Posted on November 18, 2011
Dance 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.”