Taking the Leap

(picture from Morguefile.com. Used with permission.)


"Leap and the net will appear." - Zen Saying

When he walked in to the milonga, no one I was sitting with knew who he was.

I was tired, so sore, and apprehensive. I tell people, and write in this blog, how important it is to give first, trust first . . . to risk first. But not that night. It was probably selfish, and certainly antisocial, but I kept my distance. I didn't introduce myself and welcome this new dancer to our community like I usually try to do. Since so many others were doing so, I let them make the first move. I just waited. I danced with safe friends that I knew would look out for me to try to shake off the bad feelings I had come in with - both physical and mental.

Finally, I saw him dance with La Milonguera. She looked radiant and deeply happy in his arms. Dancing with her, he looked like such a calm dancer - the eye of the occasionally whirling storm around him. I couldn't describe, even to myself at the time, what I was looking for. Not just that he wasn't leading crazy things or bumping into people - something else. Something that I see sometimes in La Milonguera's face that I recognize. When it's there, I know that the leader she's dancing with is someone I should try to dance with, if I'm able.

It was getting late. After dancing with La Milonguera, he took a seat and chatted for awhile. I thought he was probably done dancing for the evening and my "playing it safe" had cost me an opportunity.

The next tanda started. A familiar song came on, and I decided to go for broke. I made eye contact with him several tables away. He stood up, turned to face me squarely, and nodded with a questioning smile. It doesn't matter how many times it happens, there is something about a well executed cabeceo that just knocks my socks off. I grinned broadly and made myself wait in my chair for him to walk to me, instead of hopping up and trotting over to him. If he was going to go through the effort of cabeceo'ing me, I was going to answer his cabeceo properly.

He smiled warmly and invited me to the pista. As I got up from my chair, I took a moment to let go.

I let go of the apprehension, the aches and pains of body and mind. It's easy, well easier, to do that dancing with people I know. With strangers, it takes a conscious effort. I chided myself a bit. If I was going to get up, I was damn well going to give everything I had. (Why do I so often have to have the same conversation with myself?) I am so glad I did. If I hadn't, it might have all gone very differently.

He welcomed me to his embrace as if we'd been dancing together for ages, but had just been apart for a time. No hesitation, no question. Just a kind of welcome home.

That is the quality that I recognize in La Milonguera's face sometimes. That feeling. Belonging. Calm breathing in the eye of the storm. The tanda was wonderful. I have no idea what he led, or what I did. If I followed everything the way he intended. I just have no idea.

When we parted I remembered to ask his name and gibbered a few other things that I can't remember now. I only remember that his voice was much calmer than mine - relaxed. Warm.

I sat down and reminded myself for the 100th or so time, that to get it, you have to give it. Sometimes it doesn't work. You go into the embrace, opening yourself and offering all that you have - and it falls apart. It can be crushing. But when your effort is met with the same effort from your partner - it's worth it. More than worth it.

I hope someday soon to stop forgetting that.

"Risk more than others think is safe. Care more than others think is wise. Dream more than others think is practical. Expect more than others think is possible. "
- Cadet Maxim

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree and believe I very much enjoyed the same lead that night!

Anonymous said...

Wow. That was magic. Thanks for sharing that.

Anonymous said...

I always enjoy your posts. You are a wonderfully evocative writer.

If your floor-craft matches your word-craft, and I suspect it does, you should give every man you can the gift of your dance soul to write on for a few short songs. Perhaps it will be poetry worthy of you.

I do doubt your "Zen" quote, however. Practitioners of zen jump without hope or thought of a net, as you must too when the cabeceo beckons.

Best Wishes

Mari Johnson said...

Anon#1 - I hope you did. :) :)

Anon#2: You're welcome, thank you for reading.

Anon#3: Thank you so very much for your comments. The Zen quote I couldn't authenticate definitively. John Burroughs according to one site - Julia Cameron on another . . .

Mari Johnson said...

I also wanted to address an email I received that suggested this kind of leader I wrote about must be a very advanced dancer experience-wise. In this case, I really don't know. I'm not a good judge of that. However, what I did want to share is that I have had that experience with very beginner leaders, and so has La Milonguera.

It's not so much a skill set as an attitude, or an approach to the dance. It involves being comfortable in your skin, comfortable with the music - and willingness to be very open in the dance. If I could come up with the formula, I'd put it on billboards and shout it from hill tops - but I don't know what it is. I just know that years on the dance floor are no guarantee.

perri iezzoni said...

was this a Daniela's place in the mall? That place was so hard to find. I drove around the block at least eight times!