Putting all the Meat on the Fire - Part II
We've danced before - though not often. He visits rarely, and I'm always a little nervous when we dance. He is one of a very few dancers I know with who grew up with tango music. He was not always a dancer - but the music is his heritage and I can feel it. On those rare occasions when he visits Austin, and asks me to dance, I silently pray to the tango gods that every song in the tanda will be one that I know well. Though I know it is the leader's job to shape the interpretation of the music, when I don't know the piece, it feels like he can tell. (Now, this little panic is entirely my own making, as he's never said or done anything to make me think he was being the least bit critical of me - exactly the opposite, in fact.)
Despite my case of nerves, I was very pleased to see his cabeceo. As I accepted with a nod and stood by my table, I noticed the dance floor was so empty. I suddenly felt very visible. I was even more nervous than before. My partner for the last tanda, with whom I dance often, and I were just out on the pista relaxing, playing with the music, trying new things - even the slightly more dramatic things like volcadas that we almost never have room for. Where was that daring woman now? The "Daring Me" must have locked herself in the loo and left the "Timid Me" there standing in her shoes.
It wouldn't be so bad except that he knows when I'm nervous. He adapts, reassures, calms - he always makes it work beautifully. I almost never know whether I've made a mistake in following something because he transitions to something else so quickly and smoothly, I barely register it. What makes me nervous is being so transparent.
He always feels every change in my face, every tiny hesitation - and manages to shape the dance around how I react to what. It's not a critical scrutiny, rather an intense awareness of how I am feeling generally, how I'm feeling the music and his lead. It's weirdly reassuring and unnerving at the same time.
The first song went by in a flash. I don't know what he led or what I followed. It flowed and I relaxed, finally.
In the middle of the second song of the tanda, he led a small volcada, inviting me to lean, and I stepped forward - out of the invitation. I don't know why. I was just doing these in the last tanda for heaven's sakes. There was practically acres of room. I knew I could trust his lead. I knew he could support me. I can't fathom why I walked out of it. It would have fit the music beautifully. I was annoyed with myself. I could feel his eyebrow rise against my temple, yet his smile never left his face. He worked with my step forward smoothly and moved on as if it was what he had intended all along.
Later in the song, very gently, he invited me to a slight lean again and though I didn't step forward that time, I hesitated to release my axis, and almost as soon as I did, I crossed and stepped down before he'd led me to step. He just smiled. A partial victory? Was I was getting braver in small increments? As he led me in such beautiful, musical steps, making me feel like such an accomplished dancer, I felt like an anxious beginner on the inside.
At the start of the last song of the tanda, I wondered to myself if I'd been only paying lip service to entrega all this time. I was still nervously holding back. I could give myself to the experience with people I danced with often and knew well, but for the ones I didn't know well - it was so hard to trust, no matter how wonderful their reputation. No matter how beautiful their dancing. I remembered the words of a friend who has danced tango for many years. He told me the ability to surrender to the experience, to the lead, to the music, to your own emotions, within the embrace of a stranger is (for some at least) the beauty of tango.
What was the worst that could happen if I truly let go? Screw up the step? Hardly fatal. It was time to stop holding back. It was time to put all the meat on the fire.
The last song played, and I could hear another place for a volcada coming in the music. I could feel the shape of it in the phrase (does that even make sense? feeling a shape?), and I wondered if he would try one more time. I hadn't given him much reason to but I wished I could let him know that I was ready this time. So, I did the only thing I could. I shut up the inner voice, stopped "trying to dance", and just danced.
Did he know? Did he feel a change in me - or just guess?
I still have no idea. I felt it in his breathing and his chest - he was going to give it another try. I felt his invitation and without hesitation, I surrendered my axis as he took me into a quick, sweeping arc. I felt weightless and graceful. I was flying . . . He smiled against my cheek, and I smiled back.
"Ah," he breathed, "I knew you could do it." I could feel him hug me just slightly tighter for a second or two.
It wasn't a "you passed the test" remark - not that feeling at all. It was more a recognition that I had overcome something important. It's a silly thing - just a volcada, I'm led (and follow) them all the time with leaders I dance with often. But if I can only surrender to the dance/to the experience/to the lead/to the music, when there is no risk - that's not really surrendering at all.