The Involuntary Smile

The other night one of my all-time favorite partners asked me to dance and waited patiently as I changed my shoes.  We’ve danced many times over the years and it’s always been a very nice experience.  His leads are gentle, clear, musical, comfortable.  He encircles me with his softly rounded arms and even if we didn’t move, it would be pleasurable just standing there.

 The music started as we walked toward the floor, a wonderful, rhythmic Canaro favorite.  As we  got within reach of each other and were just about to form the embrace, he took a small step back, which gave me a visual cue and I stepped forward literally into his arms and in to his stride. Yum.

From that moment, the entire tanda was magic.  His choreography matched the mood, tempo, rhythms and nuance of the music.  It was, in a word, delicious.  For the next nine minutes it was just him, me, and the music, in the room and in the world.

Later in the tanda, I remember the exact spot, I realized I was smiling darn near ear to ear, and realized that I’d been smiling from the moment we took our first step.  With eyes closed and Cheshiresque grin, it must have appeared as if I was having a nice dream.  Fortunately, it was real.  I hadn’t intended to smile, hadn’t even thought of it, but there it was.

Completely involuntary.  My mind/soul/physical being were so enraptured, smiling had become a reflex.  An expression of pleasure that is instinctive.  I would have smiled, if I’d thought of it, but thinking wasn’t in the mix, only feeling and responding.  There are moments I smile when a partner leads something particularly interesting or extremely well, but the entire time?  Extraordinary.

When the tanda ended, we said our usual “Thank you’s” hugged and parted ways.  When I got home, my thoughts kept returning to the moment of becoming aware of my perpetual smile and the reason for it.  All the planets were in alignment, the music was perfect, the Tango Gods were smiling upon us and, most importantly,  my partner had stayed in tango long enough to become a highly desirable leader.  Blessed be the men who please women on the tango floor.  And blessed are the women they please.

I’ve been shy (it can happen)  about telling him, but am sending him this “confession” so he’ll be in on the secret.

It’s a little embarrassing that a dance can become so personal and touch us so deeply.   That’s tango.  And life.


When I sent “The Involuntary Smile” to the partner referred to in the story, I had no idea what kind, if any, response it would inspire.  His response surpassed anything I could have imagined and gave me a delicious insight into the mind of my dear friend and treasured tango partner.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

He wrote:

 You give me goosebumps.
I have found myself interested in taking more lessons, acquiring more ‘vocabulary’ to present on the dance floor.  At the same time I ask myself, what could I add that would improve the follows experience of ‘A Tanda Together?’ Although I do want to add to my vocabulary, what you have said about your experience while we danced together answers all my questions about what makes Tango really click.  I feel that I get the most from the dance when all that you described is present, and nothing else.  It is a space that is both quiet, and exhilarating at the same time.  A lovely paradox ensues that is spun out of giving oneself to ‘A Tanda Together’ rather than, I’ll say, making a statement.
I love you Polly McBride.  And, the essence of that which you enjoy while dancing with me, was given to me by you.  Really. I mention you often when I speak to someone about the essence of Tango etiquette and how it sweetens the dance so much.  You taught me that etiquette.  And, I shall always be grateful to you for it, and, of course, will always be sharing it with you.  What is it that they say; ‘What goes around comes around?’  Yes, that’s it.
Rafa  (Name he used when living in Central America.  Not the name we know him by.)

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