***This series of stories, “Lessons from the Dance Floor” is only partly true. True parts have been overly dramatized by my own hyperactive imagination to make them, umm well, fiction***
She woke in her bed, under a pile of cats staring at her to do something, namely feed them canned cat food. Ann laid there smiling, not at the felines inquisitive faces, but at her victory the previous night. Her hand went out and a furry head nestled under it.
It was a wonderful, aching feeling in her legs as she stretched, flexing her painted toes. She rolled to one side, still smiling.
As the rain pattered on the roof, Ann’s mind went back to the dim dance floor, ceiling fans fluttering overhead.
She’d shown up just in time for another lesson in social tango, shoes in hand, quickly adjusting the straps securely across her ankles. This time there were 3 men and only her to practice with at the studio. This meant she was in for a long lesson, never sitting down, practicing with each man over and over. She had the steps down, working on her form, trying to catch a glimpse in the mirror to watch for flaws in her technique.
By the time the actual milonga started, Ann had a full hour of dancing already under her belt. She was loose and ready for anything, just about. Friends arrived, there was the usual amount of hugging all around, snacks set out, wine poured.
Tim sat next to his girlfriend, Ameila, on the bench, her foot bandaged up, crutches leaning against the wall. She smiled, but it was not a happy smile, the edges of her eyes remained smooth and unwrinkled. The bandaged foot sat propped up on a stool in a dance shoe.
She’d gotten a hairline fracture earlier that week and would be on crutches for the next month. Why Tim brought her to the milonga was inexplicable to Ann. Couldn’t they find something else to do that didn’t leave anything to do with dancing? Seemed like a cruel joke for a Saturday night date.
Before Ann knew it, Tim was holding out his hand to her to dance. He was a new lead for her, this should be fun she thought. The first song of the tanda was a rude exercise. He was not willing to slow down, take time to find her axis and find the embrace that worked the best with her. He was fast and furious, she lost her footing and form. But the time the third song started, Ann felt completely defeated.
He moved her to do a forward ocho and she added a little swish, an embellishment to the move. He snapped at her, “Where’d you learn that?!”
Trying to break the tension, Ann joked, “YouTube. Hahahaha” Not really, it had been a move she’d done for months now.
“Beginners should never do embellishments. You should stay with the basics and learn them….” he sternly scolded.
The tanda ended, Ann politely smiled and thanked him. She walked away, feeling more like a looser than before, but held her head high and walked back to Amelia who was sitting alone. They chatted about shoes and such, never mentioning how dreadful it was on the floor.
Another tanda started and the floor filled up again. Ann sat there, staring at legs, feet, arms, tapping her foot to the music, trying to get his words out of her head. She was feeling it harder and harder to watch with dry eyes. She sipped a little bit of wine.
The third tanda started and this time, Tim came back and asked her again. “No, I think I’ll sit this one out. I was working pretty hard during the lesson, feet hurt.” Ann’s mind was coming up with any excuse to get out of another miserable dance with him.
He smiled and turned away to find another woman willing to dance, but it was too late. There were more men that night than women and she was the only left not dancing. He had to sit down on the bench with his date and her crutches.
Still during the first song of the set, Mike came over and said, “I never get to dance with you. Please….” and motioned to the floor. Ann stood unflinching and took his hand.
Mike was a loaner. He was the husband of Diana, one of the best followers and together they were the most gentle, soft spoken couples. When they danced, you saw the love between them. It was beautiful to watch.
Dancing with Mike was like dancing with your favorite, comforting pillow. Ann could feel herself melting in his arms as he walked her across the floor in close embrace. It felt as if all the frustration with Tim had just magically slipped off of her frame. Her form came back, she breathed, a small tear of relief came to her eyes. She could dance.
He held her and they moved gently, slowly, each step she made as beautifully as she could. Long legs back, foot sweeping the floor and small, subtle embellishments, no grand movements required. She followed his turns and he waited for her.
By the time the tanda ended, Ann got what she needed. They walked back to where Diana was sitting, got water and sat down together. Before another sip reached her mouth, John, the instructor gave her the cabaceo. She couldn’t refuse the teacher.
This time, a faster beat, more intricate footing. He said not a word to her, just stared meditatively forward. She looked at him at the end of the third song for some feedback, criticism, it didn’t come. He just said, “very good.”
Ann went to walk back to where her water was sitting and saw Tim sitting there. Had he seen her dancing perfectly well with other leads? Did he know she’d just given him the equivalent of the tango-backhand?
With a final stretch before getting out of bed, Ann thought, if I could only teach the cats to fetch me coffee, this would be a pretty good morning.