Sunday, June 25, 2006

Fifth Lesson

Partners: I didn't ask.
Shoes: 1" heel
Hours Dancing: 1.5
Injuries: I now have a gash on both feet, same place. That will teach me to make lazy ochos.

The rain is beating down, and the dancers who have come for the outdoor milonga are forced to take cover in a gazebo outside a gift shop. The first couples take their places amid very confused tourists who scatter when the music starts.

The DJ is a guy with a boombox and two portable speakers, and there are abrupt stops in the music when he switches from one CD to another. The rain beats down on the roof, and the dancers slide through grit on the concrete. The two friends I have dragged along take their places on a bench opposite the women selling water and empanadas out of a foam cooler.

I dance with a man whose first step is so wide I know we're doomed, and for ten minutes we stagger around while I desperately hope no one else has seen me.

The music is tinny, and the air under the gazebo is humid and motionless; everything smells like dough and sweat and manure and rain.

I drop to the bench and compare notes until one of my friends nudges me seventh-grade-style and points to the guy who's asking me to dance.

"I"m a beginner," I say, which has become my mantra and serves in lieu of my real name. Ima Beginner.

He grins. "I know."

So he saw. I cringe and wish I could explain that I'm bad, but not THAT bad, bu the music is starting and we go.

I'm still flustered, and I'm not very good, and after a minute he sighs and pulls back to look at me.

"You do not need to be always doing something," he says, takes the embrace again. "Now, look at me."

I do.

"Anything I do, follow and wait."

I nod.

He takes a step foward with his left foot, and when I move back he traps my left foot between his. It's a gentle motion, and I don't even notice until I realize I can't close the step. I watch him, waiting, and after a moment he ucks his foot under mine and nudges it, and I realize I'm supposed to slide the top of my foot along his leg.

Weirdly, it's the first sensual thing I've done with the tango. Until now it's been the Please Don't Fall Down dance: self-preservation in high heels. Now, with 100% humidity and sand under my feet, I'm supposed to be seductive.

I wish someone had told me. Seriously.

But he's not looking away, not smiling, so I do what he asks.

After that every basic step is punctuated with something. He flicks my leg between his legs, his leg between mine, pulls me against him so all my weight is on my toes and I have to wrap an arm around his shoulders to stay upright. He knocks my knee gently, and I fold one leg over the other. He grins at me.

The pace is achingly slow, and I stumble as often as I understand what he wants, but it's the coolest set of moves yet, and my friends have the decency to look impressed before they hand me napkins so I can blot my forehead. (I know women only glow, but I was glowing profusely.)

We leave the gazebo through the couples on the dance floor, and each couple slides easily out of the path of exit.

We walk through the park, and I can hear the music for a long time.

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