I suppose the least thing anyone would expect about me is that I dance. I'm not sure what I do should be dignified with the name dancing, I don't have a partner after all, and what kind of dancing is it when one dances alone? Still, I'm addicted to what I do. When I dance, I forget about town politics, I forget about the Home and Garden Club, I forget about the farmers' market. (But why on earth did I tell Barbara Beckwith I would help with the Little League team? I must be crazy!)
I hope the wife's asleep. She doesn't object to the kind of music I favor, or the dance that goes with it, but she's not interested herself, and has no wish to learn the moves. I don't think she realizes that late at night, I dance. But you never know with women. Their intuitions could double in a lab as microscopes. I just hope she's asleep. I'll push the furniture back and lower the lights. In the muted fluorescent light of the fish tank, I'll put on a CD and turn the living room into a dance floor, a pista. Wall-to-wall carpeting hardly makes for ideal conditions, nevertheless the living room will become my milonga. Where else can I dance the tango in a small town in farming country? I don't claim to be very good at tango—I certainly don't have cobblestones, earthiness, street grit. What I know about tango comes from movies and videos, and the reading I've done. But one evening, some months back, while listening to the music I suddenly found myself on my feet, imitating the moves. Imitating the moves clumsily, I admit, but without a teacher how proficient can I be? I don't care how awkwardly I dance, I'm a closet milonguero. At night, when the wife is sleeping, I lead beautiful, sensuous Latin women counterclockwise (always counterclockwise) around the living room. I place my right hand around the back of my partner, and with a flourish extend my left hand to embrace her right. I thrust my pelvis forward to keep my body straight, and I pretend I'm a porte᯼/i>, a guy from the port of Buenos Aires. Being a man and therefore the one who leads, I look with a certain hauteur on my partner, who willingly accepts the arrangement and responds to the commands I imprint on her back to dictate the moves. But I realize my beautiful, sensuous partner has power over me as well, she represents barely suppressed violence, potential destruction. If my partner and I are a collaboration, we are also engaged in battle.
Ah, Volver, performed by Sexteto Mayor. Volume's too loud—do something, quick. That's better. I turn back to the living room and, exhibiting gracious chivalry combined with a hint of machismo and swagger, ask a woman to dance. We step out onto the pista and begin a slow caminar, a walk around the floor. At first we stick to paso basico, the ground-floor tango pattern, but then I execute a cruzada, crossing one foot in front of the other. I advance several steps and repeat the move. My partner and I rarely look at one another, but when we do our gaze is enthralled but distant, distant but enthralled. Each of us is the matador, each of us is the bull. Because we are both headstrong and defiant, our heads do not touch. Tango, after all, is not about sex and seduction except insofar as they're displayed dramatically. It's too serious, too full of passion to be merely a personal encounter, a private expression. Now Nochero Soy, played by Osvaldo Pugliese. I grasp my partner and once again, we're off. Tango is the embodiment of betrayal and lost love, solitude and exile, it reeks with nostalgia for the saintly mother who will remain when the fickle lover has gone. It's full of longing for the bario, the old neighborhood, the old way of life. Back straight, here, keep the back straight. It's formal and risqué brutally controlled but always intimating anarchy. It bodies forth thwarted hope and lonely heartbreak, and turns private introspection into tragic theater—I do a barrida, sweeping my partner's leg across the floor—leg straight, keep the leg straight—and a resolucion. Now we move on, move left. Tango is heart-wrenching and heartbreaking, sad and wistful, consumed with reminiscence and regret. In its outward elegance it reaches for the epic and eternal—gracefully now, keep it elegant, maintain a take—no-prisoners posture—tango is a rumination on the fact that life has no meaning, and that love is almost beyond meaning. Love gave me meaning once, it says, and it may give me meaning again. But I can't be sure. So let's dance the tango. Okay, a spin, and two side-steps—stay erect here, keep your head aligned. Tango expresses eternal mysteries, and how powerless we are before them. I dance because for too long I didn't realize I could dance, the dance says, I dance out of hopelessness in a world in which there's no alternative but to hope. I want hope so I will dance. Oh, heaven, heaven.
I just hope the wife's asleep.
Okay, Mi Buenos Aires Querido, orchestra of Carlos Garcia. From Juan Maglio to Fransisco Canaro, I know the famous band leaders with their orquestas tipicas. I know the great male singers, from Carlos Gardel onward (I don't speak Spanish but I can recite most of Mi noche triste), and Goyeneche and Castillo. And the females, Maizani, Simone, Rinaldi, Lamarque. I have twenty-four tango albums, eleven tango videos, and countless books about tango. Of course many singers, and some instrumentalists like Astor Piazzolla, wouldn't perform for milonga dancers. They felt that tango lyrics were too intense to be simultaneously listened, and danced to. Okay, another cruzada—balls of the feet landing first—then the most expressive tango movement of all, the apiladoa, in which I brace myself and from the greatest possible distance, my partner leans forward toward me, head on my shoulder. At least I perform the apiladoa in my imagination.
Now La Cumparsita, the most famous tango of all. I pretend I'm El Chachafaz, and do multiple ochos and molinetes, varieties of figure eights—oh-oh, bumped the table, that won't do—and mime a mordida, then imagine myself doing an engache or desplazamiento. I raise the left leg of my invisible partner, hold it momentarily behind my back, then we disengage, whip our heads forward, and proceed. Dum-DEE dum dump, da-dah-da DAH da, dum-DEE dum dump, da-dah-da DAH da, if YOU knew that. . . deep-in-my-soul, I. . .still FEEL tender-. . . ness-felt-for-you. . . and KNEW I have-n't. . .forgotten-you-at-all. . . . I'm crazy about Latin American women. They may not all have hourglass figures, but they're sexy and sensuous, they radiate inner heat, they're dark, sultry, and voluptuous, they smolder with intensity. They hold out the possibility—more, they're full of the promise of—fireworks.
Okay, it's getting late, just one or two more. But not Adios Muchachos, been done to death. Carlos di Sarli, yes. Con Alma Y Vida. Then Osvaldo Pugliese, from that other album. Four bandoneons, four violins, bass, cello, piano. What a sound the plaintive little squeezebox—the
bandoneon—makes. No other instrument expresses so well both hardness and sweetness, vulnerability and invulnerability. No wonder all orqestas tipicas include one or more. One of these days, when the wife's away, I'll open the windows and turn up the music, and let the aching, insistent sound of bandoneons and violins drift out over the pampas—I mean lawns—flow out over the neighbors' houses, the entire town. I'll let it haunt people with its mixture of defiance and vulnerability—careful here, keep your mind on what you're doing—back straight, eyes forward—I'll let the musical essence of fatalism and melancholy reach out and infiltrate the houses, the lives around me.
Just one more counterclockwise turn around the pista, one more encounter with my beautiful Latin partner, then I'll go to bed. It's no surprise tango dancers often come off the floor dripping with perspiration. The rigid control of their muscles produces it, and the nature of the emotions they've expressed adds to it. But that's it. That's enough for tonight. My partner and I separate, we disengage. Our bodies relax. We smile at one another triumphantly, knowing we have. achieved something magnificent, knowing we have achieved the vertical expression of horizontal desire. We lean forward gallantly and touch cheeks, and I escort her off the floor.
My emotions are drained. It's been a good session.
I'll turn off the CD player, and replace the furniture. I'll sprinkle some food in the fish tank, and dowse the lights.
I just hope the wife's asleep.
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