Photo Credit: Zabara_Tango
This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he
An excerpt from the poem “Diving into the Wreck” by Adrienne Rich.
Around three years ago, I learned how to scuba dive. I’m not a natural, and I haven’t returned for a couple of years now. The hardest part about diving was the moment my face and mask went under the water; I had to resist the natural urge to buck against breathing underwater and surface.
It’s really a form of meditation to stay under water and reserve the air in the tank. I had to learn how to breath slowly and disassociate my fears from reality. I coaxed my brain into believing that breathing under water was natural. Slowly I pressed the air out of my jacket and descended with my gauge clutched in my left fist, in love with the ocean and deeply terrified all at once.
For a lady, tango also calls for dissassociation. When I join a partner on the dance floor, I close my eyes and try to forget I have any choice in my movements. A tango professor advised me, “Listen, the truth is that the woman has nothing to do with the rhythm. The man decides the rhythm, and you have to follow even if he’s off rhythm.” As a new dancer, I fight to keep my knees brushing together and my legs jutting out behind me. I try not to have any say in our steps–to let my right arm relax and let my self doubt disappear for a few minutes. Dancing with a new partner each time is like learning a new language. Some milongueros create their own favorite steps.
The scariest moment is when I stand on the milonga floor for the first tanda and I feel out of my league. I close my eyes and know I’ll be descending into the abyss, ready or not.
I’ll know when I’m really in the moment, that I’ve really achieved something, when I can listen to the music and enjoy it–to incorporate the song’s meaning into the dance.