The Faces of the Foundation

Always Good for a Tango

Who actually does what at Humboldt headquarters? Who are the people behind the scenes making sure that everything runs smoothly? This page is devoted to the colleagues at the Humboldt Foundation, their lives at work and beyond. Today: Christine May.

  • Recorded by Mareike Ilsemann
Christine May

You can tango anywhere – even in the Foundation’s underground car park. Today, a colleague stepped in as my dance partner; usually, it’s my husband who accompanies me on the tango trail. Once or twice a week, we go to so-called “milongas” – open dance sessions. We are talking about Tango Argentino, mind you, not to be confused with the tango you learn at dance studios, which is more regimented.

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Tango Argentino originated in the Rio de la Plata in South America. The music and dance emerged in the poverty-stricken immigrant societies of Buenos Aires and Montevideo at the end of the 19th century. They were influenced by the culture of former African slaves as well as elements of Polish and Bohemian dance. People tangoed in the brothels and bars around the port and in the suburbs. I could go on about the history of the tango for ever.

But there is one cliché I would like to banish. Even if you dance cheek-to-cheek in a tight embrace: Tango Argentino has nothing to do with eroticism. Above all, tango is about “walking and engaging with the music.” The leader sends a signal to his or her partner who responds to it and transforms it. Tango is an intense conversation between two people.

I once held a tango course at the Foundation after a selection meeting. There are definite analogies between my work and my passion for dancing. In the Organisation and Change Management Department, I am in constant dialogue with staff: I set something in motion, take in what I am told, have to respond. Last year, I supervised modelling the processes for acquiring ISO certification for our quality management system. This involved intensive communication, just like doing a tango.

Tango clears my head. I am forced to think about my posture, my partner and the music. Such total concentration is relaxing.

published in Humboldt Kosmos 111/2020

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