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Mindful : February 2014
Tracy Picha is the editor of Mindful and a freelance writer. February 2014 mindful 63 play The night is young, I say to myself. Let’s warm up. We’re standing on the floor among the other couples and the music begins. His hands are clammy (already?), his embrace tentative. He’s not comfort- able, and neither am I. As we “dance” the first tango of the four I’ve committed to with him—part of that tango etiquette I mentioned—my attention wanders again, like it did the last time. I’m not “bringing my own dance.” I’m looking around the room, clocking where Peter and Chris and Carlos are. As soon as I can finish my tangos with this g uy, the faster I can get to dancing with those other leads. Ouch. My partner has steered me perilously close to another couple and her heel comes down onto the top of my foot. Now I’m irritated. My body tenses. My lead’s left palm grows even sweatier. Is he holding his breath? Why can’t he just relax? Why can’t he get into the music? It feels like we’re da ncing through wet cement. Three more tangos, I say to myself. But three now feels like an eternity. I start to cal- culate how many more might remain available to me this night, and I want this tanda, the set of dances, to be over now. I’m no longer dancing. I’m doing time. Then I remember how many times I’ve been in this very situation. Oh sure, I’ve had some sublime tangos. The ones where I’m reading my partner and he’s reading me, and our timing is right on the money, and the music is fantastic, and he’s introducing moves I didn’t know my body knew the answer to, and all is right with the world. It’s Slipping on my red suede two-and-a-half-inch heels, I have a keen eye on the door. The room fills, the strings of lights twinkle along the walls, someone pops the cork of a bottle of wine at the bar. the promise of that kind of tango that has kept me going back to lessons and milongas a nd Argentina for yea rs. But those tangos are few—very few—and far between. The vast majority are more like trying to chisel, coax, tease something halfway artful out of thin air. Often with a person you’ve never da nced with before. But if you’re both focusing—hearing the music, feel- ing the floor, sensing your par tner—there is hope. Mr. Beginner is there. He is trying hard. Meanwhile, I am silently battling my own con- fusion a nd frustration: If I’m not leading this dance, how can I actually make it better? I can’t choose for him the best steps. I can’t fix anybody’s embrace. I can’t make his body feel the music. We have two more tangos to go. What can I do? I can take a step. I can take one simple step and try to make it the best I’ve ever done. Arch, toe, heel, hip, thigh, knee, calf, ankle, arch, toe, heel ... I reach back for the most elegant, expressive move I have ever tried to make. From the outside, if anyone noticed at all, I’m sure it looked like the most ordina r y of gestures. It was one simple step backward, in time with music I had tangoed to repeatedly. I’m quite sure no one noticed what happened next, either. My partner ’s shoulders rela xed. He took a deep breath. His palm pressed more firmly into mine. We danced. ● PHOTOGRAPHBYMARVINMOORE Watch a video of Argentine tango at mindful.org/tango