Friday, August 04, 2006

The line of dance.

When I try to explain tango ettiquette, people tend to react as though I'm laying out the grammar of Sumerian pictographs.

"Wait...everyone has to dance in the same direction? How do you know if you've been asked to dance? How can you dance with all those rules?"

Okay, so.

To get to tango, I shove my way into the subway, stepping over people with open tote bags, squeezing past men with legs splayed so wide it's like they're carrying splints between their knees. I grab a clammy pole, leaning as far away as possible from the crush of people who have decided to plant their entire bodies against the pole, having apparently forgotten they have arms. I ignore the sensation of someone brushing my ass, because it could be a pervert old man or it could be two six-year-olds with huge backpacks, and there's no way to know without turning and there's no way to turn without toppling four people to the floor - I carry a backpack, too, and it makes my rotational axis almost zero.

When the doors open, I am usually trampled by a surge of people behind me, and twice this week I have nearly fallen over on my way out of the car because some guy has decided to lean up against the door and yet not actually exit the car, so I trip over his feet on my way out.

I arrive at tango.

I put on my dancing shoes, which means I am available to dance. A gentleman asks. (In theory, this happens when he nods at you across the room; in reality, they tend to march up and ask, which is fine unless you don't care to dance with them and have to pretend you have a prior engagement.) We meet on the dance floor.

The dancers move in a general counter-clockwise circle known as the line of dance, so if I am facing the dance floor the couple to my right is always moving away from me and the couple to my left is always moving towards me. Barring any sudden and violent boleos, we can slip through the couples and start dancing without either couple having to adjust for us.

It is the leader's job to prevent collision; if we are moving swiftly up on a couple that has paused, it is his duty to guide me into a grapevine or pull me into a suspension or rockstep me for two minutes -- whatever is necessary to prevent the two of us from crashing into the two of them.

At the end of the tanda, the couples clear the floor, return to the walls, and look for partners again.

Can you imagine if the subway had these rules? All passengers exiting would move for the right-hand side of the opening doors. A line of people on the platform would enter on their right-hand side. Seats would be taken by the elderly and women with children, and people would file into the aisles counterclockwise. You would avoid, at all costs, colliding with your neighbors.

How do we live without these rules?

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