The First Time I Danced Tango
By Vivi Rathbone.
First I had my heart broken, then I learned to dance tango. It had to happen in that order.
The night I had my heart broken, I also happened to be hosting a dinner party, so that was convenient. I had no time to mope, or feel self pity. I hadn’t planned the two events in conjunction, but the benevolent universe had some foresight and provision of friendship for what would have otherwise been a very lonely night.
So, this is what a broken heart feels like, I sighed. My doorbell rang, my first guest arrived. It was lovely timing to have my friends come together, bringing wine, and crowding around my dining room table, enjoying comfort food and complimenting my cooking. One friend brought bananas and dulce de leche ice cream, treating us all to bananas foster prepared on my stove. The heartbreak made the sugar that much sweeter.
The wine flowed, the food was consumed, and the cigarettes were lit. The lights were turned off, and the group moved to the balcony, except for Matias, and myself.
Matias was more of an acquaintance than a friend. I’d met him before, we ran in the same circles. He was a tango dancer. I was not a tango dancer, but I had always been slightly suspicious that I had it in me to be a great one.
“Matias, will you teach me to dance tango?”
“Sure.” Matias agreed. “I will take you to a milonga sometime.”
“No.” I insisted. “Teach me now. I want to learn, I’m ready. Please, just teach me.”
There is no music, Matias countered, but then he stopped himself from protesting further. He took my right hand in his left hand, facing me, and told me that tango was about intuition, and following. It has a series of steps, but it cannot be predicted, it can only be felt.
He took his right arm across the back of my shoulders, and I held his right shoulder in my left hand, in a close embrace. I could feel the rise and fall of his lungs against my own. I was barefoot on the hardwood floor. Lean into me, put the weight on your toes, he directed, shifting his weight from left to right, until I picked it up, and mirrored him, trying to anticipate his next move.
Then, he took a step forward. We moved perfectly in synch. I closed my eyes and felt the subtle lead of his hand directing my backwards walk. I was reminded of the first time I had galloped on a horse. I had been overwhelmed by the connectedness I’d felt with the horse – that both of our bodies had moved in sync, that I was not only being carried by the horse, but moving with it.
We danced, barefoot across the worn wooden floor, through the dining room, and around the kitchen, serenaded by the quiet cigarette chat of our friends on the balcony, carried in with the smoke and the park breeze. My eyes with closed, and Matias didn’t speak. When I stumbled, he caught me. I collected my feet and we would start again.
It’s hard to explain the sensation of dancing tango. It didn’t register with any familiar notions I had of dance. It took intense concentration, but my conscious mind was silenced. Every step was guided by intuition. There was no music, and I was not familiar with the dance, but those things suddenly seemed irrelevant.
I don’t know how long it was before Matias stopped, breathless. Surely several burning cigarettes worth of dance time.
“I can’t – this is too much.” He put his hand on his chest, gesturing exhaustion. I could have kept going for hours. I had never felt more alive.
“This has been the most profound tango experience of my life.” He told me.
There was no music, and no milonga, just melancholy and intuition. That’s all you need for tango. Tango is the beauty of the heartbreak, but I had to have my heart broken before I could dance.