Head Over Heels

Max was smitten, got some tango CDs and joined the local Argentine Tango Society. He ventured online, and next thing he knew, he was surfing the digital weft and weave of Tango. Thoughts of tango infiltrated the everyday. He watched dozens of Osvaldo Zotto videos on YouTube, and waited impatiently for class. He encountered, sometimes head over heels, women and men with lives at intriguing and agreeable tangents to his own. More and more, tango was poised within him, awaiting awakening and thrilling release. He learned some simple steps that were responsive to the lilting rhythms of classical tango. Every now and again the steps fell into fortuitous synchrony with his partner’s, offering glimpses of physical and psychic harmonies that promised to be addictive. More often than not, the addictive steps emerged when he danced with Dolores.

Tango music, derived from innocuous Romany folk songs, revealed itself as charged and elemental. The repetitive interplay of violin, piano and bandoneon snaked effortlessly into neural circuits entrusted with oversight of human emotion. One night Dolores filled Max’s flash drive with her entire Tango collection. Transferred to an iPod and fed wirelessly to a compact JamBox, the melodious gigabytes became his constant companions. Late at night, strolling out to the creek at the far end of his garden, Max noticed that the music elicited intuitive steps and turns that gained in nuance as second-by-second the music dipped and swerved in time with the bats flitting over the marsh.

The Argentine Tango Society met in a studio where hyperactive women had just concluded an aerobics session led by a barrel-chested trainer in black tights backed by a percussive sound-track. The tango dancers were sedate by comparison, fewer men than women, and all of a certain age. Tango merely whispers to the young, but speaks loud and clear to the worldly-wise. The typical class began with a warm-up. The pupils slipped on their dance-shoes and formed ranks behind the instructor. Like an orchestra conductor, she waved her remote decisively, drawing Tango from a docked and amplified iPod. Watchful and alert, the dancers advanced across the dance floor imitating her every move. The mirrored walls captured the effortless grace of her steps, and mercilessly reflected the relative imperfection of theirs, fraught with complexity and thought. After some minutes of demonstration and analysis, the dancers paired up to practice arcane details of merging music with movement. Their skills ranged from the fluidly intuitive to the strictly mechanical, and the transfer of knowledge from one to the other was slow. Their Tango lexicon grew as they listened and danced, rehearsing steps that unlock and shape interpretation of the music. But they had to tread carefully. The aftermath of a shared dance is unpredictable, for Tango shamelessly inflames the sparks that fly from spontaneous connection with another. As the class ended and the practica began, lights were turned down, bandoneons and violins came into their own, and everyone surrendered to the allure of those igneous connections.

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