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...