Now I get it. Or at least I think I do.
Up until now, I realize that I have been swimming in the shallow end of close embrace. Testing the water. Dancing around it. Close, but no cigar.
There is so much reverence about the abrazo—the embrace. It has taken me a full year to discover that perhaps the Argentine tango may be only about the embrace. And the steps, which my teacher Dante calls: “A big game of footsie”, are merely a way to facilitate it. When you’re doing it right.
A couple of weeks ago I went to the milonga (the social dance), at La Nacional.
La Nacional is a tapas bar at street level and upstairs it’s a grand floor-through of a Chelsea brownstone, dedicated to Hispanic American culture. What began as the Spanish Benevolent Society in the late 1800’s, now feels like a well-used urban grange hall. And on Thursday nights it’s Argentine tango. Until 2 am.
Their motto: “Where The Best Dancer’s Meet.”
Well, I’m certainly not one of them and I’m not even sure I should be meeting them. But there I was, sitting pretty and ready to follow whoever asked me to.
And there he was, Jorge. Tall, elegant and confident. With an almost boyish grin. An actual Argentinean as it turned out. And it would be my first experience dancing with the source.
He looked at me and nodded from across the room. I looked left, and then right to see whom the cabeceo (the tango invitation to dance) was intended for. What? Who me? Really? And he whispered back, “Yes, you.”
He escorted me to the dance floor, singing along with the music. I don’t speak Spanish (yet), but I had a pretty good idea that in most of these tango ballads everyone is in the throes of heartbreak and someone often ends up dead. I asked him to translate and he said: “You really don’t want to know.” I agreed, telling him that I had my own problems. To which he suggested that we cry on each other’s shoulders.
I suppose that suggestion and a few other romance novel-scented lines, in combination with his cologne (which I resolved to tame next time by applying lavender oil under my nose), should have been the tipoff that he was a practicing Lothario.
But it mattered not. I was a goner.
I had read in Kapka Kassabova’s book “Twelve Minutes of Love—A Tango Story” that tango is a vertical expression of a horizontal desire. Without devolving into purple prose, let me just say that after the third tanda (a set of three to five songs–and tango law states that a couple dance only one!), I was expecting a marriage proposal.
Well who could blame me? The passionate music. The “love hormone”–oxytocin, coursing through my body, triggered by the intimate contact. The refuge of his embrace. So, I settled in for the ride and what I can only describe as a transcendent experience. Afterwards I felt as if I was going to swoon and held onto his arm as he escorted me back to my seat.
Our dances lulled me into a trance state, not unlike the euphoria achieved through sexual union. When you’re doing it right. When the separate self is abandoned. A place I long to be at times.
Truth be told, I am not a huge fan of longing. It has an insidious way of dragging me out of the present and dropping me square into the past or future. Into the land of the what-should-have-beens or the what-could-bes. But ultimately isn’t.
And let’s face it–the present is where it’s happening. And where the joy is. Or can be.
So how do I manage tango with it’s never-ending desire and tidal pull into wistfulness?
Fortunately (or not), all dances are not like the tandas I shared with Jorge, or else I’d be on the next plane to Buenos Aires.
Some are just plain FUN. And some are just plain disastrous. I danced with one lead that will not dance to my level (lower–he lets me know) and insists on executing all kinds of flashy, quick and invasive moves. That dance resulted in my having to super glue my big toenail back together.
On second thought, maybe a dream-like dance or a swoon now and again couldn’t hurt. Or more likely, wouldn’t hurt.
And so, in the coming months, as winter warms to spring, and hearts race a little faster as we pivot, we shall see.
What happens on the dance floor may not have to stay on the dance floor.
Copyright © 2013 Nancy Green