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March 31, 2011

January 14, 2010

How to Fall in Love in 30 Seconds or Prelude to a Kiss

Tango has an unmentioned, but implicitly understood, 30 Second Rule. It is the quintessential litmus test of chemistry and compatibility that is rarely wrong and it is very simple. This is how it goes.

Someone asks you to dance. You say yes. You observe how he takes your hand or doesn’t. Does he lead you to the dance floor or walk somewhat ahead and you follow? He pauses and stands still and faces you. He opens his arms, offering his invitation to the foyer of the house that is him. He accepts your right hand as your palm slips against his. You gently let your hand float into his, like a feather seeking a unique cradle of fit. Your left hand reaches for his shoulder if his height is near yours or his bicep if he is somewhat taller. A unbreathed sigh settles you into the moment and then….

You wait.

The music starts. You notice if he starts to dance and lead you right away or does he stay still and listen for the music until it seeps into him. You see if he chooses the moment, the exact bar or beat, the precise, scuffed space on the dance floor, the aperture between the other couples, before taking that first step, and you, with him.

Is he a man that can wait for what he wants? Does he hear his own song or does he join the chorus of other men who move in unison like a collective tango fleet on that same first beat? Does he do what is expected or does he listen to his own voice? The two of you are a ship; he is the captain and you are precious cargo or first mate but you have no way of knowing until the first wind fills those sails, if he is able to navigate whatsoever. Until you know, you put more trust in the wind than in the man who shepherds it.

In a second and yet in slow motion, all of him is comes towards you in a sensation of new male person. You are close enough to observe the hair that tease at his collar bone, his shave or lack thereof, and his sideburns and texture of his skin. You see the base of his throat, his Adam’s apple and pulse of his breath and telltale tattoo of his heart that reveals him or his mood - no matter how impassive he seems. You preen quietly – knowing it comes partly from the mandate ahead of him and partly from the very nearness of you. You breathe in gently and test the air between you, subtly inhaling or cologne or laundry soap, shirt starch or him. You delicately, imperceptively, test the scent to see if you can live with it for three minutes of the dance or longer than that. You assess the scent and determine if he is someone to dance with or a man you could make love to- not that you will but it is this primal thing we all do. You can hear his breath and wonder if he hears your own heart race as you try and still it and devote to the dance at hand. You are a tango woman and know how the game is played; like a tango geisha, you disclose nothing.

The dance begins before the first bar.

You sense male confidence battling with his own clamor. Some men tremble slightly, their hands are cold and clammy but you never register or transmit the knowledge. Most men are impassive. And even if not, you never can really discern if they are nervous because of the challenge ahead or maybe it is indeed, as tango efforts not to be: personal.

Some men ignore the premise of letting the woman choose the proximity and choosing close versus open embrace. They draw you to them and your left hand loops around the nape of their neck or they hold you at arms' length – a nod to your prerogative as the follower to stay close or far, as you wish. It is all sublime. You feel him silently the shape of your body, your breasts where they touch his chest in an intimacy that is undeclared as it is tacit. No one says a word. It is so profoundly cool and the fact that it is actually even a legal act still befuddles me.

Some men may smile politely without meeting your eyes. To do more is to commit and no one will commit more than this before the 30 Seconds Rule is passed. To smile dilutes the tension and the mystique. To smile and meet someone’s eyes is to make a pronouncement you cannot yet offer.

The dance begins. All bets are off; the equation is simply this: can he lead me? Can I trust this male human being to guide me on the floor, take me on a tango adventure and bring me back? Will he protect me from the other dancers, hard shoulders of men leading other women; dagger points of other women’s shoes that can pierce my instep if he doesn’t lead well. Does he know what I like? Can he see what I can do? Is his style gentle or quick; does he fill in each bar of music with steps or is he confident enough to wait? Wait for the music, his mood and wait for me – to let me catch up or follow or attune myself. Does he dance with me and for me or for the other men to be impressed. Does he gloss over mistakes and chuckle gallant and low or titch his tongue in exasperation of me and himself. How present is this man? All this data is swirling and tabulating 10 seconds into the dance; you are barely out of the tango harbor.

You adjust your touch on his right hand side and move your hips to contour his, aligning the distance and discrepancies between height and body type. You catch a tiny piece of second wind. He is no longer just a man, or a stranger. Instead you have moved into his country and passed from visiting diplomat to native. He gave you a passport when he asked you to dance. And now you are patriots together, of a newly formed, tiny country of legs, arms, and steps.

The music plays on and now you relax ever so slightly. He can lead and you will be taken care of if you just do your part. Worry melts into the night vapors; you are in safe hands if not yet tango’s promised land.

If he is nervous but a new dancer, you change roles. Instead of him guiding you, you guide him in leading you. You accept him, as is, as a man, certainly but as a new leader. To help bring balance to imbalance, you go somewhat limp, verging on acquiescent but maintaining a vestige of spine - so he can find the energy and force of direction that works for him without battling your energy. You determine, even that, even if he is a novice, if he has tango potential. If so, you give yourself over to his tutoring as he leads you. One day – a year, more years from now - he might be another contender and that is worthy of patience and respect. You respond to the potential that might be there and the tension eases but the dynamics stay.

20 seconds pass and you understand his moves. What was a surprise 20 seconds before is now a pace and a habit. He repeats a series of steps and what was experimental - a series of doled commands and responses, now takes on a finesse. You react well and completely and feel him relax as he sees you read him. He tries something else and you follow in a swathe that is fusion and autonomy all at once. Never a fumble until he introduces a turn you could not anticipate. You jockey again for position, like a restless filly, adjusting just that much more; maybe letting him closer or moving with familiarity to better ground. With newly set intention, the dance continues and an aura of deliberation coats each move. You no longer know where your perfume and his scent starts and stops; you no longer notice and difference in height and the line of his body is only the borderlines of your own. You close your eyes; the room falls away.

The 30 second mark nears. The consensus is not only can he guide you but you are also received.There is a fit. You feel his relief and pleasure behind that impassivity. You know that he knows you are a match for him. You've passed this strange test and now are in tango’s inner circle.

Such 30 second dances birth a set of two, three, more dances. You unconsciously file him in the back recesses of your Tango Partners A list. You have found someone to fall in love with for three dances or maybe more. With him, you can feel safely seduced.

Tango is the ultimate safe sex and consummate, mini romance. You can, if you care to, imagine, for as many bars of music as you need, he is The One. Or you can imagine the one you truly love and truly desire but is not in your life (they have left or not yet appeared), is instead there, partnering you. But always, underneath the tango foreplay is a frontier of a man you could perhaps fall in love with but won’t. It is enough you are finally in the dock of the bay of connection. This feeling lasts as long as the music plays; it is all you want and need. Because any other way is tango at the movies; and this is tango in real life.

The dance or dances end. He nods, less smile this time but his eyes meet yours instead. Tango hosannas. His slight bow and thanks is his way of saying, “Another time – we will dance again. Make no mistake. I will remember you.’ Like thieves sharing magic, it is all sotto voit and sotto emotion. So sweet it is a caress that makes your heart arch. There is no hurry. You will see him again and pray/hope/wish the magic repeats in another 30-second romance that teases your spirit and slakes your soul. And if he never returns or does and the magic is gone, there is always another tango boat on the way. You try not to notice who else he dances with and if he holds her quite the same way or shares precisely the same touch. Some things, within tango or outside it are sacred. But perhaps in tango, we women become territorial she-cats even as we appear to be tripping the light fantastic and above such she/he matters of gravity.

And that is how you fall in love in 30 seconds.

December 21, 2009

How We End Up at Tango, Little Heartbreak, Big Dance

Everyone comes to tango with an unspoken reason.

Tango is about dance and music and learning a new skill but the alter reason; the founding, unspoken reason is heartbreak. It is heartbreak in all its forms: greater or lesser, new or long-standing, faded or chronic ache, but heartbreak, pure and simple and as useful as your appendix.
Except - your appendix calm or ruptured will not get you to tango and heartbreak, bless it's horrid little soul...will.

For those who seek refuge in tango or longing fulfilled, that 'it' or id - is there, neatly tucked beneath the clothes, somewhere behind the eyes and non committal smile. But there, at tango, in someone else's unknowing, unjudgmental arms, is the possibility of exorcism of said heartache.

It’s not overt heartbreak - but whatever the pain was, it generally comes out over time, at least to the person you are dancing with. Between steps and changes of shoes, in missed beats and word slips, inevitably, a half story, with half truths, half (and haltingly, and with many interruptions) emerges.

There are seasons versus reasons, that would also have one discover tango – a season of rediscovering your mate, or your love of dance or remembering yourself. But the majority of people come to tango toting a bit of heartbreak, poignant and hidden. I've never seen a case where it wasn't lurking no matter what the disclaimer.

I suppose there are also a contingent of people who are not in overt or too-recent heartbreak and are simply solo and figure: I always liked to dance and maybe, perhaps, maybe….I will meet someone at tango. But that also generally means they’ve been on their own quite awhile and are, if not abjectly pining, a wee bit lonely and therefore primed for tango’s promise. The heartbreak was, in those cases, long ago and far away or perhaps it is simply loneliness, which is protracted heartache which segues to loneliness - the word and state we try so hard to banish, albeit a part of the human condition. For shame. On all counts.

At any rate, the heartbroken gravitate to what they think is tango’s promise in the imagined promised land of seduction. Isn’t tango what the billboard advertised: romance, heat and passion? Admit it, we are not drawn to tango because sushi class was full and we think tango is where we will meet our new platonic friend. Or it was either tango or ceramics or the Pilates school that just opened up in the strip mall. We go because what we think we lost might be found there.

But what I really like about the bobbing tango tales of woe, as they move about the dance floor sewn inside each dancer, is that you really cannot discern the heartbreak. It’s everyone’s back story but one doesn’t wear it on their sleeves. This should immediately alert you to how cool tango people are – even before they really morph into tango people. They are poised and sedate with their heartache. But more than this and this is core about tango: they have to focus on the dance. It is a learning thing and once it is underway, the heartbreak takes a back seat and you re-inherit your pride and anonymity of person-hood. You are again, a civilian.
Now, cast in the great, blessed sea of tango, it no longer really matters who you are or who you were and what brought you to tango. It’s a whole new you in a whole new land. You don't need paperwork for right of passage and you can even throw that old identity behind.

And then you relax. Which means at some point, without thinking too much about it you share your heartache or you listen to someone sharing theirs. And the nicest part about it is, in telling it, there, in someone else’s arms, them leading you or them holding you, it begins to fade. It hardly matters how you came to this strange dark world with its lightness of being and generous, human heart. It no longer carries disproportional weight in the Story of You. Instead, it becomes just one of the many stories of you and one that is not permanently bookmarked at that page.

Tango seductive? Tango romantic? Of course it is. But to start, tango is open-armed. Tango kindly whispers, ‘Come to me with your stories of he-done-you-wrong and she-left- you-again; instead, we will dance. I will find you an imperfect, perfect stranger who appreciates you for all he/she didn’t see’. And in that stranger's arms, sporting their own wounds, you find you hear a new music that surprisingly, as foreign as it is, you can move to it. Soon, you rediscover that you are once again pretty or handsome or charming or interesting but you are no longer forgotten. Your certain specialness that heartbreak efficiently mangled, re-blooms in sweet, gulping little gasps and sighs. Tango sexy? If gratitude is an aphrodisiac, then yes.

But then, on the other side of that generosity, tango does take up the seduction slack. It owns your soul and is loathe to toss you back to the lovers you might have given a second glance. But now you don’t. Because you have a mistress and a lover that won’t quit. True, this lover only sometimes gives back whilst keeping you for itself, but it also never leaves you. And that is something. In a world that changes music and dances every other day – that is something.

Everyone comes to tango with a heartbreak. The wounds you don’t see, are there, healing, bar by bar, beat by beat. Any given place place, any given night, you see are men and women gliding on a dance floor in shadows and echoes until they are like the smoke from a fire, disappearing in the air. All you feel is the residual heat but cannot seem to remember where it came from to begin with.

By the time you meet someone and often times, someone on the dance floor - you can barely remember the heartbreak that first drew you to tango. You are in fact, a whole new animal in another sort of jungle.

Shall We Dance?

Shall We Dance?
Tango Confidential, Marcy Goldman

Eau De Tango en Montreal