Expat Magazine

Lucky in Tango, Unlucky in Love

By Terpsichoral

A fiction

If only it were as simple as this in real life. Her beautiful hazel eyes, darkly outlined and spiky with mascara, are looking straight at me, beseechingly. I let my lips curl in a half-smile and cock my head and am instantly rewarded with a nod and a grin. Striding confidently across the floor, as the opening bars of the Donato sound, I feel as though I have parked my car in a girl’s driveway and am about to pick her up for a date. This would be the clichéd movie-perfect beginning of a romantic evening: the girl smiling eagerly at me, leaping up from her chair at my approach, eyes gleaming, beautiful in her shiny, silky skirt, pulse points scented with a flowery, powdery perfume. I open my arms and let her arrange herself carefully within them. The fingers of her right hand curl around mine, like a lover’s; her left is holding my back through the cotton of a shirt growing damper by the minute; her forehead is tenderly touching the skin of my cheek. As we walk through a triplet beat with small but confident steps, I feel her cheekbones rising in a delighted smile. And then my body forms a twisting column, my free foot first painting a semi-circle on the floor and then, as I tighten my spiral, tucking loosely behind the other. And, meanwhile, she circles me in the precisely-calibrated curves of a giroIn the parada, she teases me, taking little back-and-forth steps, flirtatiously tapping my leg lightly with her foot as if playing me like a human xylophone before finally stepping over, round and in towards me, curling through the inward loop of an ocho back into the satisfying deliciousness of close embrace.

If you didn’t know tango, you might be fooled. If you saw her closed eyes, her expression of blissful concentration, felt the lovely hand lightly cupping my shoulder-blade, guessed at the deep satisfaction of the bodies finding each other, touching again, after the open embrace of the giroLoving in silence, the two men sing, their voices floating lightly, cheerfully, above the violins, each phrase punctuated with rippling syncopations on the piano. It’s easy to fool yourself that that’s what’s happening here. That this song, that our many songs, our nightly tandasour twelve-minute meandering journeys together are some kind of silent declaration of love. That’s how I maintain the magic/Of an enchanting injury/That’s why I don’t want/To know the truth. 

But I can’t fool myself. It’s not me, it’s not my presence that makes the women’s faces light up when I enter the milonga, that makes heads turn in my direction and eyes widen in undisguised desire as the tanda begins to sound. I am the co-priest in our shared rites, without whom there can be no transubstantiation: no conversion of music into dance; Virgil to their Dantes, their guide through the lovely purgatory of tango sadness. The women’s eagerness to dance with me is the result of my years of daily solo practice, my obsessive pacing of the sitting room; my teacher’s frowning scrutiny; his blunt assessments of my failings; my frustrating practice sessions, arguing with each other in the hot, airless studio, repeating the same moves over and over again. As if we were actors rehearsing a love scene, trying to find the right delivery and only succeeding in become more wooden and less convincing with every take. It’s my training the women love. It’s that work made flesh.

And she is no exception. She dances like someone bewitched, a medium possessed by the spirits of thirteen dead musicians in the strange voodoo of tango. It’s one the things I love  in her: her absorption in the music, her body’s passionate self-expression, her need to dance. Her hand rests on my back, the fingers spread. She adjusts its position slightly, sliding it along my body in what feels like a caress. But it is not. In my back, my left hand, my torso, she is searching for information, reading me. As she twists, pivots, walks, pauses, she takes her bearings from me. I am the GPS that guides her directions: turn left; bear right; continue straight on.

There is passion here and, by strange luck, I am part of it. It’s the nearest I can get to being the source of a woman’s pleasure; to being the object of her affection. But it isn’t personal. It’s the playful fills on the piano she loves; the snuggly sensation of two bodies touching in close embrace; the feeling of her own foot stippling the floor as she changes a planeo from an unbroken into a dotted circle to match the pianist’s light-fingered arpeggio. We aren’t lovers, we’re colleagues, twin servants of the dance. We are Method actors, expressing what we really feel, but we’re only co-stars none the less. Only screen husband and wife. If only success in love could be learned in classes, could be honed and improved with an hour’s practice each day. If only life were as simple as tango.

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