Tango. It definitely does. There's no place for independent, firebreathing feminists on the tango floor, or so I've discovered.
A year or so ago, Alice was overtaken by a wild salsa craze. This has since given way to a wild tango-ing craze, necessitating that an Argentinian tango teacher be flown in to give fortnightly tango classes in a sweltering tin-roofed art-space. Some of the locals were practising their moves on Saturday night at a Book Club gathering (I wont go into that one, but it involved Virginia Woolf and cross-dressing). Intrigued, I asked them what they were doing and was invited to Beginners Tango on Sunday afternoon.
I rode over in the sweltering heat in shorts, a singlet and thong-sandals, as I'd left my car on the Eastside after exceeding the NHMRC guidelines on safe drinking X 3 the night before and intended to pick it up after the class. Inside, most of the women were garbed in floaty skirts that swirled out and character shoes or Mary Janes. A middle-aged Latino man with a bright magpie gaze stood in the centre of the awkward, tango-ing couples. He wore fawn trousers with zip-up cuffs like tracky-daks and shiny, pointed toe shoes, like half-size periwinklers. There were slightly fewer men than women. A woman was tango-ing against the wall in what looked like a Helen Keller-esque exercise. I took up my (habitual) wallflower position on the seats at the edge of the room.
By and by, I was introduced to the oddly named Garcon, the man in the fawn tracky-dak trousers. He told me to stretch out my arms and press against the sweaty mound of his chest as if to push him away. Having overly long arms and habitually stiff shoulders from computer work, I did this rather tentatively, thinking, I'm going to be absolutely hopeless at this. 'Lean, lean!' Garcon commanded. I could see the aim of the exercise was rather like those trust exercises you used to have to do in acting classes, to learn 'to trust and let go', in this case so you would learn to follow the man's lead on the dance floor.
I didn't think I was doing a particularly convincing job. Garcon said, ‘You do not like to be led! I can see it in your eyes! But we are not macho men and tough types here!’ I thought, got me in one. There is something self-revealing about dance -- somehow people's personalities seem to imbue the way they move and the way they approach the dancefloor -- and I bet Garcon has become a great observer of human nature over the years.
Things got better when I was allowed to rest my arms with my palms upright on my partner's shoulders rather than lean. 'Sorry, I'm not very good at leaning,' I said politely to one partner. ''Yes, I know,' he said bluntly. (But it is annoying when the male misses the beat you’re anticipating.)
Because of the slight dearth of male partners, I ended up in wallflower position a number of times. Garcon came over and demonstrated how to eyeball your way to another partner, which meant standing behind the woman in a couple like covering an opposite team member in netball and glowering invitingly at her male. Somehow, I'm not sure that I'm suited to the mores of a Latin-American context (i.e. a machismo culture).
During one of my wallflower moments, a very attractive filipina woman in a skimpy lambada skirt and stiletto sandals came and gave me ‘what not to wear’ instructions for future reference. She sat down politely beside me, welcomed me there and pointed out the excellent shoe choice of some of the other women there, saying, 'Next time you come, you want to wear something like that.' Resisted temptation to say my feet are absolutely fucked (in fact, declared 'biomechanically unsound' by a podiatrist many years ago) and really I should be wearing gym shoes with orthotics for any activity like this; the idea of dancing in women's shoes with any sort of a heel for two hours is positively purgatorial, but anyway. It reminded of me when the visiting jazz ballet teacher got mad at me and my friends from the nerds academy for not taking jazz ballet seriously: we were compared to the girls from a certain notorious westie school and their keenness for visitations of jazz ballet school teacher. How on earth will you ever get men? was her ultimate slur when we failed to approximate her demonstration of how to run across a beach attractively.
In the end I had a go at (and would like to think I picked up) most of the tango moves on offer, except for the last sequence ('on the cross'). I often found it easier to do with my eyes closed -- i.e. to let go and follow the lead. I didn't stay round for the next session of 'improvers tango' -- another two hours in late 30s heat. I was later told it involved 'close dancing' -- which was 'kind of grotty', according to my informant. I guess I shall probably go a-tangoing again, though I'm not sure about my chances of ever becoming good at being easily led.