Tango, Interleaved

Feb 08, 2013

Tango has a reputation for being passionate, right?

I advance my upper body toward her, and she must move. I cause her to take a step backwards, before shifting my own foot.

Her stride crosses behind, making an elegant, dynamic line. I take an abrupt backstep: her foremost calf rises from the knee and whips the air involuntarily. Latigo.

Tango has a reputation for being passionate, right? Passion was something I needed during the cold upheavals of separation. On that first Valentine’s Day spent alone, I cautiously opened the door of a neighbourhood arts centre. Inside was a milonga, an Argentine Tango dance that promised a short introductory lesson.

The instructor gave some simple directions, and cued a scratchy piano-and-accordion tune. I turned to a woman I’d never met before. We embraced. I led her in our first steps of Tango.

That evening drove me toward three years of classes and milongas, weekly or more often. On the dance floor, foot strikes and moments of indecision became rare. I improved at knitting together figures, Tango’s language of fixed steps, into a whole composition.

The mild amusement in the eye contact of onlooking followers changed to esteem…and maybe a little hunger.

On a serpentine ocho step, I overextend her backward stride. My step trespasses far between her feet, pressing my outer thigh against the inside of hers. Her leg leaps away in an impulsive arc. Sacada.

A quick turn, and she is crossing beside me. I slide my right arm closer and lower across her passing abdomen, and step into her gait again. I bodily reverse her into my stance; her free leg lashes between mine. Gancho.

Men usually lead, and women usually follow. We dance three or four songs to a tanda, then say thank you, and change partners or rest. Trousers and flippy skirts, and perhaps a little extravagance with one’s hair, are desirable.

Tango is very social and friendly, free of the lewdness seen in various bumps-’n’-grinds. But there’s a subtext that is set with the cabeceo, the eye contact that singles out the next partner. This is more than some polite proposal of promenade.

While dancing, I can surprise her with the blunt gotcha of a gancho kick, or accost her foot with a sweeping barrida. In passages with strong tempo I stride unforgivingly while keeping the follower at the edge of being overwhelmed, following teachers’ encouragement to “just go!”.

She can vent her tumult with a knife-heel boleo, or scribe apprehensive lapiz circles on the floor while waiting for my next advance. But the rules of engagement are clear: she must make herself as vulnerable as I make myself bold. Giving advice to new followers, I sum it up this way: “You can do anything you want, so long as you do everything I lead.”

Pursuing Tango in a serious way reveals the core of the legendary “passion”. Domination and submission, or control and surrender, show through clearly.

The music foreshadows a dramatic syncopation and a concluding flourish. In a thought, I’ve chosen a matching resolution for our dance. I build energy in my torso, coursing it through my arms into the embrace. She responds promptly with flexion and quicker steps. I assert the slightest turn, drawing her free leg up against the other and locking them tight together. Cruzada.

I block any forward escape with my foot against hers. I reach my right arm deeper around her waist, bringing our bodies into contact. At the final downbeat, I draw her off balance to depend solely on my support. Volcada. We grow still as the final notes of music fade.

Valentine’s Day will never be the same, post “Fifty Shades”. Intimacy, as we average people yearn for it, as our neighbours secretly fantasize, includes the desire to experience control, and to experience being controlled.

Tango offers an accessible exploration of the two roles. It’s something that can be easily walked back (should one misread the cues). It reveals how mutual the roles are: when a Tango follower closes her eyes and simply, selflessly, responds, it is the highest compliment for a leader.

Tango insulated me from the grimmest hours of personal transition, introducing me to a new circle of supportive friends. But most of all, Tango cultivated a sense of power and confidence beyond anything I could have expected.

As a result, this Valentine’s Day I’ll be holding a succession of beautiful, engaging, willing women in my arms. Really, what more can a man ask?