Friday, June 23, 2006

Third Lesson

Partners: R, K, G, the Gentleman.
Shoes: 1" heel.
Hours dancing: 3.
Injuries: Cut on my left foot (courtesy my shoe), popped knee, my pride.

Well. Now I know what I'm up against.

The beginner class should have been a warning when we went from walking with authority into a four-point turn that only takes two real steps and involves the sort of crossover that makes me fall down. I am not particularly graceful - there's a reason I broke my foot - and "sort of pivot" is not the sort of dance instruction that fills me with delight. "Sort of pivot" means "you will fall on your ass".

I pop a knee on my fourth "sort of pivot", but refuse to stop. It helps my form to have a stabbing pain when I mess up. A tiny invisible fence of leg alignment!

We pair up to practice, and my first partner is a young man whose name I don't catch, who is also unaware of the move.

Lesson: If the guy doesn't know what he's doing, it's all over.

"I'm missing a step," he mutters over and over, looking around the room to see what he's missing. I give up and spend the rotation letting him lead me into the wrong step, while I watch the teacher lead a beautiful middle-aged woman who has the most graceful step I think I've ever seen.

Her, I think. I want to dance like her. Nothing fancy, no embellishments or quick changes or flash. Just a smooth, beautiful line.

The next rotation has me back with R from the first lesson, who seems pleased enough to see me, but it quickly vanishes when he realizes my beginner's luck has run out and I cannot do the turn as requested. He thanks me after half a rotation, which I'm pretty sure is a huge dismissal, but I can't blame the guy. I am truly sucking.

Mina is faring a little better, as she is built like a racehorse and so cannot help but have the beautiful extension and space necessary for the turn to work. All her partners are delighted, but after the class she goes home.

I decide to stay for the milonga, because I am a moron.

The music starts, and after a moment I realize that the dancers who have come for the milonga are so far out of my league that my very presence is the embodiment of all that is terrible and wrong. I'm the Carrot Top of tango. I wonder, for a panicked moment, if I should pack it in and go home, and wait for next Tuesday, when the hardest part of the dance will be listening to Mr. tell me everything I'm doing wrong.

The Gentleman taps on my shoulder. He is middle-aged, just short enough so that when we come into the embrace he has his face on my chest, impeccably dressed. As soon as his hand touches my back I know he's baan dancing for years; his touch is a rudder, almost invisible until he wants to move, and then strong and guiding. In his arms, I learn how to do ochos within the line of dance. I am still terrible, but at least I know what he expects me to do, and I do my best to follow, and not once do I fall.

I still can't think about it without being mortified, but he was so kind he danced two sets with me, me pulling at his shoulder and being half a beat too late on the ochos and nearly stepping twice on his feet. He never said a word to me, and after the first set I was sure he'd thank me and move on until he took my hand again. I'm sure it was an act of pity, but that doesn't make me any less grateful.

The idea of pity towards the new and terrible continues with G and K. G also takes me for two sets and does the smartest thing ever; he makes us slow down until we're half-speed. I fare much better with the fancy turn at half-speed. (Later he dances with a more experienced woman and is amazingly nimble; it's a pleasure to watch. He has a soft smile when he dances, as if every dance is the best one yet.)

K has been dancing for a few years as well, and his lead is the firmest of all the men I've danced with so far, his hand splayed out from my shoudler blade to the bottom of my ribs. It's actually my preference, because it's hard for me to look too stupid in the cage of his arm. It does not, however, keep me from trying to lead, and when I try to walk out before he's ready he stops me with a hysterical, "Wait wait, where you flying off to?"

"That way," I say, because there's no point trying to play it off now.

He nods as if he's a doctor and I'm describing all the symptoms of chronic Badancitis. "Let's try this," he says.

He pulls me forward and somehow slides my arm up to his shoulder before I can even get my balance. My left arm is now around his neck, my left hand on his left shoulder, and I can feel him breathing.

"Put your head on my shoulder," he says, and I do.

I don't really remember what we did - at some point I must have executed the turn correctly because he said, "See? There you go" - because I spent twelve minutes in love with K. He did exactly what he wanted within scope of my abilities, which must have been painful for him, and I just...trusted him to know what he was doing.

This sounds like a Disney ending, and I only wish.

After K I left, as I had been dancing for three hours and could no longer feel my feet, and as soon as I was outside I got frustrated. Who doesn't know how to do a turn? How bad was I?

I practiced on the subway platform, liberally applying curses to my footwork, and my dance space grew ever wider as people edged away from me like I was having a seizure.

I slipped out of my shoes at home and discovered that my left foot had a large, bleeding cut along the crescent of the top of my tango shoes, and also that I needed bigger band-aids. My popped knee was swollen, and my right foot ached where the bone had healed; I had so many blisters it was pointless to count.

I am petrified to go dancing tonight, which is why I know I have to. I will keep going to these open classes until I find someone I like enough for private lessons, and then I will step on their toes until I get the hang of it, and I will come back to that milonga and be good.

Also, I will buy bigger band-aids.

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