Tango: my life as a not-so-good leader

And you thought that YOU were the worst dancer in the world ?

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Tribute to a tango partner

The class had begun twenty minutes ago, and I was struggling with oneof the followers, trying in vain to reproduce the sequence that the oldargentine maestro had just demonstrated. I was thinking that this evening would be another useless class where I'll be pretending that I'm leading something, the followers would be pretending that they're following what I'm leading, while the truth would be that each of usare just doing our half of the sequence, without really taking care of what the partner is doing. I was thinking that my already long list of forgotten sequences would become even longer. I was getting sad.

And then she entered. A tall, thin demoiselle. And young. Much younger than any of the ladies in the class. Nobody knew her, it was her first time in this place. She was new in the city. She was new in the country. She was hardly familiar with our tongue, but she had been hooked by tango a few months ago, and she knew that this evening there was a class here, and then a milonga. She had come a few weeks ago from a little town on the Volga, in Russia.

Of course I didn't know all this by then. But I had caught her eyes, and was trying to say "Please don't begin to dance with another leader; I'm coming to you." Easier said than done by the way, because bad luck had it I was in the opposite corner of the room. Yet I was lucky, no other guy moved to her. Maybe the fact that we were the two only people there wearing jeans lured my rivals into thinking that we were already partners.
During the milonga after the class, for the first time I danced 90% of the time with the same partner. And for the following two months, I attended the city milongas without having to dress well,to eat tons of mints, to be polite with everybody, to look nice, to keep a constant smile, to beg all the ladies for a dance or two,to chat with boring people, to dance only with the followers nobody else wanted to dance with.This time I could ignore superbly all the people, I could ignore the glances of sitting ladies the same way as they usually ignore mine.I could choose to sit when I did not like the current tanda, and to wait for my favourites songs before venturing on the dance-floor.
Because this time I had my own partner.

Also, finally, finally, I could practise. I could try a sequence time and again and miss it time and again. I could do walking steps for an entire tanda, I could try things I hadn't ever learned. She would always be there for me.
Not, by the way, that she had not tried to find a more skilled partner. She had gone to a few select milongas, the ones I have heard of without even thinking of going there. The milongas where the big guys go.She had danced with them, and some time later she had told me how quickly they had let her know that she was still a beginner, that she would have to learn much, much, before considering dancing with them again. Kings of the tango just have to snap their fingers to get a partner for a tanda, they can afford being rude with beginners.
And indeed she was a beginner, with only a few months of tango. Mainly dancing, not many classes as she could not afford it. Her giros were everything but circular, and hips/torso dissociation was a concept unknown to her. But she had balance, she had a flexible, young body, she never anticipated a step and always fully relied on her partner.

Another thing that helped us is that there never was any kind of attraction between us. She had an uncared, not soft at all skin, as well as a rough, caterpillar-driver russian face. For my part I am bald, fat, and old enough to be her father.So we were dancing completely relaxed, there was no tension at all in our abrazo, even when the sequence required a close one. In our tango there was nothing but tango.

She was always the last one to leave the milongas, dancing to the last minutes with any leader, while the little me was sitting in a corner, sweating, exhausted (old age, you know...), and slowly recovering from the last milonga tanda. She tried to collect any tango CD she could, and many people gave her some of theirs, because they knew she hadn't much money. Everybody in the (usually selfish) tango community who knew her, liked her. I saw teachers refusing her money after a class, and milonga promoters inventing an improbable "under 24 discount" when she told them that she had not enough money to pay the whole entrance fee. She wanted to know the composers, she wanted to know the singers, she wanted to learn the leader's part, she wanted to improve as much as possible while she was still there, and she knew that with a tourist visa she wouldn't be there for long.

Now she's back in Russia. I fear there won't be much tango for her there. Yet in our last encounter she was enthousiastically speaking about a milonga in Petersburg, hoping she'll be able to attend it.
Good luck young lady, I'm glad we've been partners for a few weeks. Be happy and keep dancing if you can. Maybe, you're the future of tango in Russia.

posted by Pablo  # 1:57 AM
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