I met my Czech friend, Lída, as a guide in Budapest back in communist times. It was 1988, and things were just starting to loosen up. Lída was leading a group from Czechoslovakia to Hungary, which was the place communists went for a wild escape and a little whiff of the West. Budapest had just opened the first McDonald’s behind the Iron Curtain, Lída was hell-bent on having a Big Mac, and I had the dubious honor of taking her there for her first American hamburger. I’ll never forget waiting an hour — in a line that stretched around the block — for American “fast” food. That evening, we went to hear Bruce Springsteen at the local stadium. With 50,000 rock fans, you could feel freedom ready to combust all around.
Even back then, Lída was crazy about dancing tango. She learned Spanish and began leading tour groups to Argentina to pursue her passion. I remember conspiring with her to mail her American dancing shoes, as the ones in communist Czechoslovakia were second-rate for a serious dancer.
We connect each time I’m in Prague, and now most of Lída’s tour guiding is at home as a mom. But she is still evangelical as ever about her tango.
In this clip, Lída describes the wild romance of dancing all night, greeting dawn in a sweaty dress and roughed-up shoes, savoring the freshness of the new day, and sleeping to the sounds of tango dancers in the studio next door. Then, as midnight approaches, she eagerly prepares to dance the night away again. While I’ve never come close to actually “dancing a night away,” listening to Lída preach the magic of tango makes me want to try.
What’s amazing about this is for an American to walk through the late-night streets of Prague with a Czech person raving about Argentinian culture. The world is a beautiful place, and I’m inspired by how this working-class Czech reaches out to embrace it. In fact, the word tango means “embrace.”
If you can’t see the video below, watch it on YouTube.