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Mindful : February 2014
62 mindful February 2014 play And I’m the lucky one he’s chosen to dem- onstrate with. He aims a remote control at the sound system across the room. It begins to play a scratchy record- ing of an accordion (more precisely, a bandoneón), accompa nied by a mournful male voice. It’s like the iPod parked in its dock has morphed into a Victrola. Pressing. We’re pressed up against one a nother: his right side and the front of his shoulder angled into the front left side of my chest. Draw a line from my heart down: that’s the meridian. Enta ngled. His right arm wraps around my side a nd across the middle of my back so his hand comes to rest on the right side of my rib cage. No one but a lover would have reason to linger there. Already his palm is generating slow heat. And the palms of our other hands—the fleshy part, what do the palm readers call it? The Mount of Venus?—they are pressed together a nd held in midair. He can explain all he wants, but you’ve got to feel what a good embrace is. And this one is pure luxury. S -class. Refinement shot through with the grit of real life. I am in for one very fine ride. God, I hope I don’t screw it up. “Tracy, it’s not my responsibility to drag you around the floor.” That ’s one of my earlier tango teachers talking. He a nnounced this during a weekend tango semina r about two yea rs prior to my da nce with señor Depp. His follow-on comment is what really got me, though: “You’ve got to bring your own dance, or I have nothing to dance with.” Like most women who had given salsa, rhumba, waltz a try, I had assumed Argentine tango worked essentially the sa me way: he leads, I follow. Sure, you can stick to that plan and still get by in tango, but that would be missing the spirit of the whole thing, what made the blood flow for the peo- ple in the Río de la Plata, who first started dancing like this on hot summer nights. Some describe tango as more martial art than da nce. It’s not a kick-up-your-heels, let-yourself-go- completely kind of good time. Because concentration is the name of the game when you’re trying to sense in another body the most subtle shifts in energy and weight a nd timing and angles, and every move or phrase is dictated but the order of them improvised. Asy nchronous. Call and response. A conversation between t wo bodies. Abandon and control. In an arena like that, “bringing your dance” is essential. And beautiful. In fact, it’s the only way a tango can work. It really does take two to tango. Things get a little more confusing, though, when you’re decidedly not in the arms of a masterful tango dancer and teacher (who’s already taken note of how you dance and somehow adapted to it before a single step is taken). Like the time I was in an “advanced” tango class, paired with a man who was anything but. As we practiced a particular phrase—and my guy fumbled around, trying to wrestle me into what he thought we were supposed to be doing—I cast a withering look at the tang uero teaching that class, as if to say, “Come on. This isn’t fair.” That teacher met my gaze. But he didn’t intervene or say a word. He looked at me, and he walked on. Maybe he knew my partner didn’t have the skills for that class but let him in to balance the number of leaders a nd followers. Maybe he could see that our struggles were due to my not dancing my part right. I don’t know what he was thinking. But what I was thinking, pathetically, was “Why me?” I was on the verge of yelling at my partner to get it together. I nearly launched into whining and complaining to my teacher for not populating his class ca refully enough. I came close, but I didn’t do any of that. Tha nkfully. Fast-forward a couple months after that class, and I’m at a milonga—a n organized dance where proper etiquette is observed. Tango etiquette covers a whole host of things, f rom knowing how to navigate the dance floor (always counterclockwise) to staying on your own axis at all times. You lean together to do the tango, creating a slight A-f rame with your partner, but you have to be able to hold your balance in any situation. Say your partner decides to shift from a “close” embrace to an “open” one, which means less body contact and therefore less to lea n on—your equilibrium has to stay steady or things fall apart fast. So I’m at this milonga, and I’m excited. A frisson of ner vousness and anticipation. I’m seated on one of the chairs near a café table, all arranged around the periphery of the dance floor. Slipping on my red suede two-and-a -half-inch heels I bought on Sarmiento Street in Buenos Aires, I have a keen eye on the door. Oh good: Some g reat leads are showing up. There’s Carlos. There’s David. There’s Chris. The room fills, the strings of lights t winkle along the walls, someone pops the cork of a bottle of wine at the bar. I finish fussing with the buckle of my shoe and sit up, smoothing my dress. I see Peter. Oh, I can’t wait to dance with him. He’s good. I look in his direction intently, but he’s engaged in conversation. Into my field of vision drifts a guy I know but don’t know. I don’t know his name, but I know his tango. He’s that guy from class. That guy who hauled me into beginner land when I wanted to be all advanced. And now he’s coming my way. He asks me to da nce. Pause. I accept.