This is my fourth year organizing a fest... and it was better than ever! From an organizing standpoint, it was much easier, more streamlined, plus I had Rahul Padmanabhan as an amazing co-organizer. I also had the amazing support from my very patient boyfriend, Josh. From the feedback so far, it was also a super fun event for the attendees and volunteers. Thank you to all of the volunteers who did not just help...you made it happen! To Homer, Cristina, Adam, and Tilly... I'm so lucky to be able to work with and learn from humble, generous teachers like you. To the DJs, Audrey, Angel, Tai, Edmond, Vincent, and Rahul... your music was incredible. Every tanda, every milonga. The energy, the mood. You guys (and gals) kept us all going. And to all of the attendees that flew in from all over the country and even from outside the U.S., thank you for giving us the opportunity to create a special, memorable weekend full of dancing and laughter and love. Your support through your attendance keeps us doing these events. We are sincerely grateful.
We moved to a new venue after finding out that the university had double-booked us on top of homecoming week. Having the fest at The Hip Room completely changed the way we organized, but also the feel of the event. Rahul spent countless hours inviting some of the best dancers from around the country to attend, making a huge difference in the quality of the dancing and the warmness of the attendees. We had some really kind, generous, loving humans. This is what truly made the event successful.
We were fortunate to have some people arrive early on Wednesday and help out, like Andrew from MA, who spent the whole afternoon helping prepare food, along with Sumaya and Natalie, two of our local volunteers. Then Vincent Wong and Homer & Cristina flew in at night. It was great being able to connect with them before the craziness of the festival began.
Thursday was spent fielding emails and calls about the impending hurricane while frolicking in the beautiful water of St. Pete beach. We also stopped off for lunch provisions at the infamous Mazzaro's Italian Market. Our dear friend Amanda flew in and we plotted on how to surprise her boyfriend, our phenomenal photographer, Bassel! It was the perfect calm before the storm.
Hurricane Matthew sent us wind and rain, and a flood of tango dancers fleeing from the East coast. Local hosts scrambled to make space for many extra people. A local Salsero photographer, Daniel, graciously gave his talents to taking some great photos. We had 85 people attend the kick-off milonga, hosted by TangoFlex and Tampa Tango Argentino! A super fun start!
Friday through Sunday was a mad blur of prepping food, checking in volunteers, greeting people, dancing in bits, and included very little sleep. It was magical! I have so many favorite moments, including a heart-to-heart with a local organizer, cuban sandwiches (making, eating, and watching them being eaten), Adam & Tilly's bad-ass performance, dolphin watching along the river with Em, and the special tandas I was able to share with surprisingly quite a few of you.
Monday morning found me exhausted, but not enough to pass up waking up early and meeting a big group for lunch before people began leaving Tampa. We met at the Tampa Bay Brewing Company in Ybor, sat outside in the breezy Florida sunshine, and shared delicious food and booze, along with lots of hugging. After saying goodbye to Homer and Cristina, Jeff, Sage, and Audrey, the rest of us decided we needed to check out the Salvador Dali museum in St. Pete. It just so happened that the special exhibit was The Invention of Food, an homage to my favorite, possibly the world's most inventive, creative, chef Ferran Adriá. While everyone else went straight to the Dali exhibit, I meandered slowly through a world where I'm most comfortable, surrounded by images of food and sounds of a rushing kitchen. I remember standing there in the middle of the largest room, watching a 3 minute condensation of a complete dinner service at El Bulli, Adriá's flagship restaurant in Spain. I just burst into tears. My sweet, dear friend Jenny came in and rubbed my back, asking what it was that moved me so much. As I explained to her my sadness for our general movement towards viewing eating and cooking as an inconvenience, I laughed and said all I ever want to do is feed people. I am so happy I was able to do that over the duration of the festival. It was a highlight for me, an opportunity for me to share a whole lot of myself with all of you. I hope you could feel my love.
After playing in the labyrinth outside and goofing off taking photos, we headed back to my house for an after-party. We said goodbye to Alexey and Edmond. Emily and I prepared more food (imagine that). Jose played the piano and guitar as we sang ballads and danced around silly in the living room. Josh got a bonfire going. Andrew poured drinks. Poor Vincent, who had been attacked by a cold, mosquitos, spiders, and a hurricane in Florida, was passed out in the living room. We began inching closer and closer to the patio, where we finally settled in hammocks and blankets strewn across my backyard. Conversation came naturally. The air was warm and crisp, the music was sweet, the company was delicious. For those of you who did not join us, you missed me falling directly on my face as I slammed through the screen door that I swore was wide-open (it was absolutely not open). I didn't want the night to end.
Tuesday met me with sorrow, as there were only 3 guests left, Vincent, Kristin and Andrew. The guys made breakfast for us, and we shared a meal before Vincent headed back to the West coast. Kristin, Andrew, and I decided to go to a nearby beach on the bay. We laid on the beach talking about all the highlights of the festival, the funny moments, the music, the people. A storm rolled in and for a moment I was worried it would send us running for cover but neither of them seemed phased by the impending doom of the black clouds above us. The storm never let a drop of water spill on us and it passed just as quickly as the weekend had. I wanted to hold on to that moment for as long as I could, but Andrew had a flight to catch. Dropping him off at the airport was difficult because it felt like finishing a good book and I was not ready for it all to be so final. I cried while driving home with Kristin. She understood. She's an incredible organizer and was probably one of the few people who could relate to all the emotions I was experiencing. We went for sushi and had a beautiful girls' date. It was so nice to just sit and connect with her (by the way, that girl is marrying one of my best friends and the co-organizer of the USF Tango Festathon).
Organizing is difficult. It's not the 200+ hours of pre-festival planning and shopping. It's not the 20-hour days during the event.
No, the difficulty is in the aftermath, in the saying goodbye, the letting go.
You all remain in my heart, until I embrace you again. Please come visit in Tampa. You have a home here.
Until next year,