We've Only Just Begun
The air-conditioned community centre room, up a rickety flight of wooden steps, is three-quarters empty. I am wearing borrowed dance sneakers two sizes too big, stuffed with insoles and thick tennis socks, to fit.
“I don’t think this is the kind of thing I’m good at,” my friend says. He has never danced Argentine tango before and has only danced a partner dance and he found trying to follow the sequence they taught in the beginner lesson stressful and confusing. A gentle and slow Di Sarli tune is playing. “Can you hear this beat?” I ask. I sit close to him—frankly, closer than the action requires; I like this man—and tap the even pulse out gently on his thigh. Sixty pulses per minute—almost the speed of a human heartbeat. “We’ll just walk,” I tell him. He announces that he feels anxious, but his body is relaxed. I take his upper arms and instruct him to take mine, coax him to lean a little forward, to step straight towards me, and tell him, “Don’t dance. Walk. Just walk, as you would normally.”
And for three whole songs, a full 14 minutes, we walk anticlockwise around that room. At first, I mark out the pulse on his bicep, but that quickly becomes superfluous. Even though the beat isn’t obvious in tango—there are no percussion instruments; there’s no clave; there’s a meandering, lyrical melodic line in the foreground—he can hear it. A few times I encourage him to lean forward again as he slips back to the vertical. And gradually, I slide my hands closer in, nearer to his back, until our chests are almost touching. He’s almost, almost walking in close embrace in time to the music. Anyone who has danced Argentine tango will know what an unusual achievement this is for an absolute beginner.