I believe in the transformational power of dance. It happened to me. I’ve seen it happen to others as well. Dance not only cuts across all sorts of barriers that we build between us and creates communion, but it changes who we are. It can be any dance: swing, polka, ballroom, country, but for me it’s Argentine Tango.
People come to tango looking for something. They want to lose weight, find a circle of friends or save their marriages. Maybe they just want to have fun. But you don’t take up tango. It’s more the other way around. The transformation begins with your skin but soon works its way into your bones and eventually into the deepest recesses of your being. Women start off changing their personal clothing styles within just a few months of dancing, going from frumpy oversized sweaters and long flowing elastic waisted skirts to trip short slit skirts and formfitting tank tops or halters. People begin to ask “are you wearing high heels?” when you’re not and making mistakes about your age. But the physical changes pale in comparison with the deeper changes. Tango begins to revolutionize your life, if you allow it to happen.
It’s not always convenient to change. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on the verge of just giving up. I have no idea why I am devoting so much time and energy to something that I will never make a living at, will never fully master and can only dance with a few people. It’s like learning the etymology of a very private language. But the payoffs, when I have them, are so rich that I can’t walk away.
On my second trip to Buenos Aires, I was at one of the afternoon milongas (a dance party), and I was looking over at a gentleman to see if he wanted to dance with me. I’d look at him; he’d look away. I’d look at him again; he’d look away. Normally, this sort of thing happens in the evening milongas where the dancers are a little more picky and the scene is a little more aggressive. After a while, he came over and said, ” I know you want to dance with me, Miss, but I’m afraid to dance with you.” He went on to explain he’d had a stroke that had left him with a slight palsy in his left hand, and he was very self-conscious. He said if I didn’t mind trying, he would like to dance with me but would completely understand if we didn’t finish. I told him it would be a pleasure to dance with him. And it was. Yes, there was a tiny vibration in his hand, but he was a lovely dancer and I danced the full tanda (a set of three songs) very happily with him.
When we parted, I looked at him and told him how honored I had been to dance with him. We both had tears in our eyes. It was a sweet and precious moment of human contact between two people who are not afraid to embrace the imperfections that life has graced us with.
I think we have a tendency to want our “hobbies” to be like well-behaved pets: obedient, there when we want them and taking care of themselves when we are trying to focus on other things. Tango does not behave. It jumps and barks and licks and scratches and tears up the flowerbeds. We lose control and ask ourselves: “Why did I ever let this monster in?” What you get from tango is unexpected. You may lose the marriage you were trying to save, or find that your former idea of fun is not quite as much fun as an addiction to dance. There is only one certainty: this dance will change your life.
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