The last of the afternoon sun shimmered on the water at Annapolis City Dock. It was the second Friday of the month and after a long hiatus, the monthly Milonga had returned. Seated in folding white chairs we listened and watched. Argentine Tango. A live performance of music and dancers. Subtle and passionate. Smooth and graceful. No way, were my husband Peter and I competent enough to dance beside them.
Time to see about signing up for Argentine Tango lessons.
We’d missed the very first session, missed the previous boot camp for newbies; but we weren’t exactly new students. We’d taken classes in Argentine Tango before, but it had been years. Time further extended by the pandemic lock-down where the only place to dance was in our kitchen listening to the smart speaker after putting away the dinner dishes.
During our 30 years together, we’d done all sorts of dancing and taken plenty of classes, argued over step sequences and posture, almost broke-up our first months of dating because of dancing quarrels, but eventually came to a truce. He leads and I follow.
Put me out in the middle of a dance floor by myself and I will dance whatever I feel, but in partner dancing there must be an agreement that one person, and one person alone is the leader. Our first exercise that first night back, our re-entry into learning Argentine Tango, was “The Mirror Game.” The leader must move slowly enough to enable the follower to copy their moves and the follower must never anticipate the leader’s gestures.
This is what I like about Argentine Tango, no assigned male or female roles but leaders and followers. The beauty of the dance is the sensuous connection between the dancers and the music. Women can be leaders and men followers. The steps can be simple, a slow languorous walk or complicated by multiple kicks and turns, but the movements of the dancers must always be in sync. Devotees of the dance usually know both roles so there’s never a shortage of partners.
The mirror game was easy, but when we moved around the circle to take a new partner and our teachers reviewed the steps from the previous week, my breath turned sour and I reached for a mint. I’d forgotten how to stand and where to place my arms. I’d forgotten the basic steps. What had I gotten myself into? I was about to look very foolish. “Lead with your heart,” our instructors kept repeating, “Not with your stomach.” “Always keep your feet together when you finish a sequence, toes turned out.” “Take your time. Do not rush your steps.” So much to think about.
We’d all had to prove our vaccination status to take the class and none of us were wearing masks. At least I could smile apologetically when I introduced myself. “I’m brand new,” I said, “I missed the previous class, but I’ll try my best.”
My leader hesitated and took frequent pauses, puzzling over which step he was missing. He then complained that my skirt prevented him from seeing my feet.
I wanted to say, Really? You’re blaming my skirt for your mistakes? How does that make me feel? But unless I had something positive to say, I knew from experience it was best to remain silent. The man was probably as nervous as I was and this was his way of handling it. Perhaps my next lead would be better.
And he was, an intermediate student, patient and encouraging who by the end of our few sequences assured me, “That was pretty good. You’re starting to get it.”
Around the circle we went. Taking breaks to learn additional pointers and additional steps. Some leaders were struggling with their steps and body positioning while others were clearly familiar with the moves and enjoying the practice. So that by the time I got back to my original partner, my husband, he could lead the steps and I could follow. Some of the muscle memory was starting to come back. However, we know it’s going to be a long process.
In just a few weeks, the Delta variant of the Coronavirus has made the students and instructors in my Tango class decide it is prudent for us all to wear masks. This means my smile is now hidden and the expression of my partner is not so easy to read. The good news is that we now remember each other’s names and many of us know each other’s strengths and weaknesses on the dance floor, enough to say, “Thank you. That was a good tango. See you next week.”
You can read Nadja Maril’s latest flash prose, The Nature of Basil at https://miniskirtmagazine.com/issue-05/the-nature-of-basil-by-nadja-maril/ and follow her on twitter at SN Maril.