Last weekend I completely stepped out of my comfort zone and, at the age of 38, performed the Argentine Tango in my first dance recital.
Here’s how it all came about. A very good friend of mine is a professional ballroom dancer. In fact, he and his professional partner recently came in 3rd in the world in an international competition in Amsterdam. I met Jaime when my husband bought us West Coast Swing dance lessons for Valentine’s Day before we had kids. Since then, Jaime and I have danced on and off, just for fun, in my living room and have become dear friends. This last October, we were talking about my birthday and how I was struggling with the recent loss of my father.
“Remember the part in the movie Evita when the couples are dancing the tango, clinging to each other in their sadness after her death?” I asked him one night. “Can you just come and dance with me? Can I just cling to you and cry and tango?”
Without a second thought, Jaime said to me, “I’ll do one better. I will choreograph a tango and you and I will dance it in honor of your father at the studio’s showcase in January.” I sobbed.
Now, let me represent my Long Beach State Volleyball girls and say that I can dance… up in the nightclubs. If you were out dancing on Second Street in Long Beach some time between 1995 and 1998, we probably danced together, especially if you were at Belmont Station. You would have noticed us, me and my 6 foot and above teammates. But let me be the first to tell you that dancing out there is WAY different than dancing in the ballroom. Way. Poor Jaime. There’s probably nothing worse than trying to get the nightclub dancer out of a girl. And to be honest, I didn’t realize just how much I really needed to learn.
The first day that I came to the studio, it was pouring rain. Jaime was waiting in the dance room, dressed in slacks, and a vest and tie. He began teaching me the Argentine Tango and I cried. A lot. Over the next weeks and months, we met every Wednesday. Every Wednesday he showed up for me, taught me, let me cry, and demanded my best, for me and for my father.
Luckily I understand what my body is doing, but at almost 40, it can be hard to make my knees do what I want them to. When did start to move like an old lady? My favorite thing that Jaime says to me is, “Ok, do it again, but this time don’t make it look like you’re in pain.” Damn it.
All week long I had been filled with emotion: love for my dad, sorrow for missing him, gratitude for Jaime’s friendship, nervousness for wanting to do well. Saturday night, when I couldn’t sleep, I found Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 on television. Near the end, as Harry is preparing to face his enemy, he is surrounded by his parents, and others, who have died. He looks at his mother and says, “Why are you here?” and she looks at him with love and says, “We never left.” I looked into the darkness, hoping to see, perhaps, my dad sitting in the leather club chair across the room. I whispered, “Are you still here, too?”
Sunday was our big day. With perfectly coifed hair and gorgeous makeup, I stepped onto the dance floor with my darling friend. We danced to “Milonga del Angel” by Astor Piazzolla, a beautifully sad and mournful tango song.
Fast, sharp, explosive steps and kicks, followed by slow, passionate accents and movements, characterize the tango itself. I can still hear Jaime’s voice from rehearsals, “Slow, slow, quick, quick, up… and… fast, swivel, swivel, swivel, stop!” And so goes the dance of grief. There are times of rage, of desperation, of explosive pain; and there are times of quiet sadness, of nostalgia. And it’s often surprising to me how intertwined they all become.
So I had my dance. I had my Evita moment and clung to my partner in sorrow. And it was life-changing. My family and my friends, who have been so unfailingly supportive the last eight months, surrounded me once more. And by becoming vulnerable, by opening my wounded heart for others to see, I invited in healing. I invited in love. By allowing them to carry me through the hard days, I find the strength to carry on. And I was again reminded that love goes on living, long after the body dies.
And to Jaime, thank you. Thank you for your generosity of spirit. Thank you for your grace and elegance. Thank you for your professionalism and your amazing talent. And mostly, thank you for sharing all of that with me, dear friend. I love you.