Saturday, June 24, 2006

Fourth Lesson

Partners: Too many to remember, except Mr.
Shoes: 1" heel
Hours dancing: 4.5
Injuries: None the night of, but lord, I'm hurting now.

I took my friend Caminada to the diviest dive yet: her comment upon entering was, "Have you taken me to a death place?" and I had to debate my answer, because the subfloor of a municipal building is not the grandest entrance for a dance hall.

Turns out I hadn't, and that the actual studio was quite nice, in that basement-party sort of way. The stage was about four foot square, and the DJ used a Mac propped on an old upright piano. She was tiny, with a riot of curly red hair shoved under a newsboy cap, sinewy arms, and shitkicker boots under jeans.

The tango lesson was taught by Milonguera, a professional dancer, and damn, it showed. The beginner's class was a blast, except for the tall guy who had been dancing a month and a half and thought it would be acceptable to ocho me right through the teacher's dance space trying to fake me out with his footwork.

Hint: I have been going to tango lessons for a little under a week. If you try to fake me out, you will. It's like playing Risk against a puppy.

I had to follow, as that's the lady's only job, but I shot a really apologetic look at the teacher over my shoulder, and she seemed to know this guy enough that I was not blamed as Harridan Newbie.

As the beginners' class went on, people arrived for the intermediate class. I was delighted to see Mr., who had been a harsh but extremely useful critic, and I didn't mind the former so long as I could make use of the latter. We kissed cheeks, I introduced Caminada, and he went up for the intermediate class, where several beginners were still standing.

Leaning over to Caminada, I said, "Man, my last intermediate class was a disaster. I pity those beginners."

"Dora," I heard, and looked up to see Mr. with his hand out.

Caminada cracked up.

I ended up in the intermediate line, apologizing to each new partner, getting the same "I'm sure it's fine" from them all, and watching the first blank look of horror on each face as they realized I wasn't being coy.

Caminada was brought to the floor, and it was my turn to crack up. She refrained from giving me the finger only because the teacher was watching.

The class progressed, and when I was corrected I did my level best to oblige, but one man's "Press harder on my shoulder" is another man's "Keep the lead open and gentle", and so I abandoned the idea of a universal set of tips that will keep me aloft on the crowded dance floor and just tri ed not to make an ass of myself. Around the dancers, sweat and cologne mingled with the meat-and-potatoes smell leaking from the kitchen.

When the milonga began, I fully expected to sit out, having proved myself the tango equivalent of a baby deer staggering over a field of bubble wrap. Instead, I got three partners over the next few sets, and while I was still bad, I wasn't as bad as I feared I would be, and when Caminada and I weren't partnered we sat in the corner and chatted about this lead vs that one.

Mr. asked for a set, and I instantly obliged, because I knew that I would get more from him in five minutes than I did in a one-hour lesson, even though he has a uniquely irritated style of teaching. Lucky me, tonight was no exception!

"Where is your hand? What good does it do you there?"

"Do you remember this from class?" I gave him the blank, weary look of someone who's had six classes in four days, and he sighed and did a basic eight instead.

"You walk like duck. Why? You think I kick you? You think I am a bad dancer? Heels together. Not like duck!"

This last one proved instantly and vastly useful; I was much more graceful when my weight was solidly on one leg and when I could slide my heels close enough to tap for the transfer of weight. It sounds like some sort of seductive clogging, but it's just a way of telegraphing to him where my feet are, because the more warning the better. No, seriously.

It wasn't perfect, but it wasn't bad. I could almost recognize steps! I could almost not stumble! I was staggering over bubble wrap with STYLE. I returned smiling to my seat.

Caminada was wonderful considering her first lesson had been an hour ago. One older gentleman apparently thought she was so good that he tried to teach her "sexy stuff"; she came back with such a sour expression that the girl next to her nodded knowingly and said, "Basta, right? Ugh."

I spent fifteen minutes watching an incredible dancer - older than the mean of the room, but with such incredible expression that it felt like even the music waited for her. When she sat down, I complimented her, and she seemed surprised. It occured to me that she was the first woman I had talked to all night.

"These men," she said dismissively, crossing her legs. "They want the young girls. They can't dance, but they're young and cute. I've been dancing eleven years. They don't see that."

"You're amazing."

She shrugged. "There's no one in this room I would dance with anyway," she said, "except maybe him, in the white shirt." She glanced over and away so quickly I couldn't see who she meant.

A gentleman came over, and after glancing at all of us he asked Caminada to dance.

"Doesn't matter," she said after a long moment. "He's not the one I wanted. He has sloppy shoulders."

She crossed her legs the other way, and we didn't talk again.

The DJ danced past a minute later, leading a tall woman in the skimpiest dress I've seen since The Fifth Element came out. The woman was at least a foot taller than the DJ, but for some reason it didn't occur to me that there was a height difference until I saw the tall woman later, dancing with the tall guy, and thought, She's as tall as he is. Weird.

I danced another set, and another, and when I couldn't feel my feet any more I took refuge on the sidelines. This was a lucky break; Milonguera's partner Milonguero had arrived, and they were dancing. I watched them and vacillated wildly between desire to dance that well and despair that I never can.

It was the first time I realized the difference between a good lead and a partner. A good lead will telegraph his movements, make sure you don't slam into anyone, and be patient if you mess up.

A partner is the person who knows how to dance with you.

I wouldn't have been able to tell a difference in the concepts if I hadn't seen them dancing, and even now all I can think about is that they danced with upper bodies touching and feet planted a little apart, and that if one of them had let go, the other one would have fallen.

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