Tuesday, June 20, 2006

First Lesson

I have wanted to dance tango since I can remember. It is a violent departure from the rest of my life (where I have a desk job and count Arguing With Others as a skill set), and I am excited and terrified at the thought of learning a dance that consists largely of a woman surrendering to a guy who knows what he's doing. The thought of being inexperienced and given to leading gave me pause, and pause, and pause.

I have decided to stop waiting and go. I will learn tango if it kills me.


Partners: Mina, R, L, Mr.
Hours : 3
Shoes: Fisherman sandals. (You can cringe. Everyone else did.)
Injuries: An existing broken foot that healed funny several years ago and is supposed to preclude anything as strenuous as this; a bruise on my shin courtesy of the Terrible L.

My brave friend Mina and I arrive together a little before the appointed time to find that the dance floor is not in the back of the restaurant, nor even an oasis in a sea of tables. The dance floor is studded with settings for four, and the diners at these unfortunate places look understandably wary.

The restaurant itself looks like a movie set; brightly painted and well-appointed and somehow not quite real. Maybe it's the food on the dance floor. The pasta smells delicious.

We go through the basics of shifting weight and walking with authority; I get the feeling my authority is somewhat hobbled by my orthopedic sandals.

Then we partner up.

My first partner is Mina, who shuffles with my lead as best she can; I am overbearing in any given situation, but my lead is mellow, not because I am a soft lead but because I am worried that I will accidentally back her into someone's salad. This same thought seems to have occured to the customers, as they put out a hand to protect their wine glasses every time an ungainly couple passes.

Through the line of dance, I end up in a follow position opposite R, who is very patient with me and seems pleased that I can keep a beat. His lead is very soft and sure, and I begin to get a feel for the extension of the leg. Promising, even though it's just walking backwards. I mean, sure it's walking backwards, but it's walking backwards with STYLE.

We change again, and I get L, who walks me decisively backwards until I slam into a table. With STYLE!

When the beginner hour is up, Russell offers to partner me through the intermediate class, and I immediately accept. I mean, hey, free class, right?

The teachers demonstrate the move for the evening, which looks like a mild case of vertigo with some foot-tapping thrown in.

"Got it?" asks R.


We try it. I do not have it. What I have is the good luck to narrowly avoid crashing into a different table. Diners are starting to pale at the mere mention of my name.

"Don't lead," R says.

"I'm not!" I protest; who would lead themselves into a table?

He looks at me a moment. "Don't lead."

I take the embrace again and go nearly limp, leaving only my hand on his shoulder and my hand in his hand to do the work.

It's amazing. I'm too new for it to be anything but someone taking pity on a beginner, but we move smoothly across the floor, no one knocks toes, and the instructor passes us dancing, nods, and moves on. I make a very un-tango squeeface, and we finish the move just in time for the milonga.

I am asked to dance by Mr., who introduces himself to me by last name only and proceeds to walk me around the floor criticizing my outfit, my shoes, my extension, my speed, and my tendency to pull against him. After half an hour, I apologize for not being a good dancer, giving him a chance to beg off. (Note to self: look up tango manners.)

He shrugs and says, matter-of-fact, "You have a beautiful embrace. Now, again."

We do it again and again for another forty minutes, at which point I have to beg off because I'm falling asleep on the dance floor.

I'm addicted, though, so that's something.

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