After eleven years living, dancing, teaching tango, and writing in Buenos Aires, I came home to L.A. in 2014, where I'm reconstructing my life.
Monday, August 13, 2007
Tanguera Tales: Mario El Magnifico Part 1
Dance first. Think later. It's the natural order. ~Samuel Beckett
Mario Gonzalez, the Argentine tango star, was coming to San Francisco on his first visit to California. He needed a place to stay--nine days’ lodging in exchange for three hours of private lessons.
Elizabeth was a dancer; she moved. She had never met Mario although she had seen him in Buenos Aires, and of course everyone knew him from his role in “Tango: The Motion Picture.” Her apartment was comfortable and lovely, and it was always nice to have guests, such a change from living alone. During those happy years with her husband in their big house a mile away, they constantly entertained. And a tango luminary giving her free lessons in exchange? She didn’t have to think about it.
Jeffrey, the promoter, picked up Mario at the airport and dropped him and his six pieces of expensive luggage at Elizabeth's apartment, saying only, “Good luck!” with a wave as he strode back down the sidewalk to his car. She had hoped they’d all sit around over iced tea or something and talk for a few minutes, easing her through the awkward moments of having an unknown man stay in her house.
But Mario did it himself; he was charming and all smiles, remarking about seeing Elizabeth around the milongas of Buenos Aires and remembering how well she danced. Her apartment was walking distance to whatever one needed, a huge plus for visitors without a car. She thought he could be independent during the time she was working. Part of the arrangement was for her to drive Mario to the milongas and his group classes, which was no problem as she would be going anyway. Women’s offers to take him to the beach, Sausalito, on tours of Napa Valley, were lining up and since she had to work most days, that took some of the pressure off.
After he got settled, they walked the neighborhood and he bought some takeout for lunch, insisting on washing the dishes after they ate. While he was checking his email on her computer, she played some tangos on the piano downstairs and he sang along. He had a good voice, and of course knew all the words.
No one before had ever sung to the tangos she loved to play, and it made her feel whole, a real communion. She used to feel that way accompanying her kids on their instruments during recitals and auditions, and it also reminded her of playing duets with her father so many years ago. For thirty minutes there at the piano Elizabeth experienced her favorite thing—communication through music.
That first night they went to the milonga where the San Francisco tangueras went crazy over him. They circled him three deep and literally dragged him onto the dance floor. He appeared to be overwhelmed. He didn’t dance with Elizabeth until the very end, almost like a mercy dance. It was peculiar, as if he and she were connected in an official way and that he “owed” her a dance. She supposed she did feel he should dance with her, his hostess.
Later in the car he complained bitterly about the aggressive women. He was still wound up when they got home to her apartment, and so she left him on the couch reading, and went to kiss his cheek goodnight in a “besito,” but he grabbed her and kissed her strongly on the mouth. She wasn’t particularly attracted to him—he wasn’t a particularly attractive man— still she let him sleep in her room that night. That day had been fun and she felt relaxed and happy.
Playing house that way brought up old memories of contentment. It felt comfortable and natural to share her home and her bed with a congenial man, one with whom she had so much in common. It wasn’t the sex she missed so much, it was the sleeping with someone. She hadn’t planned on being seduced by Mario, just sharing her life with a tango master for nine days as a fun adventure. If that’s the way it was going to be, well she was up for that too—a little mini-affair with a definite time limit, and lots of tango.
In the morning he cooked a large breakfast for them of eggs and ham, and insisted again on cleaning up the kitchen. Then they drove to the suburbs where he was giving a workshop. He used Elizabeth to demonstrate most of the time, and of course, like any other woman in that situation, she felt proud. It’s not logical, it doesn’t mean they are better dancers than anyone else or that the teacher especially likes them, it’s just a thing that happens. Sometimes it’s simply because the instructor doesn’t know any of the other women and how well they dance.
The following day Mario gave Elizabeth a private tango lesson. He had been teaching there in her studio and people had been coming and going all day long. Her lesson was his last one, as she had been at work all day. After dancing with her for two hours, he changed the mood of the moves, and they finished the lesson in her bed. She had enjoyed their previous encounter, but it was fairly ordinary. Pleasant, but no big deal, and it certainly didn’t last long. She was learning that he had deep insecurities, maybe being thrust to the top so quickly after that one movie was part of it, maybe his lack of confidence in his looks was another. He wasn’t unattractive, but nothing special, with a pudgy body, which he always tried to hide by wearing baggy clothing, and a scruffy beard which perhaps he was also hiding behind.
He complained grimly about the dancers of San Francisco, how bad they were, how aggressive and rude the women were, how he had no respect for them, as they drove to the milonga later. She chastised him by saying he should admire the people for paying him, for taking his workshops, for trying to improve their dancing.
“The women take privates only to get to dance with me. I feel like a prostitute,” he said.
“Then why not teach with a partner, like so many do?”
“Because then I would have to share the money!” he admitted.
When she tried to change the subject, he responded with dialogue quotes from “Tango: The Motion Picture,” which she didn’t recognize and he was piqued that he had to explain.
To be continued...