Taking Two

– a review of Aftelier Perfume’s ‘Tango’

Dancing, George Bernard Shaw once famously said, is the vertical expression of a horizontal desire legalized by music. I could embroider on that slightly and add that the sad thing about my own inclinations toward the hairier ends of rock’n’roll means that gosh darn it, I never get to dance!

I was packed off to dancing school age 12, because that was what you did in those days, and so I was pushed around the floor by an eleven-year-old girl who stood half a head taller and loathed me on sight. Somehow, we both came out of that traumatic experience knowing how to two-step and waltz both English and Viennese, cha cha cha, bossa nova and samba. One dance I never did learn, and that was my favorite dance of them all.

The tango.

The perfect embodiment of Bernard Shaw’s statement. Unlike many other dances, tango is not two partners mirroring each other’s steps, but a leader and a follower who improvise as they go. It isn’t the tango of ballrooms, but the down-and-dirty Argentine tango of the streets of Buenos Aires, endlessly evolving and improvised on the fly in on the streets or in milongas, dance clubs where hundreds of people create hundreds of different ways to express social niceties, introduce themselves, or else embody the full range of emotions two vertical people can express. A lot of good can be said about a night you dance away. Like so many other of the best things in life, it takes two.

This is the kind of night Mandy Aftel pays homage to in ‘Tango’, and if ever a great night out could be contained in a bottle, the whirl of the dance floor, slightly too much wine and the 3 AM caffeine kick to keep you going, a delicious, subversive cigarette shared after that dance of passion and tenderness, tension and anticipation…this would surely be it. Corte and sacada, the cut and displacement, the sensuous slide of the gancho, that defining move of tango that hooks the follower’s leg around her partner’s, all of it summed up and encapsulated in a perfume as provocative, as evocative and contradictory as the dance itself.

So indulge me for a moment and pretend it is such a warm, steamy twilight in January under the stars on a leafy Buenos Aires square in La Boca. At a sidewalk café, an orchestra is playing the classics of Gardel and Pugliese, and on the cobblestones, Argentines look across to find a partner, leaders and followers alike, and with a sudden bolt of lightning, I’m caught in the delicious net of the cabeceo, a pair of chestnut brown eyes and a kick to my fancy by that sweet, spicy, fiery jolt of orange and ginger.

This will be good. I can always tell, I can see it in the self-assured way this dashing dancer deftly steers me through the crowd and through the dance, the way we walk in parallel and tandem, floating like a silky, complement of current over cobblestones for an hour, or is it more? There is nothing but the inciting rhythm of 4/4 and our flashing, light as air feet, nothing but this moment that stretches beyond the twilight and before I know it, it’s night beneath the Southern Cross and night in La Boca.

A whisper of coffee wafts from the café, and for a time, we sit over coffee, Juan Brown Eyes and I, and laugh at life in his halting English and my displaced Spanish, displaced like the cortes and sacadas of the dance itself, that erotic push and pull of the dance, the will-you-won’t-you-will-we-maybe?, to catch our breath and breathe in the flowery, coffee-flavored night in La Boca, ah, but Señora, we must have a little wine and maybe a little more, and as the orchestra plays on and the stars whirl above us, the displacements are rather less, the ganchos more elaborate, and surely I’m not so bad at tango as I like to think back home?

Certainly not, for now, as we share a cigarette or two between, the perfume goes darker, the dance more intense, for now, we have it all in the little space between us as we dance, the woody, smoky choya and tobacco-scented air speaking in fluent Spanish with the tonka bean that says…this dance may end, yet it never does. That push and pull, that lead and follow from spice and fruit through coffee, through flower and on to a drydown sometime after midnight…this dance will be another dance, and this moment another kind of time, and this perfume will be all of that, as we turn and glide and swirl over the cobblestones and down the street and look, the sun is rising over the river and we danced the night away!

But I can remember it all in the blink of an eye and one deep breath by opening a vial, remember one unforgettable night on the cobblestones of la Boca and my favorite kind of dance, the kind that always takes two to do…


Disclosure: Sample provided for review by Aftelier.

Image: redbubble.com

Top: Wild sweet orange, fresh ginger
Heart: Coffee CO2, champaca
Base: Choya, blond tobacco, tonka

Tango is available from the Aftelier website, from Scent and Sensibility for UK customers, and from Sündhaft.