Another Friday night and I find myself walking down the street, past the lively restaurants, past the crowded ice cream shops, past the large groups of people gathered on corners laughing, smoking, drinking. I walk with purpose, with anticipation, with the usual butterflies in my stomach. As I turn the corner I begin to hear the familiar melodies wafting through the air, drawing me in towards the source. "A moth to a flame." Even though I have been doing this almost every night for the past six months, even though I have danced over 500 hours since I arrived in Buenos Aires, I still feel the same excitement/fear/anticipation/nervousness every time I head to a milonga. Some nights are magical, others are a complete disaster, and sometimes I oscillate between bliss and torment throughout the night. Whole lifetimes pass through me in a single night, molding me, testing me, punishing and rewarding me.
As I approach the door, I am greeted warmly with a big hug and the familiar kiss on the cheek. I look out on the dance floor, and take it all in once again - the bodies moving in unison, the long legs, the short skirts, the low cut dressed, the furrowed brows, the firm embraces. It is like stepping into another dimension or being plugged into a virtual reality of some kind (I am thinking here of Neo being plugged into the Matrix for the first time). And in this moment, all of the past nights of dancing do not count, no other milonga exists, to me it feels like this is the first time. I am in awe at how this dance is even possible. It is as if I have never danced it and as I watch I am convinced that I really can't do what the people in front of me are doing. I stroll to the back, I kiss the familiar faces, and hug the familiar bodies. I sit down, I put on my shoes, I asses, I wait. And then it happens, a subtle nod of the head, and I am walking onto the dance floor to join the others and part of me is absolutely terrified, "there is no way I can do this." Thousands of thoughts begin to push through my mind, wrestling for my attention - "don't collapse the hip, use your center, relax your shoulder, but don't drop the arm...." With my heart racing, and my body trembling with adrenalin, I guide myself to take a deep breath and bring myself into focus.
As I turn my attention and trust to my body, everything unnecessary dissolves and what rises to the surface are the few guiding insights I have gathered over the past six months of studying with teachers who have really become mentors. I see the smiling face of Mariana Dragone saying "When I move, I don't move my body, I move the world around me." As my partner embraces me, I imagine this and I feel my body grow powerful, rooting itself into the ground. I begin to receive the guidance of the lead, pushing against the world, stepping with confidence. The rhythmic beats give way to the melody, and I am invited to pivot and turn, my axis spiraling around my friend's. The calm voice of Eugenia Parilla echoes through my mind, "Let. Let free the leg, let free the arm, let free the joints." I let go of the fear of losing my balance, of not following perfectly, of misreading the lead. I tune into the essential physics and follow my body's natural momentum. The tiny fluctuations of tone throughout are like plucked strings on a guitar, delivering a perfect harmony to my partner's melody. We pulse, we sway, we spin and I experience that mysterious state where the boundaries of my physical form dissolve and it is the music itself that is moving through space. The feeling is so overwhelming that I suddenly doubt that I am really capable of experiencing it. Surely it can't be this perfect, surely my technique is not good enough yet, my experience not sufficient yet. But before that thought can even fully form in my mind, I meet the eyes of Oscar Cassas as he says to me, "Look, in the end, you must dance yourself, you cannot dance anyone else." So I continue to dare to feel this bliss, to feel good about myself, to accept my imperfect pivots, my faulty footwork, I dare to fully enjoy, to fully experience pleasure, to completely devour every moment, to really dance. The song ends and we linger in the embrace for a few more moments. As we separate, we look at each other without saying anything, just smiling, knowingly, anticipating the chords of the next song. I embrace my partner again, tuning into his body, listening, breathing. I can't help but smile as I remember another parting gift from Oscar Cassas in our last lesson. When I asked him how I could bring more form to my dance, he paused and then said, "I want you to imagine that you are a tiger..."