Dimly-Lit Tango

In the bright antiseptic lobby of the Amorous Dance Pole Studio, Max changed into his felt-soled dance shoes, stuffed his wallet, cell phone and keys into his backpack, and pushed it under a chair. A cat lay back there, a coal black tom, curled up, regarding him sleepily. Pugliese’s intoxicating waltz Desde el Alma greeted Max as he entered the dimly-lit studio. Couples embraced in varying degrees of intimacy passed before him, some barely moving, swaying slowly in time with the music. Others, more balletic, executed ochos and paradas. Everyone navigated the crepuscular dance floor with eyes closed, guided by a sixth sense that integrated the mandates of the song into their connection.

Max ventured further into the studio and paused in a corner to study a woman sitting alone at a bistro table graced with a softly flickering electric candle and a half-empty wine-glass. She, unlike the cat, sat upright, and gazed intently at the flow of dancers. She toyed idly with an emerald pendant at her throat. Once or twice, in the half-gloom, he thought that her glance caught his and then seemed to dart off, like a songbird startled by a prowling tom. In this dimly-lit milonga, which muddled the clarity of traditional cabeceos, Max found himself at  her table, tongue-tied at the conventional “Would you like to dance?” Instead, he made a courtly half-bow, held out his hand, and gestured towards the dance floor. She regarded him levelly, tucked the glowing pendant into her blouse, and took his hand.

Max marveled, not for the first time, at Tango’s defiance of societal norms that allowed him to gather into his arms, with her consent, in a dimly-lit room, a strange beautiful woman, and then to establish with her, abetted by music expressly composed to this end, a connection that was just a beat or two short of the emotional and physical entanglement that heralds the consummation of marital, or merely infatuated, love.

Too soon, La Cumparsita signaled the last song. Their reverie slowly surfaced into everyday reality, the lights came up, blindingly, and his compliant consort, no longer a stranger, smiled as she adjusted the emerald at her throat, and returned to her table, guided lightly by his fingertips on the cool of her back. The tango salon, no longer dimly-lit, as antiseptic as the bright lobby where people now fumbled for their odds and ends, revealed itself as a bit-player in a fundamentally ersatz but compelling drama of human connection. Max knew that this was where he wanted to be. The coal black tom emerged from his comfortable nook. He prowled among the departing dancers, shrugging off perfunctory pats, seeking a dimly-lit cranny, far removed from heartfelt farewells and charged invitations.

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