Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The iconoclast

I'd come to think of him as a deliberate contrarian; the faster the music, the slower he dances, until creeping to a complete stop in the middle of the floor, in the middle of the song, holding some pose with his partner. I'd ruled out dancing milonga or vals with him, his languidness had come to irk me so; to me they are hardly worth dancing if they don't feel different from a tango. I was sure he could feel me pulling against his embrace, trying to urge our movements onto the strong beats.

And then with smooth, flowing orchestras like Canaro--"Poema," still my favorite of all--hopping up and down, or doing polka steps. To "Poema"! I recall it with chagrin. Other times, whipping his partner around into sudden, sharp boleos, while the music flowed gently along.

Fine, I told myself; he believes in experimentation, and sometimes that takes him beyond what I find appropriate to the dance. He could do that if he liked--but I began to be careful of the music that I would choose to dance with him. I figured that we stood the best chance of mutual compatibility with moderately rhythmic, mid-paced tangos. At the very least, only tango, not milonga or vals.

At the last milonga, he asked me to dance to a tanda of DiSarli tangos. At first, I thought I was going to have the same frustration I'd had before, his smooth, slow leading not fitting with my feeling for the rather strong rhythm of the music. But I surprised myself: I found that his long pauses gave me the chance to play with the rhythm with my feet.

At one point I was able to extend my free leg back as if to start a step, stronger than the little toe-taps I mostly sneak in, to match an interlude of particularly accented beats in the song. I enjoy it when a skilled leader who knows the music well can lead things like that--but this was unled, I'm pretty sure, though not contrary to his leading. He just gave me the time to figure it out for myself. It was all mine then, and it really seemed to fit the music and our dance.

I felt as though I'd made a breakthrough in learning how to follow him effectively--and enjoy myself with him. What had annoyed me could actually be an opportunity. Maybe his slowness didn't need to hold me down after all but could ... create a chance for play? Experimentation? Collaboration?

At the end of the tanda, he pressed my hand in both of his and bowed a little bit. "That was beautiful," he told me. (Praise from him still always surprises me.) And I wholeheartedly agreed.


  1. This fits in interestingly with something I was musing on in a recent post on my own blog. Excuse the shameless self-advertisement, but it really is a very similar topic. However, in my case this was with an excellent dancer. And the dancer you describe here still sounds awful. Clearly, however he is hearing the music he is not able to communicate it to you. But I'm glad it gave you the chance to experiment with your own musicality.

    The relevant issue of my blog is here:


  2. I'm very ambivalent about him. When he dances tango--and not some kind of contact improv/interpretive dance--he actually can be quite a nice leader. But I'd rather dance with him, maybe once over the course of a milonga, than watch him almost any time.

    But, yeah, I think I'd prefer to try dancing with Mr. Wright. Your post is lovely.