It’s never too late to learn tango and fall in love
It’s never too late is a series about people who decide to pursue their dreams as they please.
Nancy Cardwell made two big changes in her life. The first was quitting her job as a newspaper editor in New York to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. The second was a little more radical: moving to Buenos Aires at the age of 62 after falling in love with tango – and a tango dancer named Luis Gallardo.
Now 75, Ms Cardwell started at the Wall Street Journal in 1969 and rose through the ranks to become deputy editor – and the highest-ranking woman at the time. But in the late 1980s she was removed from the masthead as part of a wider reshuffling of senior editorial positions and found herself frustrated.
She was returning from a fishing trip to Montana in 1991 when she got off the plane at La Guardia airport, which was stuffy and under construction. “That’s it,” she remembers thinking to herself. “I’m out of here.”
She sold her apartment in New York and moved to Americus, Georgia (pop. 15,000) to work for Habitat for Humanity. “You have reached the pinnacle of your profession,” she remembered thinking to herself. “You have nothing else to prove. If you don’t want to do it anymore, don’t.
She eventually returned to the East Coast, settled in Arlington, Virginia, and began a career as a freelance publisher. When she was 58, a friend invited her to a tango event; she followed reluctantly. Within six months, she was taking five tango lessons a week. She celebrated her 60th birthday with a trip to Buenos Aires, where she danced the tango and practiced Spanish. She came back again and again, each trip a little longer. She would hire a “taxi dancer” – a professional tango dancer who would take her to milongas (literally “ballrooms”, although now the term is synonymous with tango halls) – and stay out until 3 a.m. in the morning.
One evening, she was approached by Luis, whom she had previously noticed on the dance floor. They continued to meet and dance in various milongas until the end of her trip. He asked her to write to him (he had signed up for an email address just to correspond with her), and one day she received a message asking when she would be returning to Argentina. She came back in November, and they were dancing when he told her, “I think you’re going to be one of the great loves of my life.” The following year, she moved to Argentina. They married in 2014 and now divide their time between Arlington and Buenos Aires.
They still dance the tango at least three times a week.
The following interview has been edited and condensed.
What is the particular attraction of tango?
Tango is a dance of following and following – it’s like a conversation. It’s intimate, rather than sexy. I started telling people long before I met Luis, “I get 90% of what I want from a man on the dance floor. Tango taught me that intimacy does not require duration. The duration of a three-minute tango is enough. I learned later that the Argentinians call the tango “el amor de tres minutos” (three-minute love).
How did you feel about being single before meeting Luis?
You grew up thinking you’d be in a relationship or married, but I just refused to accept that it was wrong to be single. My mother basically taught me that happiness is an option and you have to choose it. If you don’t like a situation, you either have to change the situation or change how you feel about it, because living a miserable life is not enough.
Did you spend a lot of time thinking about the decision to move to Argentina?
I think the move didn’t scare me because it didn’t seem like a big deal. I was already visiting longer and longer and I was thinking of staying there longer. But Luis has made Buenos Aires my home. He gave me a circle of friends, a family, a position in the tango community and an understanding of what it is to be an Argentinian. Most importantly, he loved me and made me understand support and partnership in a way that I had never experienced.
What is the key to finding love?
We were both in very good places when we met. I always tell people that I have never been happier than the day before I met him. Not that I’m any less happy now, but I wasn’t looking for anything. I don’t think romance and relationships always bring happiness, but happiness is what allows them to happen.
Do you think things would have been different if this had happened to you 10 years earlier or 10 years later?
I don’t think it would have made a difference. But I think the older you get, the more confident you become. Not because you are getting better at what you were doing, but you care less about what other people think. I’m fluent in Spanish, for example, but I make all kinds of mistakes. Now I know that my value, my value, who I am in the world, does not come from my fluency in Spanish. And that feeling gives you some freedom to reach out and do things that as a youngster you might not have wanted to do.
If you had a friend who came to see you and said, “I started tango, I took a trip to Buenos Aires, I met this man, he thinks he’s the best dancer in the world, should I move to Argentina and be with him?” what would you say to him?
I would probably tell him to go. There is a downside to being single. You miss family and partner, which is a good thing. I would have been happy to have them, but I didn’t. But there’s an advantage to being single, which means you can do whatever you want to do. You don’t have to buy Reeboks for anyone. You don’t need to send anyone to Harvard. If you have the downside, you might as well take the advantage.