Sunday, April 19, 2009

A tale for the ages

Last night, I had an amazing experience dancing tango. It's one of those rare moments in life that you will remember forever.

While this blog is primarily a running blog, I think it's important to share the other incredible experiences we have along the way.

Sure, I could write about the desperately needed run on Wednesday evening where I happened to matched strides for a little while with another guy named Steve who was putting the finishing touches on his Boston Marathon training. He ran a 2:50 at Boston last year, and was doing an 18 miler on the Wednesday prior to the race. Nice! I was just happy to be outside enjoying the beautiful weather and scenery.

I could also share my experience running into a snake, a Black Racer, on the trail Friday morning. I heard a rattle (like a rattlesnake) and immediately froze. A few feet to my left was a 6 foot snake with it's tail doing the wild thing. The only thing I know about snakes is that I am very afraid of them, and there's not much that scares me these days. The encounter was fairly benign for both of us, but my sister later indicated that it had big implications for changes in my life ;-) I wonder....

...So this story is interesting. This is one that I need to record even if it's only for me. It's one that my Grand daughter can replay to me when I'm too old to remember anything, and I'm sure it will bring a smile to my face :-).

As most of you know, I've been learning the Argentine Tango for about 3 months now. It started innocently enough, but has grown to be a new passion for me. As with any of my interests, I am not satisfied until I can "dance with the best", so I have been aggressively learning on a weekly basis. Yesterday, I attended my first workshop with a true Argentine master. His nickname is "Pulpo" (which means octopus) because of the incredible entanglements he and his partner do with their legs. It's quite amazing to watch, and I was impressed with his style from the beginning.

My focus was not great at the start of class because I attended a wedding Friday evening in NJ and didn't get home until 1AM. In the morning, I drove 2 hours to Pittsfield, MA for this workshop and barely arrived for the 1:30PM start time. Wooof! Anway, the moves started off easy enough, but my partner and I struggled to make a connection. I had never danced with Christine, and we weren't exactly clicking. Nevertheless, I started to relax after a bit, and we worked hard on the moves all day. I felt like we managed OK, but I wondered if I would be able to repeat any of this stuff in a real dance setting. Some folks wondered if it was even practical for a milonga. I was the rookie in the class, so I tried to absorb everything like a sponge. By 5Pm, my brain was fried and I was happy the first 2 workshops ended. I needed food and some decompression.

We all headed over to Jackie and Paul's house for a potluck dinner. Jackie is a great tango instructor, and I love the energy she brings to the tango community. She has taken me on as her "project", and I appreciate her efforts to mold me into a dancer. We all had plenty to eat, and everyone in the community is super friendly. I had a chance to talk to a lot of nice people, and watched in amazement as some of them improvised moves in the tiny dining room space. After a bit, we changed into our formal dance wear, and headed out for the final workshop, and milonga (social dance).

At the milonga I was dancing OK, and my energy level was actually improving as the evening went on. Everyone was friendly, but I am still a bit self-conscious of my lack of experience. I try "new things" because "new" is all I have at this point.

At the midpoint of the evening, Pulpo and his partner did a demonstration dance and it was very impressive. Everyone cheered after they completed their last dance.

Now, this is where it gets interesting... at this point Jackie asked if anyone had an April birthday. Usually, 3-4 people go out on the floor, and the idea is that many partners dance with them over the course of one dance. Jackie beckoned me to come out on the floor since I have an April B-day, but shockingly I was the only one. Uh-oh! Before I knew it, the entire tango community's eyes were on me. I stood there in shock while Jackie queued up some music. She volunteered as my first victim, so I relaxed a little. I figured we would start and everyone would join in and it would all be over. To my surpise, no one was joining in. All eyes were on me as I strutted my 3 months worth of experience in front of "lifetime" tango dancers. Yikes!

I tried to focus, but the partners started cutting in which didn't allow me to get familiar with any of them. I tried to throw in everything I knew, but that's not much. I was afraid of boring 60 or so on-lookers so I finally decided to just "go for it". Damn the torpedoes!

I threw in one of the complicated moves that we learned in class, but my partner and I missed on the first try. We improvised and then I decided to give it another go. It worked, and the crowd went wild! Wow! How cool is that? Then, my workshop partner, Christine, cut in, and I knew we could do something good. I threw in the most complex move of the day, and everyone went bonkers! I felt like the walk-on basketball player who hits the 3 pointer at the buzzer! Who knew this could happend to me...ever? Another lovely lady cut in, and she was motivated to take it to another level. We "cut the rug" like the floor was on fire for another minute or so and before I knew it the tune ended with us getting a huge ovation from the crowd. I was literally shaking from all the adrenaline. Wooooohoooo!

Many people came up to me afterwards to congratulate me on the dance, and even "Pulpo" thanked me for using "his moves". He said it was a huge compliment to him. WOW!

I was walking on Cloud 9 for the rest of the night. I felt like I had arrived in the tango community. Some folks said I had "big ones" for attempting the workshop moves in a dance in front of "Pulpo". "What the heck", I said, "You only live once!"

Dancing the tango is hard work and frustrating at times, but an incredible high when it all clicks. It's like hitting your stride in a marathon or elegantly pulling the crux move on a hard climb. It allows you to be incredibly sensual with someone you just met, and you know that it's OK. You share something for a few moments in time with no implications of anything else. The passion is only limited by the partners involved, and it can be amazing regardless of age, size, or any other physical trait.

For now, it's back to reality. There's work to do and chores to complete. You all know how it is....

After the potluck last night, my friend Victor said, "Steve, I'm glad you came to the workshops today", and I replied with, "Victor, I'm glad you insisted that I try tango a few months ago"......Little did I know that a few hours later I would have the "dance of a lifetime".



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