Intimacy and Argentine Tango on a Monday Night
I came away with more than The Basic and The Ocho al Frente
When I saw online that my dance class was going to be taught by a man named Helmut, what my reality looked like was not what I had imagined.
Helmut was a small framed man who looked vaguely to be of Asian descent. I’ve rarely ever seen someone whose ethnicity was that elusive. He had very short hair and a small white beard at the tip of his chin that showed his age. When he introduced himself, I was expecting “Helmoot.” What he said was “Helmet.”
He asked if I had ever danced the Argentine Tango and I told him it was my first time. He asked what took me so long. The best answer I could muster was, “Traffic was a bitch.”
I was only partly kidding. Much of my life has resembled sitting in a car waiting for something to start moving. I’ve hit a point where I’ve simply gotten out of the car, abandoned it on the freeway and started walking. Like some weird apocalytpic revelation that if I don’t do it, I might not get out alive.
Tonight, I walked right into an aged ballroom dance studio in a mostly abandoned strip mall not far from my house. It was more than just a tad terrifying. And freakishly exciting.
I’ve always loved dancing. Shortly after my first divorce, I took up East Coast Swing that was taught every Tuesday in the bar area of an old hotel downtown. Ornate and allegedly haunted, it buzzed with energy.
There I could go and take a lesson and dance all night for eight dollars.
My partners would include business men fresh from work, old men who had lost their wives, young fellas with nose rings, fresh tattoos and Doc Martens and myriad of other kind misfits that didn’t mind me stepping on their toes.
The girls dressed the part with swing skirts and rockabilly dresses. It’s how I ended up with a good legion of Burlesque dancers as friends that taught me there was a whole other level to body positivity.
When the hotel bar closed down, so did my dancing. The week before that I had caved and bought myself a pair of black, soft bottomed dance heels. They’ve been in a box in my closet, untouched, since 2008.
There were only five of us in the class but others practiced all around us. All the other people had dance shoes and clothes made for movement. My hands started to sweat.
I’m pretty sure I stuck out like a sore thumb in the dance studio, wearing Converse and a Tom Petty t-shirt, with my hair that I never really did today in a weird bun.
My makeup most likely melted off my face around 11:30am today and I didn’t care enought to fix it. Who did I have to impress? Not a damn soul.
Helmut showed us The Basic. Everything starts, ends and centers around one eight count sequence. Master this and your partner will always know where your feet are. Much easier said than done. I didn’t even know where my feet were.
When Helmut would run through the practice with me, he would give me instruction looking me square in the eye while twisting me in this direction or that. When we’d dance, we’d keep the eye contact. It was almost unnerving.
There’s a weird vulnerability in letting someone have that concentrated of eye contact with you. It felt uncomfortable until it just wasn’t anymore. It just became dancing.
The steps really aren’t difficult and it felt amazing. We moved on to the Ocho al Frente. I actually felt graceful. I danced with a man well into retirement age who asked a lot of questions like there would be a test later. I danced with a young man who looked like an African American version of Juan Epstein from Welcome Back, Kotter.
I giggled like I was an 8-year-old girl, I had so much fun.
This is something I do now. I’ll be back next week and the week after. I’ll get better at this and, at some point, those shoes will come out of my closet.
There are small pleasures in life and dancing is one of them. It may be one of the most intimate things you can do with someone. I need this in my life.
Neither of my ex-husbands were blessed with dancing genes. Just two left feet and a boatload of white boy, non-existant rhythm. So we didn’t dance. Turns out, I’m a dancer. I might not be a good one, but not being good at something doesn’t always stop us from being who we are.
It occurred to me several times during the class that I was learning something I may never have the chance to practice or do with someone. Someone with whom I share intimacy on a level that is real and tangible. That’s mine. That lingers long after a dance is over.
That’s not going to stop me. I should get to spin and glide and move just the same. But, I made a mental note. For any man who ever wants to be with me, there is a condition. We dance.