Taking the Plunge

Watching Dolores in class, in the low-lit practicas, and especially in the Hotel Fakir tango salon, as she waltzed spellbound across the mirrored parquet in the arms of one tanguero after another, Max sensed that deeper communion with Dolores would entail technical expertise and natural ease in fulfilling Tango’s imperative: to please Dolores. Narcissus was never a tanguero. Group classes were merely an introduction, a revealing glimpse of complexities that required focused study. Formal lessons were inevitable, and he would eventually need to find a committed partner, the dicey variable in the two-to-Tango equation. One evening, breathing the intoxicating scents of tropical flowers on the bar, Max reached for his glass with one hand and for his phone with the other, and called Florida Takashi to arrange a private lesson.

Florida’s thumbnail image was prominently posted on a local Tango Facebook page. She was businesslike on the phone, fielded Max’s questions fully, including a tactless query about her familiarity with the male lead, and fixed an appointment for three days later. Contrite, he bought on an impulse a basket of plump Florida strawberries as he navigated the richly-landscaped suburban maw north of the city. When he got to her second floor apartment, the door opened before he could knock. He stood aside deferentially as two little girls came out, serious in pink tutus. Florida greeted him politely, touching her auburn hair and smoothing an embroidered serpentine kimono. She was surprised when he brought out the strawberries. Prompted by the bold PADI logo on the otherwise effeminate bag that held his tango shoes, Florida asked about his scuba diving, then disappeared into the kitchen, saying the strawberries needed refrigeration, and asking Max to remind her afterwards.

Max slipped on his soft-soled dance shoes, and took in the polished hardwood floor flooded with light from a picture window overlooking a pond. A Muscovy duck, a pair of Canada geese, and three downy goslings waddled serenely by the water’s edge. The room was redolent with wisps of Satya Super Hit incense drifting from a stick balanced over a carved wooden tray by the window. Florida reappeared, a svelte hourglass in a black leotard, and waved her iPod towards a JamBox on the window ledge. A lilting Francisco Canaro milonga filled the room. Florida drew Max into an embrace, her eyes engaged, her arm draped lightly over his shoulder, her thigh grazing his, and asked how he’d like to start. The formal intimacy of her embrace took Max by surprise, accustomed as he was to lone viewing of tango videos. Osvaldo Zotto had taught him a simple eight-step sequence, and the rudiments of front and back ochos. Tentatively, Max led Florida through his budding repertoire. As Florida settled into connection with Max, and the arc of his arm lightly touched her breast, his first faltering steps gained energy and intent, and her murmured directions charged his movements with a transcendent thrill.

In no time at all, his time was up. Max retrieved from his little bag a plain white envelope addressed to Ms. Takashi, which he placed on the window ledge where Francisco Canaro was winding up with “El Portenito”. Florida smiled at this formality.
“They say you’re ready for a milonga after a year of class,” she said, “but the best way to learn is to dive right in. Can you come Saturday night?”
Max frowned, said he’d have to check, and gathered his things. The doorbell chimed as they shook hands. Max stepped aside to admit a man in loosely bunched dreadlocks, black jeans and a soft grey blouse, carrying an effeminate tote not unlike his own, and exuding a faint aroma of fine Sensimilla. Florida smiled gamely, but offered no introduction. Too late, not until Max had pulled out of the parking lot, braking momentarily to avoid the Muscovy duck, did he remember the strawberries.

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