The Lonely-Hearts-Club Tango Binge, or, Karenina’s Dopamine
Tango was a great distraction.
Maybe I was addicted to the dopamine rush. Tango made me buzz. I could feel my vibration rise when I danced; I’d return late at night, and lie wide awake in bed.
I had danced tango four nights in a row because I needed the distraction. My suede tango shoes gave me blisters, but I didn’t care. I needed to dance. My brain told me to crawl into the corner of my bed and bury myself under blankets and pillows and let the world continue to spin without my participation, but there was a stronger desire to dance tango.
Tango requires the dancers to silence the brain chatter, and connect with a partner energetically, intuit them, move with them. It takes an immense amount of concentration not to stumble, and to stay present. It’s an unfamiliar concentration that forges new neural pathways unfamiliar to language or reason.
I craved the distraction because I didn’t want to think about him. I didn’t want to think about how deceived and dejected I felt. I didn’t want to remember the laugh creases around his sparkling brown eyes and his handsome beard that framed his wide lips from which were spoken all the words I ever wanted to hear.
The best part of tango is when you can connect with someone. This is also the intangible element of tango that I can’t quite verbalize; it has to be experienced. The more you dance, the more you realize how incredible and rare it is when you do actually connect with someone. We didn’t need tango to connect, there was a natural chemistry amplified by similar humor and coincidences. It was too easy to be with him. It was too easy to laugh, to make inside jokes, to tell my secrets, or not to tell them, to be spoiled, to be flattered, or to do nothing at all. In Spanish they might say that we had “piel” or some natural chemical “skin” attraction that slowed my heart beat and upped the dopamine that coursed through my neurotransmitters like some delicious drug to which I quickly became dependent. Maybe we had nothing in common, but it seemed irrelevant.
I didn’t want to remember that he told me he loved me. He insisted that I look him in his sparkling brown eyes when he confessed. I didn’t want to remember him asking me to be his partner, to grow old with him, to be his workout partner, his travel companion, his best friend, to raise kids together. I didn’t want to remember him suggesting a time to ask my father if he could marry me, and telling his plans to his best friend. I didn’t want to remember our shared fantasy of moving to Italy, and how our lives could be there, together.
Yeah, he really said all that, and I do remember it. So when he disappeared for a bit, only to reappear and cancel plans, and then confess to seeing someone new, all that was left was confusion.
Is that sociopathic behavior? Doesn’t it seem particularly cruel?
Perhaps he is incapable of commitment, damaged from past relationships, or so scarred from his parent’s relationship that he enacted his trauma on me, as he has yet to make it conscious, and as Jung would say “is forced to live it out as destiny”. But what force or emotion, Carl Jung, have I not made conscious so that I attracted and accepted this into my life?
I got lost in Russian literature, and I almost admired Anna Karenina for throwing herself under the wheels of a train, but instead I threw myself into the arms of a dance partner, who met me with a close embrace.
Tolstoy and outdated psychology are great distractions, but it wasn’t enough. I needed to surround myself with people, and believe that I could connect. Because if everything that was said was true, then I would be brokenhearted, and if it was all a lie, then I might lose all faith in mankind. I stumbled across a small tango collective and felt a long-sought sense of belonging.
Tango, I realized, is many small lessons in self-acceptance. The music starts, and I stand facing my partner. We reach out and clasp hands, he wraps his arm around my back, and I place my hand on that lovely nook where bicep meets shoulder. Each dancer presents themselves, with their dancing abilities, or lack thereof, and agrees to share the dance.
There was a new dancer on the third night of my lonely-hearts-club tango binge, that I hadn’t seen before. He was shorter than I was in my heels, but carried himself with the most precise posture that made his presence seem much taller than his actual height. His hair was perfectly white, but his bright blue eyes gave him an undeniable air of youth and lightness – a very bright aura – a very easy smile.
He was not a novice dancer, but he approached me and invited me to join him on the wooden dance floor, and I readily accepted.
“I’m still learning, so I’m sorry if…”
He interrupted me: “The first rule of tango is no apologizing.”
I half-smiled, bashfully.
“Anyway”, he continued, “you’re probably thinking that I remind you of your grandfather.”
He really didn’t. So I just shook my head in a way to imply that his statement was completely ludicrous. That was the moment that I realized both dancers were bringing all their insecurities into the dance – mine was my novice dance skills, his, his age.
The music started and I closed my eyes as he lead the cadence, until our weights were equally balanced and mirroring each other. We inhaled in sync and he lead into a parallel walk, then switched to cross walk, as I moved in a back cross. He lead me flawlessly into forward ochos and carousels that I hadn’t practiced before, but his lead made me feel as if my feet had always known the steps.
He stepped backwards and pulled me from an open embrace into a close embrace.
“Relax, relax, it’s ok, it’s just a dance. Don’t be anxious.”
I was amazed, but not really surprised, that my dance partner could feel my anxiety.
“Can you feel my anxiety?” I asked.
“Yes, I can. You are so tense. It’s just a dance, it’s just a dance.”
“Oh, I’m not tense about the dance. I’m sorry.” I broke the first rule of tango again.
“Don’t be sorry. What happened?” He asked.
I found myself confessing to this now-familiar stranger as he directed my steps backwards and in turns.
“I’m just a bit heartbroken.”
He didn’t ask for details, but he didn’t hesitate to speak.
“He’s just afraid. That’s the only reason men break hearts. He’s afraid.”
We finished the dance, posed in a perfect back boleo, and I didn’t stumble or lose my balance.
“That was perfect. Keep dancing.” He encouraged me as he escorted me across the dance floor to my seat.
Afraid. Hmmm. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but after hearing it, this was an easy idea to accept, and I found it quickly melted my resentment into pity, and my pity into irrelevance.
I shan’t throw myself under a train for a man who is afraid. I’ll continue to dance.