penas ni olvido.”
–Written for Indiewire.