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The New Tango Class

I was 40 minutes early for the class, waiting impatiently at the gym where it was held and playing with possible scenarios involving my impending interaction with Marcos, neither of which included a word about having got there early or having rehearsed what to say.

When the smiley instructors arrived and greeted the students, Alexa – more inclined to dealing with the public than the quiet Javier, I gathered – noticed my new face, came over to introduce herself to me and gave me a form to fill out.

— ‘Did someone recommend us to you?’, she asked.

— ‘Yes, Marcos.’

— ‘Marcos?’

— ‘An Argentinean guy?’, I tried to supply more information.

Her eyes turned up but she remained silent, no sign of recognition – blank.

— ‘Tall, young?’, I tried again.

Silence

— ‘I don’t think I know him.’

by Pierre Andrews

— ‘Well, he said he’d come- he’s probably coming tonight anyway.’

They took us to a room upstairs and the class started without Marcos.  It moved fast from the warm up: we practiced adornos that got gradually more complex as we did our first walks around the room.  When the warm up was over, the class was shown a sequence of steps and us ladies were told we should improvise with the adornos as the guys led us.  I wasn’t comfortable doing them on my own, so I wasn’t looking forward to adding the embellishments to the movement. As there were more ladies than leaders, I stepped back and waited for the next round to start.  It wasn’t waiting exactly.  Alexa came to train the adornos with me and another lady in front of the mirror.  She was sweet and thorough as she demonstrated the movements and corrected our posture but what looked light and graceful on her did not translate as well on my body. I felt as if I walked with orthopedic shoes while others floated on clouds and everyone had noticed it by then.

Javier extended his hand to me, so I joined him to go through the steps. It was me, then, who went blank when a response was relevant and then had to speed the move up overcompensating for my hesitation. ‘Damn it, I can’t believe I came all the way here to make a fool of myself and Marcos hasn’t even shown up!’

—- ‘Sorry.’, I said awkwardly.

—- ‘It’s ok. Uhh let’s try again’, he stopped and looked at Alexa’s direction.  She was helping a girl so he continued in Spanish as he demonstrated the move to me ‘try to bring your attention to your body’.

—- ‘It’s ok, I understand.’, I replied in Spanish.

His face lit up.  He cracked on showing me the muscles I should be engaging, how I should feel it on my thighs and the difference from performing it mindfully, engaging my whole body in the movement.  Javier was evidently a trained dancer, not only tango, but classical, contemporary… and he was very serious about it.  He gave me precise instructions and brought my focus back on my body, the music and the classroom as he challenged me to respond to his body.  I was finally there and the happiness of getting things right and dancing soon caught up with me.

—- ‘Breathe with me.’

—- ‘I am sorry?’

—- ‘Breathe with me.’

I did not understand it immediately and my face surely showed it.

—- ‘Follow my breathing. Feel when I am inhaling and when I release it.  Breathe when I breathe.’

I tried again, but something stopped me. Javier had earned my full respect as an instructor but he intimidated me and following his breath  – as well as his instructions and his body – felt too close. Fabian and the memory of how we connected dancing came to my mind, making my breath short and shallow, as  it followed its own chaotic pattern which did not resemble Javier’s at all. The body was ok, though, so he let me off that time.

—- ‘Was everything ok?’, Alexa asked me when the class finished.

—- ‘Yes, thank you. Maybe a bit advanced for me, though.’

—- ‘No, no. Intermediate is the right level. It’s just a matter of getting used to the class really.’

—- ‘Good then, thanks. I really liked it.’

—- ‘Great.’

Marcos never turned up, leaving me puzzled and disappointed.  All the adrenaline, the waiting in vain. Again!  Okay, the forró was long shot, but this class was his idea and we had agreed on it!  Had I got the wrong night?  Maybe he had forgotten or had had a problem? Oh, more waiting!  ‘Aries and impatient’, he had rightly said, so why wasn’t he there?

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Tango flyers

I rescued my work bag from the bottom of a pile of clothes that had somehow grown on top of it. ‘Impressive, Gena, Monday morning and chaos beats Saturday tidying up 1-nill!’ I took the tango flyers out from the bag’s side pocket and picked up the flyer for the class Marcos had suggested. It was the biggest and most produced among the three: the front displayed a picture of Alexa & Javier showing beautiful dance lines and rehearsed passionate looks, while the

Sculpture by Carlos Kuziw

back had a table with class times and addresses. Monday, improvers; Tuesday, intermediates; Wednesday, beginners; Thursday, intermediates/advanced; Saturday, all levels.

‘Okay, Tuesday, intermediates!’  I checked the details, Holborn 8:30 PM, and had a quick look at the other studio’s flyer, the one that Tina had given to me.  They had classes from Monday to Thursdays as well, but Marcos’ flyer was like a trump card, it just beat the other one.

‘But wasn’t it supposed to be Wednesday?’  I tried to replay the goodbye scene with Marcos at the milonga.  ‘What was the day he suggested?’  I checked the flyer again before setting off to work: ‘Wednesday, beginners.  It couldn’t be Wednesday, it had to be Tuesday.  Yes, Tuesday, intermediates.  He must have said Tuesday; we would not be going to a beginner’s class.’

The Forró Night

“We’ll be 31 for one day.” Bumping into Marcos on the N55 not only saved my night but also caused me to reinterpret his sentence (from Friday’s milonga) to indicate Marcos and I were meant to become ‘we’. That ‘we’ couples use to represent themselves as part of the institution of the paired up. A simple factual conclusion connected to our dates of birth, was somehow transformed into a prediction of us being together. On my romantic mind, that was. Tra-la-la-la.

The faint chance of him showing up at Arpoador was also enough to make me change tops 3 times before deciding on what would go well with the forró’s casual environment and suit me best. I put on my favourite pair of jeans and settled for a comfortable but flattering blue scoop top. Heels were out of question for a forró and I was quite happy about that, ballet flats were cute and would allow me to commute easily and dance comfortably the whole night.

"Caruaru, São João 2005 - Trio forró" by Allan Patrick

I arrived early to Arpoador to avoid the queue, left my handbag and coat in the cloakroom and went upstairs to the bar. I got myself a lovely passion fruit caipirinha to get in the Brazilian mood while I waited for Eduardo and Laura, but I never finished it. Soon after I left the bar towards the dance ring to watch the dancers, a tall man approached me and I parted with the passion fruit. He was Portuguese and a passable dancer, but much better than my next two partners: sleazy guys who couldn’t dance and sort of mistook the whole thing for pressing their bodies against mine.

“Less competitive than salsa and less pedantic than tango” people said. With that kind of clientele in view, the forró’s once endearing simplicity and inclusiveness – often backed up by the supposed, but apparently mistaken, origin of the word as deriving from ‘for all’ – didn’t seem quite a good idea. In almost two months of Friday milonga I had only encountered one pervert; it was clear to me that tango’s ‘pedantic’ image was doing regular dancers a favour in filtering the crowd and scaring off the freaks and pervs. I kept looking at the door, trying to find Marcos, Pedro, Laura and Eduardo. As I saw the latter coming into the room, I abandoned my second disastrous partner claiming I needed to talk to my friends:

— ‘Thank God you came, I got an excuse to run away from the perv.’

— ‘Already?’, Laura asked.

— ‘Um hum.’

— ‘That’s why we haven’t come as often, those types started coming after the success of the carnival parties. You must avoid them, Gena.’, Eduardo said protectively.

— ‘They are a pain! They don’t understand the dancing culture, so they try to hump you or just stare at your boobs while they barely move.’, continued Laura.

— ‘Freaks! I thought people came here for a dance.’

Laura’s friend Fabiano arrived and came to talk to us.

— ‘Dance with her’, Laura pretty much ordered him, ‘she just danced with clueless gringos so far.’

— ‘My pleasure.’ Fabiano said as he did the inviting opening and got me into his arms.

We danced a fast baião with little jumps and all and I was happy again. He was an awesome dancer and he seemed to take Laura’s orders seriously, so it turned out to be a great night for me as he was often inviting me for more dances, from the energetic quick ones to my favourite slow and sensual xotes.

Marcos did not turn up. I would have liked him too and I would not have minded the slightest if he was not that interested in the dance. I quit looking at the door and decided to leave just before midnight. Eduardo and Laura insisted on walking me to the bus stop before leaving to the tube. As we walked, the N55 went by us and a weird sense of alertness took me over. Every red bus in that city had the potential of bringing me a smile and open arms. London transport had also been altered for me.

What’s going on?

My bus was already approaching South Kensington when Laura called:

— Okay, what’s going on between you and this Marcos guy, Gena?

— Crazy, huh, to bump into him like that! Isn’t he super cute?

— Totally! And…

— And nothing. Ok? I just met him at tango yesterday and he seems to be nice and, well, interesting.

— You should go for it. He is lovely and very good looking too.

— Yes, yeah, he is.

— But young, right? He looks 19!

— I know!’, I said laughing, ‘Mind you, I even told him he looked 23, but apparently he is 30’.

— Well, sweetie, I don’t think I’d buy that, but he surely was all over you.

— Yeah, I thought he might be interested too.

— Whatever with ‘might be interested’; he most definitely wants to shag you. Anyway, I invited them to join us for the forró tomorrow night.’

— You did?

— Of course, and they said they’re coming.

— They’re coming? Hold on, what did you say exactly?

— I said we were going to Arpoador tomorrow and it would be cool if they could join, or something, and they said they’d come.

— Do they know where it is?

— They didn’t say but, yeah, it might be better if you send the guy a text with the right address.

— Well, I don’t- do you have his number?

— No. Don’t you?

— No.

— Jesus, Gena! How come you don’t have his number?

— I told you, I just met him yesterday.

— Does he have your number?

— No.

— Ugh! If I knew it I would have got his number. I was sure you had it!

— Never mind. Thanks for inviting them anyway.

—They can always look it up.

The image of Eduardo’s friend Leopoldo saying ‘Elcuador’ every time he tried to refer to the Brazilian club made me wonder if two tipsy guys would manage to remember and spell ‘Arpoador’ on the following day, if they even bothered trying, that was.

Saturday met me with a list of house chores: supermarket, laundry and tiding up my room were my top priorities.  I made myself a strong espresso and checked the news on the net as I wrote down a more detailed ‘to do’ list.  Nothing shook me out of the happy tra-la-la-ing mode I had got into since the previous night.

Eduardo called and invited me to join him and his girlfriend Laura for dinner and a friend’s house party later in the evening.  I happily said yes to both events and carried on with the weekend’s duties until it was time to get ready to go.  The party had a colour theme and not the easiest one for winter: who wears yellow when it is freezing cold outside? I found a yellow top and decided it would have to do.  A few layers of coats would probably hide it, but there wasn’t anything else yellow I could get my hands on.  I picked a bottle of wine and left for the tube. 

Dinner was pleasant and low-key.  It was just the three of us catching up on our latest developments.  We also made plans for going to Arpoador for the forró night on the following evening, which got us all excited.  Eduardo and Laura had been regulars when they first started dating, but hadn’t been to their Sunday nights for quite a while.  I had only been once, in May, when I visited London during a time in which Fabian and I were on a break.  They did the best to cheer me up, back then, ‘An Argentinean, Gena? Find yourself a Brazilian and forget him.’;  and I did my best to follow their advice and had a great time, so I was looking forward to going back.

As us girls got our last adjusts for the night, Eduardo announced he wasn’t too well and did not feel like going out, but he helped us find our way to and back from the party with the tube and the night bus itineraries.  We faced rain and some uncertainties as to where to turn on our way, but made it safely – and early – to the party.

The night was a downer, we had some yellow drinks that carried a lot of prosecco in them, which certainly helped, but nothing much happened.  We were among the first to arrive but 3 hours later the party still consisted of a small group of girls roughly 5 years younger than me, gathering for some fun that didn’t quite unfold.  It certainly was not worth crossing the city to Farringdon on a rainy night for, and going back on the night bus would be a trek!  We said goodbye to our host and strode shivering to the bus stop, as we agreed it was lucky that Eduardo hadn’t joined us.

It wasn’t long until the N55 arrived, but the clock showed 2AM already. Luckily, the bus was reasonably empty, so we sat together and warmed up quickly.  Two stops later, the door opened allowing a merry crowd in.  When the tall, curly man wearing the black leather jacket validated his oyster card and moved towards us passengers, I could not hold my surprise:

— ‘Marcos!’

— ‘Eugènia!’, he opened his arms widely and fired his best smile.

— ‘I can’t believe it!’

— ‘Were you at the milonga too? How come we didn’t see one another?’

— ‘No, we were at a house party. By the way, Marcos this is Laura. Laura, Marcos.’

— ‘Hi Laura.’

— ‘Hi Marcos.’

His friend Pedro and a girl came to join us and stood up near our seats, so we went through a new round of greetings.

— ‘So you were dancing again.’, I resumed talking to Marcos.by Pierre Andrews

— ‘Yes, you should have come, it was a good night.’

— ‘Cool.’

— ‘Do you know if there is any tango tomorrow?’

— ‘Apparently the Holborn people are holding practices from late afternoon on Sundays.’

—   ‘Well, I don’t think it’s on.  I tried last week, but there wasn’t anything.’

—   ‘This is so strange, they sent out an e-mail announcing the practice.’

—   ‘Yes, but believe me, I was there banging on the door around 6 and I stayed there until almost 7 and no one came to answer.’

—   ‘Are you some kind of tango freak?’

—   ‘No. No.’, he laughed, ‘It’s just that as Pedro was coming to visit to check the prospects of moving to London, I wanted to map the city’s tango circuit.’

—    ‘Fair enough. Oh, shoot! My stop.’, I rung the bell and stood up hastily. ‘It was lovely to see you guys again’, I looked at the guys but mostly at Marcos, ‘See you tomorrow, right Laura?’

— ‘See you’, she said

— ‘Bye bye’, I said to all.

— ‘Bye’, they responded.

I got off the bus and walked a block to get to the right stop for my second bus home tra-la-la-ing happily again, the image of Marcos smiling with his arms wide open on my mind.

A dance exhibition followed.  Invited dancers Paola and Ruben took the floor to show their skills and us regular tango improvisers sat to watch their performance.  They danced beautifully, but I honestly could not take my eyes off her, the elegant moves, her dark hair, the lean and strong body –  “pilates instructor”, the blurb said – that was shown off by the predictably flimsy but unpredictably turquoise dress.  No wonder Fabian was crazy about her; it was him and everybody else. I myself was endlessly fascinated by the amplified perfection of it all and, as usual, amazed by the fact that professional dancers can jump and turn with delicate, low cut dresses and bare backs! How do they get enough support?  Ruben did a good job too and his precise movements allowed her to shine, but he looked pale near her and his casual suit didn’t do anything for him.

by Pierre Andrews

As the exhibition ended, the band returned to the dance hall to take the stage over.  When Mr. Gorgeous entered the room and we held our gazes again, it almost felt as if we had our own rehearsed routine.  Of course I felt excited and, yes, I was glad we were renewing our demonstration of interest, but I sort of expected it.  The fact that the man was performer himself and was there to be admired from a distance made the flirting business considerably less risky – would it even be possible for him to approach me at some point?  His presence was immense, though, my thoughts and breathing ability were put on hold as he came close to me looking straight into my eyes.  No smiles, this time, just intense eye contact and a slight neck turn, as he went past me.  His attitude, I resumed my thoughts, had to be paired with great confidence and the awareness of his high attractiveness, which, granted, was obvious, but what did it mean for me?  I mean, did my part on the flirt made me delusional, presumptuous or attractive?

As the music started, John approached me for a dance.  I liked dancing with him and the fact that we were becoming regulars.  We never talked as we danced so I just let the music and Mr. Gorgeous’ velvety voice take me into a daydream.  I wished he would stay in London.  Flirting would be more real, I’d have butterflies for the whole night, maybe for a month, and I would definitely wait for the show to be over to create the opportunity for him to approach me.  But what was the point when the band was leaving to Rome on the following day?   It was almost 2 in the morning, I had been up since 6AM, travelled to Manchester and back and I was tired.  I was also on a high from a great night and from having the hots for Mr. Gorgeous.  Delusional or not, I was feeling more confident and excited about meeting someone new. Maybe that was enough. Waiting for the show to be over betting on a possible approximation did not seem like a great idea when even best case scenario had to end with him leaving on the following morning.  Mr. Gorgeous was not to be my second tango mistake, he was the trigger, an overdue platonic rebound, so to speak, and maybe that meant I was already getting wiser with one tango mistake on my bag.

As the tanda was over, I thanked John and turned towards my table.  I looked at Tina as she sat, chest forward, alert to the dance floor, which was filled by younger and less talented ladies, myself included.  I went to say goodbye to her and was intercepted by Maximilian, who stood up, introduced himself as an instructor, asked me something about my tango training and said I was doing well.  I thanked him and noticed a possible girlfriend looking at me as he suggested we should dance sometime.  I agreed politely and extended my smile to the girl, nodding a ‘hi-goodbye’ to them just before resuming my way to Tina, who gave me a knowing smile as I approached her.  She had gathered two small tango flyers for me, one for a place in which she took classes and one for shoes.  I thanked her a lot, wished her a merry Christmas and started crossing the room near the stage.  On my way out, I looked at Mr. Gorgeous intently, a ready smile on my face, but he did not see me, so I got to the door and went down the stairs to the cloakroom.  I changed into my winter boots, put my coat on and was saying goodbye to the smiley Doug, the doorman, when Marcos sprinted into the room.

— ‘Are you going now’?

— ‘Yes’.

— ‘But it’s so early’.

— ‘I am tired’.

— ‘Will you make it to class this week’?

— ‘There aren’t classes this week, Fernando and Cecilia are going to Argentina’.

— ‘Yes, but Alexa and Javier are quite good too’, he picked one flyer from the side table behind him and extended it to me, ‘Wednesday, what do you say?’

— ‘Okay. Wednesday.’

I picked the flier and could not help but smile back at him ‘Bye Marcos, bye Doug.’, I left to the door carrying a big smile, three flyers and some new plans.

And then came Marcos

The band took a small break and electronic music replaced their sound.  As they left the stage and talked to one another, Mr. Gorgeous and I had another intense exchange of looks.  Being rather close to the stage allowed me to inspect his movements and made it easy for him to locate me in the room.

— ‘Maybe I am ready for my second mistake’, I said to Tina breaking the contact with the man but quickly turning my eyes back to him.  As our eyes met again, I smiled and he smiled, but then he touched the bandoneonist’s shoulder and looked at him, as I watched their backs exiting the room.

When I looked back at Tina, she was already standing up for a dance and, before long, one of the young guys I had sat near to in the music workshop invited me for a dance and I accepted it.  I had assumed him to be English because of his pretty face and his slim and long figure, but Marcos was Argentinean and he was considerably more surprised by my nationality than I was by his.  In any case, our neighbouring home countries granted us more to share than tango so our conversation — which he started, I might add — turned to football and world cup before we had covered more usual topics, such as our jobs and interests.

— ‘Pedro and I, you know my friend Pedro right?’

by Pierre Andrews

— ‘Sorry, who?’

— ‘Pedro, over there. You danced with him, the tango instructor.’

— ‘Right, right. Is he an instructor? He didn’t say’. Cheeky! I knew he was being insincere when he said that thing about people finding it hard to follow him

— ‘Well, he is a great friend of mine and we’re World Cup buddies. We went to Germany last year and we’re going to South Africa in 2010.’

— ‘So, cool!’

— ‘Yes, and we definitely want to make it to Brazil in 2014.  It will be the best.’

— ‘I do hope so.’

— ‘Wouldn’t it be great’ he continued, ‘to see Brazil and Argentina playing the final in Maracanã’?

— ‘Best case scenario’, I agreed with a prompt smile, ‘especially if you remain losing matches to us even when you have fantastic teams’.

It wasn’t long that a low morale Brazil had beaten favourite Argentina by 3-0 at Copa America to everyone’s amazement, so there was not much to be said really. Marcos wasn’t that enthusiastic about my best case scenario in those conditions, but he did not protest much, but rather, chose to change the topic.

—- ‘You sound so British, how long have you been in the UK’?

—- ‘Well, thanks, the Brits don’t seem to think so, but anyway, I’ve been here for about 4 years’.

—  ‘So what do you do?’

—  ‘I am a researcher’.

—  ‘Cool! Me too’.

— ‘Is that right? What do you research?’

— ‘I do market research. And you?’

— ‘Academic research.’

We were not dancing, we stalled as we started as Marcos was getting excited and trying to use his hands as he talked.  He was handsome, very handsome indeed, even if he looked a bit too young.

—- ‘So are you thinking of staying?’

— ‘I don’t know’, I said evasively, trying to stop it from becoming a full questionnaire.

— ‘Right. How old are you?’

Why do some guys do that? I wanted to laugh it was such a deja vu! I could see Alex asking me this and subsequently lying his own age so that I would not think he was too young for me… keen young guys, how could they be so clueless and yet look so adorable? I did laugh.

— ‘Old’.

— ‘No!’

— ‘I am 31.’

— ‘That’s not old.’

— ‘And you are what, 23?’

— ‘No! Why do you say that?!’

— ‘Because you look 23.’

— ‘I am 30! And I will be 31 in March.’

— ‘Really? When in March?’

— ‘The 30th. Why are you laughing?’

—  ‘I’ll be 32 on the 31st.’

— ‘Right. So, we will be 31 for one day.’

— ‘Yeah. If that’s true, you have to tell me the secret of youth.’

— ‘Uhm, lots of beer?’, he said with a broad smile. ‘Maybe it’s too much, huh, two aries; impatient, fiery…’ he looked at me as he pressed his lips together for a fraction of a second, abandoning the words to the ever so effective intensity of one another’s presence in the embrace.  Again, I felt a warm excitement inside me, but just smiled coyly and dropped my eyes.

Our tanda was over and a bizarre salsa cortina started playing.

— ‘I don’t get these cortinas’, I said with mild, feigned, irritation.

— ‘Oh, they’re, they’re very Buenos Aires…’ he trailed off and made a head nod as if he had said it all, his contagious smile making everything else unnecessary.

— ‘Thank you’, I said as I started breaking our dancing unit.

— ‘Oh, right. But we’ll dance later, right?’

— ‘Sure.  Anyway, it was lovely to meet you Marcos’, I said meaning it but also as a means to get back to wrapping up.

— ‘We had met before’.

— ‘Had we?’

— ‘Yes, well, maybe not met properly but I saw you at Fernando and Cecilia’s class’.

— ‘Oh, right, right, yeah’.  I lied. I mean, I did not mean to lie with such conviction, for a fraction of a second I thought I remembered him but it became clear he could not be the guy I had thought of.  I really did not recall seeing him before.  I went back to my seat trying to find Marcos in my memory as I replayed images from Fernando’s class.