Monday, February 28, 2011

Bloody Feet

Last Saturday the Dardo Galletto milonga started on the wrong foot.  At the pre-milonga lesson, I was paired with another woman.  She was well past middle age, five inches shorter than me, and round in girth.  During the warm-up at the beginning of the lesson, our legs became immediately entangled.  Contrary to tango rules (any mishap is due to poor leading and not the follower's fault), she blamed me.  You don't know what to do, she complained, you're not following directions.  She was the type who's used to being right.  But these days I know enough about tango not to fall for that trick.  If the lead is wrong, the follower doesn't move.  I'd taken the blame too many times in the past, and I was sick of that game.  I stood still. She grew frustrated, you need to move, she commanded.  I replied, I don't feel the lead.  I don't know which foot you want me on.  Oh, she said, and looked sheepish, realizing she had bossed the wrong person.  I switched partners and avoided her for the remainder of the lesson.

Then the milonga started in earnest.  A man who had come clear from Albany just for the milonga asked me to dance.  He was a fan of the pre-milonga teachers, a Russian man and an Argentine woman.  This new partner had danced most of his life: contemporary, ballet, tango.  The man knew how to move to music, and the connection wth him came effortlessly.

But then the Tango Bruiser appeared.  He was tall and by all appearances looked like he knew how to dance.  I'm tall and often on the lookout for a tall partner.  But from the get-go this man had it wrong.  He began in close embrace before I'd given any indication that it was OK.  I pulled away, he didn't get the hint.  He pulled me closer.  His shirt was damp with sweat.  He led me in what I think were ochos, but he didn't give me space to execute them. He barreled ahead, not attempting to connect with me.  He stepped on my feet, and blamed me for not following him.  I said I don't feel your lead.  His command, you need to follow me, there's nothing wrong with my lead.  It was a one way conversation, and the only way was his.  I danced three tangos with him, and parted with a barely audible thank you (in polite tango-speak this means, I don't want to dance with you anymore, which implies, you dance like shit).

I danced two more tangos before my feet gave out.  Then I sat down, leaned over, pulled up my pant leg to unstrap my shoes, and revealed the damage: a deep gash on the inner side of my left foot.  Blood oozed along my instep.  While dancing with The Bruiser, he had not left enough room for me to swivel in my ochos. I had hooked my left foot with the heel of my opposite shoe.  I looked at my right foot and the second toe was swollen and bleeding from where he had stepped on it.  The next morning, bruises appeared on the top of that same foot.  Had I danced with a man who'd politely apologized for massacring my feet, I might have felt differently.  But this man had blamed me, had made me feel incompetent at the same time that he inflicted pain.  In another context, it's the same controlling behavior that abusers show toward significant others.  In future milongas, I am steering clear of that type.

Tango reveals different aspects of human nature.  Some people always want to be the boss.  So convinced of their infallibility, they don't admit to mistakes.  When things go wrong, they blame others.  It can make a person feel rotten.  Bruised and bloody feet taught me this on the dance floor, but least a tango set is only nine minutes, which minimize the damage.

Personally, I prefer a partner with a mea culpa complex.  But that's another tango lesson, and another story...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Valentine's Tango, a Field Study

Oh, of course.  Valentine's tango.  Combine a Hallmark holiday with the inherent cheesiness of tango, and you've got a spectator sport.  I like to think that I have come to terms with this holiday.  Rather than wearing black and heading to the nearest cave, I started the evening at Triangulo.  I wanted to see what couples do on a day like this.  Coupledom is a foreign culture to me: the expectations, the drains on one's personal time, the need to have fancy pajamas (oops, negligees), require decoding.  Hence, my field study about the customs of coupledom during times of enforced romance.

 At Triangulo, young couples converged for chocolate covered strawberries, champagne, and a first tango lesson (for most).  Participant observation requires sacrifice, and it was back to cruzadas and ochos for me.  While the couples shuffled and tried to avoid squashing each other, I found an impromptu partner.  The man had a story.  He was alone on Valentine's Day, but wore a wedding ring and looked shellshocked.  I didn't pry.  I danced, and found myself preaching with the zeal of the newly converted:  the key is facing each other, chest to chest, heart to heart, it's how we connect in tango, how I know where you're going (how I avoid getting my toes trampled, I thought).  I encouraged:  you've got it, I wouldn't be able to dance if you were doing it wrong.  It was noblesse oblige from an aspiring tanguera to a novice, but we all need support on Valentine's Day.  Is that one of the rituals?  Is weathering Valentine's Day together (this being the key) necessary for creating the codependene that makes or breaks couples?  I had more work to do.

Next stop:  Highline Ballroom.  There was a live tango band, followed by a live tango show, followed by a live milonga.  In short, the place was hoppin'.  It was dark and filled with couples sitting at tables and eating overpriced Valentine's prix fixe dinners.  Waiters carrying plates filled with red meat pushed through the crowds.  I stood by the bar, observing.  It's what I do.  I was born observing, ask my mother.  She'll say, she [that's me, change of speaker] was only a few days old, just lying there in her crib, not crying, just looking around, observing, and I [that's my Mom] wondered, who is this little person?  I [that's me, another change of speaker] am the last of five kids, and spent my childhood observing the older ones.  It was easier than talking over them (darn near impossible).

At Highline, there were men in red shirts, men in ties, men dressed to impress.  Their women wore tight, tight dresses, teetered on high, high heels, and draped arms around their men, claiming their territory.  There were old couples, talking comfortably without the pressure to fill in silences.  There were new couples, twittering and nervous.  There was an arguing couple, who left early, to my relief, and vacated a table where I could sit and rest my feet.  There was a self absorbed couple, each member preening and staring in the opposite direction, checking out the crowd checking out them.  There were well-matched couples, you could see it in their relaxed smiles.  And there was Media Noche, the Gibson Girl burlesque dancer who undressed sinuously on stage.  She had a petit hourglass frame.  When she reached the tiny glittery bits pasted to her tiny special bits, the men's eyes popped.  The women looked the other way.  I made note:  another Valentine's ritual.  Adversity again, either it makes you or breaks you.

After the stage show the place cleared out fast.  It was Monday night, and most of the crowd was eager to get home to complete the Valentine's ritual, for which the earlier evening had been a mere precursor.  That's when the milonga started.  The tangueros came out of the woodwork, and I danced.  I did boleos, ganchos, embellishments, and even one dip.  At some point during a Piazzolla piece, I forgot about participant observation and became part of Valentine's Day.  And perhaps that's the Valentine's message, that the rituals aren't just for couples.  That, taken less seriously, the day is about partipating in love and all its different forms.  Pink really is a pretty color, and hearts are kind of cool shapes.

As I left the milonga, a man handed me a long stemmed red rose.  I held it in my lap during the hour long subway ride home.  I was alone, but I wasn't the only one.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


For over a year I have intended to write about Rufus.  But Rufus is complicated. The real Rufus hides under a white poofy poodl-ish exterior.  Poochini and I have tried to befriend Rufus.  But we started on the wrong foot from day one.  I know I'm biased, but Rufus started the whole thing.  The first time they met Poochini was still halfway down the block when Rufus bared his teeth and went haywire, the frizz on his back standing on end.  These days Poochini and I have to cross the street when we spot Rufus. 

His owner knows Rufus is difficult when it comes to us.  She's on guard.  Usually she spots us and reigns in Rufus before he's even on our radar screen.  I'll admit that Poochini isn't entirely innocent.  There was that episode, while he was on all those steroids for his lung problems, when we passed the elevator door just as Rufus was exiting.  That's when Poochini went into Cujo mode and cornered Rufus.  But everyone deserves a second chance, and I don't think a little 'roid rage should be held against us.  After all, it was medication induced and not indicative of Poochini's true character. 

Anyway, the animosity between Poochini and Rufus existed long before Poochini's temporary insanity.  I have tried to figure it out, and it comes down to this:  just like humans, dogs can't control who likes them and who doesn't.  There's that intangible gestalt.  You know what I'm talking about.  When someone pisses you off from day one, there's no getting around the fact that you're never gonna be friends.  Even if Poochini is being bullied by a white fuzzball, I can be thankful that the dog world is simpler than ours.  I don't have to explain to Poochini that Rufus not liking him has nothing to do with an inherent flaw of Poochini's, and everything to do with Rufus' own issues.  Instead, the two accept each other as mortal enemies and get on with life.  Which is a helluva lot less confusing than pretending to be friends when you're not.