Tuesday, July 27, 2010

They say you never forget...

Last July, after many adventures, I finally found myself sitting at Los Consagrados, my very first milonga in Buenos Aires. It was early in the evening, I think, and not very crowded. I was there with my teachers, sharing their table. Sr. had a plan, to dance with me early on to show that I could handle myself on the floor, but just then he was dancing with Sra. I had not yet set foot onto the floor.

I was watching the dancers and trying to control the butterflies in my stomach--not sure whether I was more scared or excited to be there. A man across the way was whistling along with the music. He was older but didn't look ancient; maybe in his sixties. Grizzled hair and beard, strong-looking build. He looked taller than a lot of the other men.

I wasn't sure what I thought of his whistling. It tends to annoy me in American milongas, but I don't think it was carrying across the room there, and as I thought about it more, I realized it did mean he knew the music.

He caught my eye and raised his eyebrows. Was ... was he cabeceoing me?

What might annoy me in an American partner, his whistling, encouraged me to accept his cabeceo. I held his gaze and gave a slight nod and a smile, and in a moment, he was at my table, holding out a hand to escort me onto the floor.

My gamble on his whistling paid off; it was a beautiful dance. His lead was strong and clear but gentle and subtle--and above all, beautifully musical. Everything that I could have hoped for and more. When the song ended, he stepped back and smiled and remarked "Brava, mujer." I am sure I blushed.

Between songs, I stretched my feeble Spanish to make small talk. He told me that he was a taxi driver, that (in answer to my question) yes, he was a porteño. I tried to tell him about where I was from, and I think he told me that when he was younger, a boxer, he had once traveled in America to the big city nearest where I live.

I could not have asked for a lovelier first dance in Buenos Aires. I'm sure I had that tango glow as he escorted me back to my seat, nearly light-headed with pleasure. He gallantly bowed and pressed my hand. I introduced him to my teachers, who were beaming.

At every milonga I went to after that, I watched for him--and he seemed to remember me; he would smile when he spotted me, and before too long, we'd have a tanda together. He was unfailingly polite, and several more times I blushed with pleasure when he told me "Brava, mujer!" I hope he knew how grateful I was. Indeed, I still am.

They say (usually about other things) that you never forget your first time--and I will never forget him. And now I've made doubly sure of that.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Apologizing, admiring, aspiring

I've been trying to break myself of the habit of apologizing as I dance. (And I'm not the only one...) No one wants a tango overriden by an ostenato of "Whoops! Oops! Sorry..." I reckon it becomes more disruptive than polite, eventually--maybe immediately.

(Besides, I need to save that refrain for my non-tango waltzes, at the local country dances. That reminds me, I need to ask a fellow student whether she can teach me how to waltz; I still want to do that.)

Even if a mistake is well and truly solely my own fault, I figure it's better not to call my partner's attention to it, if he might not have noticed, and better still just to stay in the moment rather than dwelling on something that, by the time I can even say "Sorry," is already past. Just move on, trying to do better for the rest of the dance. Such is the Zen of tango.

So! Anyway! This is something I've been working on for a long time, and I'm much better about it than I used to be. But sometimes, especially if I'm nervous, it's easy to slip back into that old habit of perpetual apology.

This spring, a guest teacher whom I like very much visited a couple of nearby cities. Although I couldn't attend his classes the first time around, I went over for their milonga that Saturday night. It was great to see so many wonderful partners that I don't get to dance with nearly often enough--and to meet some new wonderful partners, from even further afield! But certainly the highlight was getting to dance with the teacher again. He is so good that just walking in the embrace with him literally makes me dizzy.

But I always feel nervous with him as well, as with almost any guest teacher I might dance with, precisely because he is so good. Oh, God, please don't let me trip up with him of all people!

And so, in our second tanda, almost at closing time, when we were both getting tired, I misstepped a bit and anxiously apologized.

With no perceptible effort, he adjusted to my unexpected foot position and danced on as though this was exactly what he'd intended all the time. He squeezed my shoulders and remarked, with a smile in his voice, "Nice improvisation!"

And this is part of what I love in the best leaders I've danced with, in the States or in Argentina: Their attentiveness, sensitivity, and adaptability in the face of challenging and changing floor conditions--even the ones I help create! Their kindness and humor just as much as their skillful dancing.

They make for some pretty great role models, this way, in my life both on and off the dance floor.