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Twelve Minutes of Love

Posted on November 18, 2011

twelve minutes of love

twelve minutes of loveDance memoirs can be a hackneyed genre – many a shoe has trodden the path to Latin America in search of the soul of tango or salsa, but Kapka Kassabova’s Twelve Minutes of Love: A Tango Story is a superior sort of recollection: a beautiful book, beautifully written.

Kassabova’s narrative is structured like a milonga in tandas (a set of three or four songs or, in this case, chapters), with each chapter taking its name from a tango song. Between the four tandas are cortinas (breaks) for a bit of conversation, as in a milonga. The book’s title, Twelve Minutes, takes its name from the duration of the average tanda. 

Kapka cautions her readers: “Tangoholics, be warned: this is a human story, not a dance manual or milonga guidebook”, but her meticulously researched book educates as well as captivates. The prose is littered with terms that will resonate with any dancer of the Argentine tango; there’s tanguidad (“a feeling at once happy and sad, past and present”), tangasms (just as they sound) and pausas in the prose, where Kapka, never patronising, takes a moment to explain. 

Yet best of all, in between the ochos, ganchos and sacadas, Kassabova is brilliant on why we dance the Argentine tango, discussing the sense of melancholy and yearning experienced by anyone who has danced its steps, or indeed listened to its music; the heartache inherent in tango relationships; and the arduous, sometimes painful, process of learning the dance. Twelve Minutes of Love is an exquisitely written love story about, as one dancer puts it, “The love affair with tango… the only one that matters.”


Zoë was born in Edinburgh, and saw her first dance performances at the Festival there. She is the dance critic of The Independent, and has also written for The Independent on Sunday, The Scotsman and Dancing Times. In 2002, she received her doctorate from the University of York for a thesis on “Nationhood and epic romance: Ariosto, Sidney, Spenser”. She is the author of The Royal Ballet: 75 Years and The Ballet Lover’s Companion.

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