(Picture courtesy of

A new face.

Well, new to me anyway.

One follower told me how beautiful his dynamic, nuevo styling felt. Another how comforting and secure his close embrace was. One would tell me how light and quick he was on his feet. Another how grounded and secure he felt. Were they all talking about the same dancer?

Then, the invitation to dance.
To embrace.

The first song played while I tried to open the map to him, to get a feel for the terrain. Was he fast or slow? Light or heavy?

Sometimes, okay more than sometimes, this is my favorite part of the dance. Listening. Adapting. Does he prefer a Ferrari or a Rolls Royce? Grace Kelly or Ava Gardner? (You could say that dancing tango is ultimately about being yourself, and of course it is - but it is also a little bit about being more than yourself. More than the self that goes to work, picks up groceries, and watches the latest movie from the Netflix queue.)

Yet as we danced, each time I'd get a feel for some preference of movement, some adjustment of the embrace, I'd feel him shift again, just slightly, and adjust to me.

I hesitated as he started a closed-side turn, which is always challenging for me (mostly due to lack of practice), yet before I could adjust, he'd seemed to have already felt the hesitation, and disassociated a little more to make me comfortable, to make the movement almost effortless for me. From then on turns to that side, where I was weakest, rather than leave them out, he simply gave more support, which made me feel more accomplished, rather than simply accommodated.

A minute or two later, another couple veered quickly out of their lane and almost in to us. My leader shifted weight, turned and pulled me to his chest (even closer than I already was) in such a swift, smooth movement that I didn't entirely put together what had happened until I saw the other leader's eyes widen at the collision that had almost occurred. Still wrapped tightly in his embrace, I exhaled and settled in there - wondering if now that the danger had passed, he'd let go of me. He didn't. I was happy to be where I was and he seemed just as happy to keep me there.

The first song ended and we parted. Made small talk. The usual things. The music. The heat.

When the second song started, he invited me into his embrace and I immediately found the place I had been before. I felt enveloped, like I was being carried. I had to remind myself I needed to be actively listening to his body. And then I caught the thought that almost drifted away without observation - I was getting exactly the dance I wanted.

The turns, the embrace, how he stepped - all done in the way that felt most comfortable, most natural for me to follow.

Which suddenly made me uncomfortable.

I should be elated, right? Mostly I was. To be danced in the way your body most wants to move is an extraordinary gift. Tears welled in my eyes at the relief of that feeling. But then, as the edges of my observation solidified, I got nervous. Please forgive my journalism analogy, but it was like being an interviewer and suddenly realizing you're the one being interviewed.

The table was turned.

For me, there is a not-so-healthy side to wanting to adapt to my partner. A side that's become particularly strong these last few months as tango became a means of escape from a toxic work situation. I danced to forget, at least for a short time, large pieces of my life. I danced so I wouldn't spend all of my time examining and picking apart the things that were going so wrong. I could escape into an embrace and put all of that energy and attention on the music and the man in front of me. An unfortunately familiar pattern, being someone else was becoming easier than being me. For all my talk of entrega, I had actually found a way to out-maneuver surrendering, by keeping my self hidden. I could give all of my focus, my effort, my feeling for the music and the dance, to my partner - just not all of me.

They say you dance who you are, but that can mean a lot of things. What you see depends very much on how you look at it.

I've been running away for a long time.

It's not ideal, maybe it's not even right, but it worked. It gave me an outlet. It bought me time.

The storm, for the most part, has passed, but the habit is still there. Having someone listen intently to me, and adapting to what they heard, made me feel exposed.

At the end of the tanda, I struggled with conversation as I tried to figure out what all I had revealed.

I wondered if I'd been caught in my bait-and-switch.

And yet . . .

As I watched him return to his seat on the far side of the pista, I wondered, am I the only one playing chameleon to buy a little time.


Matthew J Brockwell said...

What a beautiful, and honest essay. This is a brilliant illumination of the psychological complexity of the embrace. I absolutely love this! ... And, it just happens to dovetail almost perfectly with a book I've been reading about couples therapy and the challenge most people have, of maintaining their integrity within their intimate relationships. A universal challenge, illustrated beautifully by your essay. NICE.

Marika said...

Matthew, thank you so much for your comment. Which book are you reading, if you don't mind my asking?

Jane Prusakova said...

This reads like a description of a romantic encounter - intimate, sexy, very connected. Same words that describe the dance of tango, but still...

Marika said...

Jane - unfortunately writing about tango always carries a similar vocabulary to writing romance novels. I have so far resisted the temptation to use the words, "heaving breasts", "dance as old as time", or any reference to anyone "stoking a gently growing fire". Tango, at it's best (for me), is intimate and connected, sensual - but rarely overtly sexual. How to convey that has always been a huge challenge.

Dieudonne said...

BINGO!!! See you on the pista.
By the way, I think that we all try to fake being, or become confortable, but Tango won't let us hide for a long time.

happyseaurchin said...

How strange... I really liked your observations, and your sharing of your experience, and yet I was disheartened to find that you were using tango to hide, that this rare experience of being listened to was an indicator that the other was actually hiding.

For me, it is always about being vulnerable. Sometimes after a tanda, I sit down completely deflated, thinking I am terrible at tango. It was all so automatic, and impersonal, perhaps clunky, but even if graceful, it was the grace that comes with politeness.

And I precisely pay attention to my partner. I am not sure if I do accommodations, since that implies there is a discrete "set" move from which it deviates. I am constantly attempting to find where my partner is, and if I am lucky enough to find her, or if she is generous enough to be really focussed on my movement to the point of entering a rapport of breathing, then we have a chance of achieving tango.

I really like your essay, and yet I am troubled by it. Whatever I have felt or thought, thank you for posting. Be well!

Marika said...

Dieudonne - Thank you for your comment - hopefully I will see you soon! ;)

Happyseaurchin - I was troubled by my response as well - which is the reason for my post. I hadn't realized the extent I had been 'hiding in plain sight' until that happened. I've been trying to come back from that.

Please keep in mind that it is a very old habit that far predates my tango life. That it filtered so much into my dancing when I was under stress shouldn't have been a surprise to me, but it was. I felt especially bad because I had written so much about being honest and authentic in the embrace.

happyseaurchin said...

Mari, take some solace from an alternative definition -- or indeed formation -- of self: the distributed or social self that is common in eastern societies. I am sure you are aware of it, but here's my take on it: he self is whatever constitutes the engagement within a social context. There is no self, just the facets of self. So, in this way, your tango is not hiding who you are, it is merely bringing out an aspect of who you are. The fact that this was intensified by the careful attention of a "leader", is something quite wonderful, is it not? And you can thus still honour your intention of being authentic in the embrace.

We are complex things, tango allows a potential simplicity. That it degenerates into discrete and recognisable moves, devoid of presence, is lamentable... and is avoidable. You clearly indicate this by your alert observations in your posts, demonstrating the bright mind that I am sure is live and present in the tango.

Be well!

Marika said...

happyseaurchin - thank you for that. you have such a way with words. I like your perspective very much. (and I so wish you would visit Austin!) un grande abrazo

happyseaurchin said...

Thank you :) If I ever make it to the US, it would be wonderful to meet at some tango venue somewhere :).

In the post, you mention the distinction between sensual and sexual. I have that distinction too, and I was wondering if you could elaborate on some future post. Many people I speak to don't seem to be aware of this, and I was wondering how that was "wired" into your being...? I presume your partner is not threatened by your tango exploits, precisely because of this distinction? Whether I have been in a relationship or single, the experience of this distinction is ever present. Your observation of your own experience in this matter would be most appreciated.

Be well!