Last night our dance instructor reminded us of the Tango truth: “The man is always wrong.” A murmur of agreement was heard from the women. I could hear several men mutter, “Just like marriage.”
Carlos, a guest instructor a few months back, gave us the same message. Guess I’ll have to live with it. Not that I disagree with the adage, especially after repeatedly stepping on Laurel’s feet as we tried to learn some cross foot moves.
Tango, Carlos told us, is just a man walking with a woman so she will fall in love with him. At least during the time she’s dancing with him. I don’t think any of the women in the class fell in love with me yesterday.
A few hours ago Laurel made a point of showing me the bruise on her foot where a variety of unlovable partners, including moi, had stepped on her. I feel good that I wasn’t the only one. I’ll feel better when I can step cross footed anywhere near as smoothly as Peter, our instructor, can.
You can try this at home, even if you know nothing about Tango. Stand toe to toe with your partner, man’s hands on woman’s shoulders, woman’s hands on man’s chest (guess you could reverse things if you’re intimate with each other.)
Man steps forward, woman steps backward. With parallel stepping, you’re both stepping with the same side leg as you face each other. If the man steps forward with his left leg, the woman steps backward with her right leg. Pretty simple. Feels natural.
With cross stepping, both the man and woman step with the same side leg in the absolute sense. Right and right. Or left and left. So as the woman steps back with her right leg, the man will step forward with his right leg. Not so simple. Feels unnatural.
Especially when I’d step forward with my right leg and bang into Laurel’s left leg. Which, entirely appropriately, was directly in my way. The woman, you see, always steps naturally. It’s the man who has to switch step his way from parallel to cross stepping.
The goal is to step between her legs and, if you wish, trap the forward foot. Or push the foot gently to one side so the woman has to step over it in one of those cool yin-yang “dance of love” moves.
Not so cool is the move that I kept repeating over and over, the one where I either step on Laurel’s retreating foot because I’ve moved too quickly, or on her stationary foot because I haven’t stepped between her legs.
Observing the semi-chaos on the dance floor, at one point Peter shut the music off and taught us another Tango truism.
“Guys, if you’re tentative and don’t step in confidently, your partner will do the same—step back tentatively. Then you’re going to bang legs and step on feet. You’ve got to lead boldly so she knows what to do. Also, don’t be afraid to be thigh to thigh. In some dances it’s bad form to touch legs. In Tango, it’s a good thing. If the man is in touch with the woman’s leg as he steps, it’s easy to move it out of the way.”
After that, we carried on. Sometimes the cross stepping felt good. Sometimes it didn’t. Just like life.
And also just like life, for an hour and fifteen minutes every man in the room was responsible when something went wrong. The women just kept on stepping backward naturally. The men had to figure out how to stay in touch with their partners and move as gracefully as possible with them.
Eventually I got used to always being wrong. After thirty-four years of being married, I’ve had lots of practice. I only wish that everything else in Tango came so easily.