Husband and I spent six hours last Saturday attempting to master the basics of Argentine tango at the Aldsworth Village Hall. This sounded like a good idea when first proposed some weeks before at the wine bar. Then again, that was the same night that husband announced he was gay with a large penis and very good at lovemaking. The event organizer did follow up with an email a week or so later which I forwarded on to husband asking, “do you really want to go to this?” He responded promptly, too promptly really, with a “sure.” I should have realized that the sheer volume of email in modern life had deadened husband to the implications of this innocent seeming email. In hindsight, my next move should have been to extract a solemn pledge not to hold me accountable for any consequences of our attempts to learn to tango on a precious Saturday, especially if the weather was good.
Much to my relief the Met Office predicted rain for the intended Saturday. We awoke to a beautiful day. I went outside to investigate, hoping the clouds would look ominous. They hung low like thin white rows of breakwater on an ocean of blue. There was nothing the least bit threatening about them.
“WHAT are we doing in a village hall all day when we could be outside?” husband bellowed accusingly on cue. I paused, considering my options, then told him I’d meet him in the car.
We arrived at the Aldsworth Village Hall five minutes late. Our instructors, Klaus and Lydia, were waiting along with five other unwitting couples. To start our teachers performed a demonstration of octopus-like complexity, giving me time to take in the splendor of their attire. Like all hobbies tango dancing has its own special wardrobe that only makes sense when everyone else is wearing something equally as ridiculous. Klaus was wearing gold hoop earrings that matched the gold stud buttons in his black shirt, pin striped trousers, and black and white spats. The slender, middle-aged Lydia wore a black mini dress with red wrap sweater, knee-length black lace tights, and black high heeled dancing shoes with red piping, a tarted up version of my teenage tap shoes. Against a backdrop of suede loafered and denim attired attendees, Klaus and Lydia stood out. I myself had made an effort, donning my fantasy of what Ginger Rogers may have worn to film rehearsals: a stretchy black turtleneck and pants with ballet flats. Despite my ambitions, the overall effect was less lithe and more Liza in recent years.
We started with some stretching, then a lesson in posture before moving on to the basic six. The basic six is a sort of box step of tango that would form the core of our moves for the rest of the day. We practiced separately from our partners, boys and girls split into groups on opposite sides of the room. This, I thought, was going okay.
I should have known we were in for hard work when Lydia changed her shoes before the second lesson. The black strappy heels were replaced with glittery sliver sandals with a low, stacked heel. There was something disarming about her new look, tango on top and grandma at a wedding on the bottom, the grandma effect heightened by orthopedic looking, flesh coloured peds enveloping the balls of her feet. The hard work bit was that we would now have to execute the basic six with our partner. Husband and I started bickering immediately. Without warning he decided to add in a beat between steps, and he took my allegiance to accuracy as a refusal to let him to lead. He was, he claimed, improvising in the true spirit of tango. My objection was not to being led. My objection was that he was doing it wrong.
The wine at lunch brought some temporary relief as well as, I thought, a certain verve to the new movement we were learning called ochos. But from here things spiralled. While I was perfecting my pivots, husband started to stew. Our miserable attempts at the basic six had reminded him of how little we have in common. Now ochos were in the mix, and he was convinced our marriage was a sham. In his words he was creative, emotional, expressive, sensual. I was rigid, black and white, stubborn, robotic. We were fundamentally incompatible, and the tango proved it. That the tango is loaded with gender stereotypes — like the move where the woman feels up the side of the man’s shin with her foot to assess if he has any money in his sock — didn’t help things. For one, I know husband doesn’t have any money in his sock. Most days, especially days when he knows I’ll be with him, he can’t even remember to carry his wallet. But somehow in husband’s head my less than enthusiastic mauling of his lower leg was yet another reminder of my refusal to play the womanly role. In tango as in life I was trying too hard to wear the pants.
By the end of the third lesson husband was refusing to dance with me despite gentle attempts at persuasion from a now startled looking Lydia. Thus we found ourselves reduced to taking turns with Klaus for the treachery of backward ochos and gaunchos. It was something to see husband entwine lower legs and execute a backwards flick kick with a German dressed as an extra in a gangster film, but at this point I risked death if I attempted to capture it on my camera phone. You’ll just have to take my word for it.
Our tango-induced standoff lasted through the evening, refusing to yield even to our usual mutual delight in American Idol. But by our morning jog our imminent divorce seemed less imminent. Spring is here and it’s hard to stay mad in the face of countryside in bloom on a sunny day. We stopped to admire a pair of yellowhammers canoodling in a hedgerow and silently decided we must have something in common after all. For good measure, I even let him run ahead.