The Night I Cheated On Tango With ………… The Salsa King Of Siberia
by Nancy Green
Since it’s apparent that the tango and I are not splitting up anytime soon, my friends and family have gotten used to the idea that we are an item. But prior to their approval, somewhere between curiosity and acceptance, a particular family member (okay…my mother), had some ideas as to how I could augment my new found passion for the Argentine tango.
My beloved mom, in her not-so-subtle way of coaxing me to mingle with singles, (Jewish and eventually otherwise), has often suggested alternatives to my extracurricular activities, proposing other amusements and venues that she thought were more likely to result in pair bonding.
“Have you ever considered Club Med?” she asked as I was almost out the door with my boat, paddle and helmet to kayak the Chattooga, Ocoee and Rogue Rivers of Georgia, Tennessee and Oregon.
“How about a singles trip to Israel?” she suggested as I packed my hiking boots, ice axe and antibiotics for a three-week trek to the Himalayan foothills of Nepal, India, Tibet and Bhutan.
“What about learning to play bridge?” she asked as I grabbed my tango shoes, a back up pair of tango shoes and breath mints as I was running into New York headed for a milonga (tango social dance) at the Ukrainian East Village Restaurant.
Well… I am happy to report that recently she has changed her tune, gotten in step and has reconsidered her approach. Now she is recommending that I learn other dance styles!
As coincidence would have it, a dear friend, recognizing my love for tango and assuming I had a free night and room enough in my heart for another type of dance, gave me a gift certificate to the Piel Canela Dance School of Latin Arts.
And so, armed with beginner’s-mind and my tango shoes that I hoped could double as Latin shoes, I set out to learn salsa.
I’d grown used to Triangulo’s studio, an inviting room that evokes another century with its collection of mismatched chandeliers and lavish mural of tango dancers. Piel Canela, however, felt like Adult Continuing Ed of Latin Dances. Room after mirrored room filled with the music and students of Salsa, Samba, Merengue and Zouk.
The teacher was terrific and by the end of the second class she had us shimmying our shoulders and shaking our hips. The music made me want to…well…dance, unlike the music of tango that makes me want to put a knife through my heart right after I pulled it out of someone else’s.
After a few classes and an understanding of the basic step, I was asked to a salsa social by–of all people–a tango friend, Igor. Or is that Eye-Gor?
I first glimpsed Igor at a milonga, with his shiny black ponytail and almond-shaped eyes. Wonderful! A Native American dancing tango! And then he spoke…with a Russian accent as he offered me some of the beet and sour cream concoction that he’d brought as his contribution to the festivities. Igor, who dances salsa in Siberia, was visiting New York City for a few months with the express purpose of learning the Argentine tango.
He was intriguing, with brooding Inuit good looks that could give way to eruptions of laughter at anytime, without warning. And around his neck he wore an amulet that looked as if it held the key to the enigmatic Russian soul and could have been purchased from the Dan Brown gift shop.
When I told him I had been taking salsa classes, he grabbed my hand, pulled me into the hallway and invited me to dance and show him what I had learned. Afterward he looked at me with disgust. “You did 17 things wrong” he said. Which I found amusing since salsa is an 8-count step, two of which are silent. Do the math.
On the dance floor he had an unconventional way of combining the giddy flirtiness of salsa with the serious sensuality of tango. Though off the dance floor, his social skills needed some tending to. Nevertheless, on a Friday night, off we went to dance salsa with a stop for a cup of tea at his favorite eatery, the 7-Eleven.
When we arrived at the social and one-two-buckled my shoes, I was asked to dance by Roberto. So what if he came up to my elbow, even with his Cuban heels and a fedora. I rarely turn down an invitation to dance, but felt obligated to advise him of my beginner status. He held out his hand and said, “I cannot in all good conscience let a women with red shoes sit.” Which is, by the way, exactly why I wear red shoes.
Over the evening, Igor and I danced a few dances though I could see he was eager to shine. So I cut him loose so that he could shake it and shimmy with other more experienced partners.
I found the men to be delightfully gregarious and generous, a sharp contrast to some of the men I‘ve observed dancing tango that can be arrogant and selective. I’m developing a theory that each dance style may attract a different male subspecies. In salsa, couples have the option to change partners after every song, which greatly increases the number of dance partners per evening. And women can ask men. In tango, couples dance a tanda, a set of three to five songs and men exclusively do the asking. This results in fewer dance partners for everyone and encourages more calculated and selective choices by men. I’ve noticed some men at a milonga scanning the room, perhaps plotting a mental spreadsheet for that night’s potential dance card. It’s a numbers game.
In real terms, that leaves many of us tango-dancing ladies sitting and watching the lovely dancing of others, giving us ample time to contemplate our obsession with the Argentine tango.
Over the semester, I missed some salsa classes, enough that I felt I would never be able to catch up with all the hip shaking and shoulder rolling and I returned to my true love, tango.
Within the first year of learning this marvelous dance, I met a young woman who remarked that dancing tango would be a great way to meet a husband. To which I replied, “Yes, tango is a wonderful way to meet a husband. Why, I have met and danced with many husbands, other people’s husbands, but husbands just the same.”
Which brings me back to my mother and her well-intentioned campaign. Here is what I know for sure.
If my goal had been strictly to settle down, I never would have paddled a whitewater kayak through the roiling rapids of creeks and rivers, sometimes upside down.
If my plan had been to get hitched and walk down the aisle, I never would have followed a yak herder and his yaks up and down rocky Himalayan trails, coming up for air at 18,000 feet.
And if I had thought for an instant that learning the Argentine tango or salsa was a way to meet a life partner, I never would have been relaxed enough to become a dance partner.
And now after a year and a half of moving in synchrony with so many lovely partners and a lifetime of embracing the joy of new experiences, I welcome friends and relationships whether they are clad in wet-suit booties, hiking boots or dancing shoes. It matters not.
Oh, and there is tango in Kathmandu. I checked.
Copyright © 2013 Nancy Green