My Year in Tango: Part Six

The Black Knight of Tango arrives on the scene...

The tango aficionado tends to be a fascinating individual—well-read, interested in challenging music, aware of arts and culture issues and a good quiet conversationalist, capable of filling the long moments of silence before the music starts. I guess, one wouldn’t last long being less than charming in such close circles. The more I ventured into the tango world, the more I was sure tango attracted the kind of person who might be nice to add into my circle of trust. And then, sometimes I am just flat out, plain wrong. Perhaps, especially when it comes to judging people, history has proven I am a terrible, hopeless judge of character. Or should that be, hopeful?

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you are behind on My Year in Tango, do not despair. We have  an intro , a  Part One, a Part Two, a Part Three, a Part Four, and a Part Five, all just a click away! Look for Part Seven in a few days…

Part VI Lumination from the Black Knight I

By that late spring Saturday afternoon, our little class had whittled itself down to about six unreliable singles. Remember the statistical warning? People were falling in all directions…in love off the dance floor. Our steadily diminishing yet dedicated group quietly and obediently circled in the line of dance. We now had the added ability of ochos, (when the woman forms a beautiful figure 8 pattern by caressing her foot across the floor), and the abrazo (embrace), the molinete (going around windmill-like the leader in long, lean steps), the ocho cortado (with an added cross step). Whenever something new was introduced we looked rather like robots being ushered around counterclockwise by a zombie, but we tried to ignore that. New stuff threw the class into an atavistic spin.

Then, just in time to shake things up, The Black Knight came to class…

Scene One

My partner steps on my toe for the umpteenth time, or maybe I just don’t get out of the way fast enough. And then into the tango chaos The Black Knight walks in. He is pale, bald, mustached, dressed all in black, cologne enshrouded, button front shirt, vest, pressed pants, oodles away from a tall, dark Argentinian hombre. Wait, let me clarify that: He strides right into our little circle, alone, like a peacock strutting across the farmyard knowing full well he looks better and walks better than any of the other animals. We are already paired up, but that doesn’t seem to matter to The Black Knight. He singles me out like a panther might stalk its prey—seeing one with more possibility than the others of falling victim to teaching and tutorials, the weak link ready in her ignorance to be molded into a tanguera temptress.

Suddenly, we are all equal but some of us are more equal than others. The Black Knight had summered in Argentina; he took the professional tango workshops that came through Portland; he knew all the tango language; he even brazenly corrected the instructors on occasion. He arrived late and took the time to change into a pair of buttery soft, black, soleless, leather dancing shoes (“soft and soleless,” he murmured, so he wouldn’t injure any of his partners—so, he’s thoughtful).

When the Black Knight approached me, he held out his hand in a gesture of welcome and superiority: “I will change your life, here is my brazo. Shall we dance?” His audacity to join our class was of Menganno-esque proportions—the Argentinian motorbike-riding, black-and-blue, supersomebody, Everyman-hero. All the Black Knight lacked was the pop-pop-popping of Menganno’s motorbike, instead arriving rather undramatically via public transportation or a Subaru. The contrast between his seriously black outfit and the fresh-faced salmony pink of the diminutive dance studio was comic. He was like Batman wandering into an ice cream parlour on a Saturday afternoon.

The Black Knight was the kind of dancer who took the time to establish an understanding—he would just flat out ask, “are you comfortable?” or “do you like this?” or tell you, “you need to suck in your tummy” or “keep your legs tight” or one afternoon, audaciously suggesting that my 118 pounds needed to go down a bit so I “would look more lean and tango-like.” More importantly, he also insisted on a pure adherence to tango ideals and aesthetics: I guess, in a few words he was intriguingly rigorous and demanding. His was a stickler for perfection and the highest of Buenos Aires classical tango standards—or, at least, what he felt these were. If you didn’t or couldn’t do it right, he had no interest in dancing with you.

I am not sure what it was, but something about me captivated The Black Knight. He was relentless in his chase to secure me as his committed dance partner. He came to every class and dominated my dance time, impressively whirling me around the room in tango-euphoria. I was still relatively a beginner, but he was good enough to show me advanced moves and tango theories customarily reserved for those in advanced private lessons. I was easily sucked into his magical world of tango. And together with his persistent chasing and encouraging support, it wasn’t long before we were arranging to meet (via text which made it seem sort of clandestine and sneaky) to dance in the empty wooden-floored gyms at 24 Hour Fitness late at night. Playing a small ipod, we would practice for hours experimenting with moves The Black Knight would send me in YouTube clips during the week. Of course, I was not ready for any of this experimentation—but his great expectations left me breathless and wanting more.

Tango Part VI Lumination from the Black Knight II

Scene Two

The Black Knight shows up every Saturday afternoon to the studio. It is with a mixture of elitist pride and self-consciousness that I accept his offer to partner-up; dancing with him is hurling me with astounding leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of the class. Each lesson begins the same way: we stand in a circle, surrounding the teacher. And, there to my left, poised without question, but only pure presumption, is The Black Knight: he will dance with no other. Women in the class have begun to whisper, “Why does he always chose her?” Some comment to me after, “How are you learning so fast? I want to dance like that!” I feel like the prize, the teacher’s pet, only this man is not the teacher. So, it’s ok, right?

Everyone in the class realizes that my dancing with The Black Knight is taking tango to a whole new level of ochos, molinetes, ocho cortados, those scary volcadas where you surrender all, falling towards your leader and he smoothly drags your suddenly motionless feet across the floor—in a mock swoon of fainting-like submission. Even my instructor seems slightly disgruntled. The Black Knight adds those sought-after kicks and flair we are longing to master: enganches and ganchos. I am envious of my own ability when I dance with The Black Knight. No one else leads me to such great heights, or delivers me down the highway of tango bliss with such casual expertise. He is my mentor.

In no time flat, he asks me to practice off-site with him, suggesting we use the perfect floors at the nearby 24-Hour Fitness gym. I’m game. We set a time to tango rendezvous: Thursday nights, 8 pm or even 9, we begin our “master class.” As it is late spring, the evenings are relatively light. But meeting him makes me question our intentions. Undoubtedly he is showing off—he teaches me moves that are so darn advanced I have to pause to laugh sometimes. Leg wraps, sensual thigh caresses, lifts and leads that compel me to intertwine with his space seem heavy implication. We are not “performing” so I wonder where it’s all going. People at the gym come to the span of studio glass and stare at us, some opening the closed doors to offer compliments. ”So beautiful!” they say, “What are you practicing for?!” Nothing really. “He’s teaching me to dance,” I say. And, truth be told, he is.

Is this luck or loneliness that is drawing him to me? He thanks me too much when we are done, but then I am thanking him too. We agree that we exist in different worlds; the symbiotic relationship is of mutual benefit to us both. Such an odd conversation. Sometimes the silence following his suggestions to watch tango videos together is uncomfortable; he asks where I live, I ignore the comment vaguely gesturing in the direction of nowhere. He ponders aloud if I have a computer that can download videos that we can go watch “now”, and I fib, “it’s at work.” I try to smile reassuringly. This has to be strictly tango.

It is a strange synergistic duality with both of us needing the other. What a curious combination. He tells me in a moment of confidence that he dreams tango. I wonder what he goes home to, what visions he dances to in his dreams. No mention of a wife, a girlfriend, a partner. Our sacadas and volcadas are tainted with melancholy. Our meetings are devoted solely to dancing, no chit-chat, no personal details. I tire before he does, otherwise we would probably dance until dawn or until the gym’s nightwatch people ask us to leave.

Tango Part VI Lumination from the Black Knight III

I was ready to take on whatever The Black Knight had to offer. Sometimes our late night tango assignations meant picking him up at a convenience store in a vague part of SE Portland or dropping him off in the ARCO gas station parking lot post-dance session. Sometimes he would just wander off into the night. Didn’t I say, it was strictly tango?

I always felt odd utilizing such strange locations asthe ARCO station as a point of meeting or departure or seeing him drift off, especially late at night. But one does what one needs to to gain exposure to greatness, right? And if this tanguero fantastico was going to stoop to the level of consenting to dance with a complete, blithering novice, I was willing to go to some length to make the necessary accommodations and not ask any questions. I didn’t even want to ponder why I might be his “chosen one.” Our lack of communication made it all seem very professional, distanced, removed. Neither of us needed even the smallest glimpse into each other’s private lives.

As The Black Knight and I danced more and more together, I began to realize tango can sometimes begin to rely on a close association between two people. Sooner or later, if you jive well with a partner, certain phrases start to pop up: “designated partner,” “someone to go to dances with,” “someone to become exclusive with.” These suggestions arrived all too soon, in this instance. I was reveling in the world of Portland tango, enjoying my free-as-a-bird ability to go to any milonga and sit with friends, dance with all, with no apparent jealousies nor possessive attitudes involved.

Granted, I was learning a lot, and giving really nothing in return except a willing and experimental dance partner, which I would learn can be quite valuable to some. The Black Knight seemed to want to designate me his regular partner. He flat out suggested that was necessary if I was to become a “good” tanguera. Of course, I was flattered. How could I not be? But his invitations and outright proclamations that picking a partner to “get good with” needed to be part and parcel of our dancing strategy did not sit well with me.

I guess I misinterpreted his intentions or his willingness to tutor. I loved the milonga experience that allowed me to experiment with all kinds of leaders and their dancing styles; maybe I just was not ready for committing to one, specific person. Maybe I was enjoying the freedom of learning to dance unencumbered, unfettered by someone who might dominate my dancing time and influence any sort of style I might be beginning to develop as my own. Maybe I liked my non-tango friends too much to lock myself in with a tanguero.

****

In any case, in what ended up being a series of most fortunate events, I drifted away from what had become my private dance lessons with The Black Knight. It began with his sudden disappearance from the Saturday afternoon dance lessons. We still met at 24-Hour Fitness to dance on Thursday evenings until one day he let it slip: he would not be returning to the dance studio. With a somewhat defensive and simultaneously sheepish demeanor, he explained he felt no longer welcome to join the lessons. The Black Knight explained that his moves were too “advanced” and that he thought the instructors resented his “expertise”; he also managed in a somewhat confessional tone to relay that his “style” of dancing was not suitable to the general, social dance floor. Some might say he had his problems fitting into Portland tango “etiquette”—-in fact, his understanding of tango and the moves it entailed sort of appalled and shocked some of the instructors leading them to ask him to vacate their dance floors….and never come back.

In all fairness, the Black Knight wanted to live, not just imitate, the tango videos with all their sensuality and passion warmly displayed and danced between long-standing partnerships with as much intimacy and love woven in—a worthy pursuit with one you have dedicated your tango practice to, not to mention your personal life. I found a sense of empathy for his quest, and knew it was harsh to reject his desire for tango perfection.

But my course was made clear to me when I enrolled in a workshop to learn particular leg wraps and the more closely entwined moves of tango. It was a workshop on ganchos and enganches, those infamous leg wraps where there is plenty of leg rubbing, thigh contact, and a sort of presumptiveness with one’s stepping into another’s space—stuff The Black Knight and I were doing on a regular basis. The instructor explained to us that these were not moves we would be doing on the social dance floor; these close and intimate moves were to be reserved for dances with someone special we were close to and who felt close to us.

“You will not be doing this with just anybody,” the instructor explained. Suddenly it occurred to me that The Black Knight had taken quite a few liberties in a way that was not quite acceptable to most seasoned tango dancers and the general social floor. Now, I knew it was time to softly move on before things got “difficult.” What was fine for Lorena and Oswaldo or Pulpo and Luiza, was not appropriate between two acquaintances “learning” tango. I found some of his suggested moves not those I would do with a leader who was not my very-close, one-and-only association.

All in all, was a good time to spread my wings and confront the real world. Plus in my new, experienced state, I realized the beginners I had started with were now quite improved dancers, some of them quite deliciously fun. Time was passing and we all were getting much, much better.

My time with the Black Knight was like one of those experiences one might have with youthful “firsts”—-motivated by eagerness you learn plenty; you are exuberantly adventuresome; you do unadvisable things, and upon reflection realize you were hotly naive, vulnerable, yet thirsty. The Black Knight had exposed me to a world one would never experience simply taking lessons. He had informed my jejune tango dancing and (with some understanding, openness, and explanation of expectations from both sides) he evolved into a treasured tango compadre.

I guess I got to have that connection that leads you down the sweaty path of tango temptation….Every girl should be so lucky!

One Response.

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