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One to Tango: The Man who Danced Alone
A character study
He is listening to what tango dancers call the cortina—the palate-cleansing non-tango music they play between sets—and hovering near the DJ table, shifting from foot to foot. Then he takes a couple of tentative steps in that direction, ending at a respectful distance, the furthest point from which he can crane his neck to read the playlist. His eyes are twinkling; his eyebrows rise a little; he bites his bottom lip and wiggles his jaw from side to side. He looks like a hungry man who has been handed the carte du jour and is delighted to find that all his favourite dishes are on the menu. He stands up straighter, his eyes scanning the room, as the violins begin to play a light rising melody in their upper register, punctuated by ripples from the piano. His fingers rapidly ascend a piano made of nothing. Por un beso de amor, diddle diddle dee diddle diddle dee, he sings, as if he were a warm-up act for the tango singer, filling in for him while he is still off stage sipping his whisky and smoothing the gel through his hair.
Out on the dance floor, a tall angular man in a jauntily-perched hat and red-and-black shoes holds his left arm up high and wears an expression of frowning concentration as he presses a tiny woman in a high-slit skirt against his scratchy-looking jacket. Another man is crossing the dance floor with awkward, stiff steps until he stands in front of a table of women and, bowing slightly with antiquated courtesy, holds out a hand, palm up, inclining his head. Several people linger by the buffet table, carefully spooning heavily viscous hummus and babaganoush onto precariously sagging paper plates. A man in jeans is whispering into his partner’s ear and she is smiling and nodding as they travel around the floor, like a couple absorbed in conversation during the less scenic part of a long road trip.
The solitary man’s eyes are still searching. When he spots me, also standing alone, he inclines his head a touch. I circle my two fingers around each other horizontally in the air. Later. I don’t feel like dancing to this cheery tango waltz. I need a more melancholy music. My lips are still stained with wine from last night, a darker purple in the triangle of the Cupid’s bow where I gnawed off the top layer of skin. My eyes are still puffy and there is a congested feeling between my brows. I can’t believe that my boyfriend has left me. That I will no longer be walking along the street, looking in shop windows; or sitting in bed with the covers pulled up to my chin, reading; or waiting for coffee to percolate—and then suddenly feel his lips pressed against mine in a spontaneous kiss.
And then the man, darting a glance at no one in particular, shrugging slightly in amusement at himself, takes up his place in the round of dancers. His arms lift and encircle an invisible partner; his fingers curl around her ghostly hand. His eyes turn soft and focus inwards. He looks tenderly at the partner of his imagination and his feet entwine as he rotates on the spot, letting her pace around him in a circle, catching her foot gently in a careful sweep. He is smiling broadly now as the pianist’s feverish fingers hammer out the melody. His feet take comically tiny steps in a rapid circle, as if he were sharing a joke with the moustachioed pianist. He is not dancing alone. He is dancing with his companions: thirteen long-dead musicians and an imaginary woman.
I feel ashamed. When the next set begins, I catch his eye and shoot him my most inviting look. As he crooks an arm for me to hold and leads me out onto the floor, I tease him about the ideal partner he had for that last set. How well she danced! He laughs. “Well,” he says, “it seemed a shame to waste that music. The music was playing—why not dance to it?”