Victoria Zaragoza-Martinez was retired, with little to do except hate the miserable British winter. At 71, she decided to bring some Latin warmth into her life.


The Guardian reports that Victoria Zaragoza-Martinez was 71 when she danced the tango for the first time. Growing up in Mexico, she had always had an affinity for the South American dance but never learned the proper steps.

It wasn’t until 2015, soon after she had retired from being a teacher and translator, that Zaragoza-Martinez found herself at a class in Oxford being led around the room to a sprightly tango rhythm. “I just left all my troubles behind because the music took over,” she says. “Once you dance, all you want to do is dance.”

For the past nine years, Zaragoza-Martinez has been dancing the tango at least once a week. She has made a new group of friends that she sees at milonga dance parties and has even travelled to Argentina to tango with the locals. Despite now being 79 and the oldest in her group, Zaragoza-Martinez sees the dance as vital to her health and lifestyle. “I don’t feel almost 80 when I dance,” she says. “It’s my life’s passion.”

It has been a long journey to the dancefloor for Zaragoza-Martinez. Born in Spain, she emigrated as a child with her family to Mexico and at 19 became a teacher to help support her single mother. “I used to enjoy dancing Spanish traditional dances but didn’t have time to learn anything else,” she says. “I always had to work, and while I’d loved tango music since I was a baby, I never knew what to do when it came on.”

After meeting her British husband at a mutual friend’s wedding, Zaragoza-Martinez moved to England in 1981. She spent her days teaching Spanish and the school holidays travelling, and the decades soon passed without her having an opportunity to dance again. Before she knew it, Zaragoza-Martinez was retired.

“I had a lot of time on my hands and I resented the length of the miserable winter,” she says. “It became my worst enemy.” Respite came when her friend Maria suggested she join her weekly Ceroc dance classes.

“She had been encouraging me to go for a while,” she says. “I didn’t want my age to control my life, I wanted my life to control my age. So I knew I had to try something new.”

At Ceroc, where attendees learn a fusion of ballroom styles, Zaragoza-Martinez found herself slipping easily into a dancefloor rhythm.

She gradually built up her skill but something was missing. “After a year, the classes had moved to a venue further away and I didn’t enjoy driving there at night,” she says. “At one rehearsal, I overheard two dancers talking about tango lessons nearby and a lightbulb went off in my head.”

Replacing her night-time commute with a 10-minute trip to daytime sessions at the Oxford Tango Academy, Zaragoza-Martinez finally began learning to tango.

“It was such an incredible experience, and many of the people in my class were over 60,” she says. “Still, it took me a year to perform at the social dances. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to follow the leader or that no one would choose me to dance with.”

Encouraged by her fellow beginners, Zaragoza-Martinez gradually built up her confidence and went to her first milonga, where she danced for five hours.

“When I’m at a milonga, the music envelops me and there are no aches or pains in my body,” she says. “I am grateful for the warm embrace of dancers – and it’s always fun to go to charity shops and dress up for the occasion.”

Indeed, Zaragoza-Martinez has built up a wardrobe of salvaged tango ballgowns, some only costing £3, and despite never being able to stand heels before dancing, she can now keep her tango shoes on all night.

In 2022, she put that stamina to the test by travelling with a group of dancers to Buenos Aires and visiting the tango clubs each night until 3am. “It was amazing to go to the birthplace of tango,” she says. “Dancing has really encouraged me to be adventurous and added a new light to my life.”

Although her husband doesn’t dance, he encourages Zaragoza-Martinez and often drops her off at the milongas she attends up to five times a month.

As she approaches 80, she has no plans to slow down. “I wish I had started learning sooner, but it was impossible,” she says. “I’m now making up for lost time and forgetting my age!”

(Story source: The Guardian)

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