Tango in Bowling Shoes by Karen Uffelman
Andrea stepped into the circle, rubbing her sweaty palms nervously against her jeans. She was late – had miscalculated the time her bus ride would take – and was flushed and breathing hard from running up the stairs to the studio, two at a time. Glancing around the room she regretted the second-hand bowling shoes on her feet. Other women were wearing heels, some of them very fancy, probably made especially for ballroom dancing. The used bowling shoes had been Rebecca’s idea.
“You can get them at Goodwill, they’ve always got tons of them. Two bucks, tops. And perfect for dancing because they have those slick bottoms. You’ll see – everyone wears them at dance class.”
Maybe at the GRRRLS swing dance class, but here in Intro to Tango, only Andrea had bowling shoes.
“Ladies, turn to the gentleman on your left, and introduce yourself.”
Andrea turned to the guy next to her in the circle. He was short, maybe two inches shorter than Andrea, and the top three buttons of his shirt were open. Some scraggly chest hairs peeked out at her. He held out his hand.
It hadn’t occurred to Andrea when she had registered for the class that she’d have to touch strangers. At least not a stranger like this. She’d imagined a tall, handsome man who would seem immediately familiar. In her mind he’d looked quite a lot like Rebecca’s brother, Jackson. And he’d already be an excellent dancer. She’d dreamed of beautiful, effortless waltzes. In fact, she’d intended to sign up for waltzing, but there were no waltz classes, so she had ended up in tango.
“My name’s Jerry. Nice shoes.”
Andrea knew she was supposed to say her name, too, but she wasn’t sure how to take the comment about her shoes and the teacher started talking again before she could devise an appropriate response.
“Tango is all about intuiting the next movement of your partner. Being totally in synch with each other. Ladies, your gentleman is imparting all of the information you need to know with his chest. His hands, his arms, his feet and legs will give you hints, but his chest is where you must focus.”
Andrea looked at Jerry’s chest. She thought that maybe he should button up his shirt, but before she could figure out how to casually suggest it, there were more instructions.
“For this first lesson, we will not touch with our hands or our arms.”
Andrea breathed a sigh of relief.
“Our sole point of contact will be our chests.”
Jerry took an awkward step toward her.
“Keep your arms and hands out of the way, shoulders back, only chests touching. Eye contact is helpful. Gentleman, face into the circle. Ladies, face your partner. Gentleman, walk backwards, three small steps, and Ladies keep your chests glued to his. Move when he moves, stop when he stops.”
Should she leave? Could she live through this? What would be more embarrassing, pressing her chest up against Jerry’s or running out of the room? Where had she put her coat?
The music started.
Andrea couldn’t see her coat among all of the coats draped over chairs, or her purse. She swallowed. If she ran out of the room without coat or purse, she’d be frozen and have no way to get home. Jerry looked nervously at her – she could imagine the panicked expression on her face. She swallowed again and stepped up to Jerry.
“This is going to be fun, huh?” He wasn’t very convincing.
Andrea took another step forward and now her sweater was definitely touching Jerry’s unbuttoned shirt. She wondered if he might be a criminal. She closed her eyes and hoped for the best.
The music was slow, just like the tango music you hear in movies. Jerry took a step back, and Andrea followed him. He took another step. His breath smelled of garlic and cinnamon gum. Andrea tried not breathe through her nose. She dutifully kept her sweater in contact with his shirt, but just barely. She could see the couple next to them, a tall older guy with a middle-aged woman in stilettos. Staring deeply into each other’s eyes, her bosom pressed with gusto into his mid-section. Jerry took another step. Andrea followed.
“Now gentleman, take a step toward your partner. Three steps forward, back to your original position.”
Jerry moved toward her and, before she could stop herself, Andrea backed a foot away.
“Chests together, please! Ladies, intuit the movement of your gentleman, but don’t let space get between you.”
Jerry looked pained. Andrea inched back up to him. Sweater touching shirt buttons again.
“Sorry,” she whispered.
“No problem,” he whispered back and grinned. Andrea decided he had a creepy smile, but she stayed with him as he stepped toward her. She could see the clock over his shoulder. Only 11 minutes into the class. 49 to go.
“Very good, very good. Alright, switch partners, please.”
Jerry made a queer little bow to Andrea, and she moved to the tall man next to her, but his partner wasn’t leaving.
“We’re a couple.”
Andrea wasn’t sure what that meant and stared dumbly at the woman in the stilettos.
“I think we’re supposed to switch partners,” Andrea finally got out, “the teacher said to switch.”
“I know, dear, but we’re a couple and we’re staying together for the whole class. Cute shoes!”
Andrea was pretty sure that was cheating, and wondered if it would be helpful to point out the considerable age difference between the two and conjecture on just how happy the middle-aged woman would be ten years from now when her old guy would most certainly be out of the tango business, but instead she shrugged and moved on around the circle.
Maybe he was about to die already and his girlfriend wanted to spend every last minute with him.
The next guy was wearing a sweatshirt that said My Native Language is C++.
“Dancers? Alright, same exercise, three steps out, three steps in. Chest-on-chest, please.”
Andrea was kind of getting the hang of this. She’d said her name, like a normal person, and had been able to ignore the dumb joke on Max’s shirt. He smelled like tic tacs. She liked tic tacs.
He looked down at the red/green green/red shoes on her feet. She pushed her breasts forward and his eyes came back up.
The music started, and she pressed her chest against his.
If she came to the next class, and she was beginning to think she might, she’d buy some better shoes.