Friday, December 24, 2010

#4 - The Class

All that David found when he returned home to make up to his wife, Jessica, were a dark apartment and a note. Jessica was out. 

Jessica looked over the shoulder of the young man at the clock on the wall. Twenty more minutes. The young man sank in his knees and a foot groped.

“No,” said Jessica. “You have to change feet. Your left foot. No, the outside. Step on my outside.”

“Sorry,” mumbled the young man. He searched for a safe place to step as though he were avoiding snakes.

The tall man in the middle of the room called out, “Change partners!” The young man with Jessica looked up from the floor and said, “Well, uh, thanks.” Jessica, grim-lipped, said nothing and advanced to the next man. She looked at the clock. She looked at her new partner. He was sweating through his tee shirt. Nineteen minutes, twenty seconds.

The man in the middle of the room stepped over to the controls of the stereo system and resumed the music. Jessica drank the flowing strings of Carlos Di Sarli’s “Bahia Blanca,” her favorite tango. The students turned to embrace one another and to resume working on the ornate combination of tango steps. Jessica’s partner raised his arms expectantly. All Jessica could see were the pits of his tee shirt. The stains were Gulf oil spills. Would nothing contain them? Were they spreading and endangering species before her very eyes?

The tall man halted the class now. He silenced the practicing dancers and started the music again. “Leaders, you must imagine you have in your trust, how is it called, orquídea? Yes thank you, orchid, a rare and beautiful flower.” His cupped hands cradled an imaginary bloom.

Fernando was the most popular teacher at the Crane Edwards Studio. He had been through town with touring shows many times before settling here. His stage presence followed him everywhere. He was grand in manner and gracious in conduct. He never raised his voice, even when teaching a large class. Everyone just listened. He taught many large classes.

Fernando moved about the room, connecting with each student in turn as he delivered his instruction. “You carry the flower and it moves with you, but you also protect it. The splendid petals, delicate, secret.” Jessica, her back to her partner, watched Fernando sweep from couple to couple as he improvised a solo dance showcasing his invisible treasure. “Your movements honor and praise the beauty in your trust.”

Fernando showed his imaginary flower to a slender, young blonde on the opposite side of the studio from Jessica. The blonde looked into his cupped hands and smiled up at him. Give me a break, thought Jessica. Fernando brushed the blonde’s hair back and put his imaginary flower behind her ear. He offered his hand, they embraced and he stepped with her into the center of the floor. Fernando stepped back supporting the blonde in a dramatic lean as she traced languorous circles with her free leg.

Jessica wondered who the blonde was. She didn’t remember seeing her before. Most of the dancers here at Crane Edwards Dance Studio knew one another. At least, they knew one another as tango students if nothing else. There wasn’t much time to talk between back-to-back tango classes at Crane Edwards and that time was too precious to squander on matters of day-to-day life. Life took a backseat to dance. It was not unusual to dance with tango friends for years, taking classes with them, seeing them at milongas, embracing them, greeting them with kisses, men and women alike, before ever discovering what they did for a living or where they came from. You might never learn that they had kids. Or spouses.

This blonde couldn’t have been dancing very long. Maybe a couple of months, tops. She looked like an ex-ballet dancer. Jessica recognized the signs. Stiff; over inclined to embellish; self-possessed in spite of the lack of experience. Jessica had been a serious ballet student herself once. That was several dreams ago.

Jessica watched Fernando carry the blonde about the room as gracefully and protectively as he had transported his imaginary orchid. Jessica had been dancing a long time, but Fernando never demonstrated in class with her and he never danced with her at the milongas at Crane Edwards either. Wouldn’t it be smart for the teachers to ask the students to dance? Wouldn’t that keep them coming back for more classes? Wouldn’t that just be good business? This blonde, whoever she was, never let up with the adornments. Oh, just calm down. He must be giving her horizontal lessons, else why would he want to dance with this beginner? It sure wasn’t because of her beautiful dancing. It must be the precious petals of her splendid orchid.

Fernando returned the blonde to her student partner and directed everyone to try the combination again. Jessica looked at the clock. Deliverance would be mercifully soon. Her partner raised his arms expectantly again. Jessica held him away from her as if she were disposing of a bag of rotten potato skins. Jessica’s partner tried to execute the combination with her, but he didn’t know which foot to use either.

Jessica thought of her husband. If only David had the discipline to practice, but he didn’t care how much dancing meant to her. His dancing had plateaued a long time ago. For Jessica, this was it.

She broke the embrace and said to her partner, “You know, this is an intermediate class.”

“Excuse me?” the man replied.

“This combination begins with a cross basic. You should know the cross basic before advancing to an intermediate class.”

“You know, I’ve seen you at the milongas here and I’ve been hoping to dance with you for a long time. I know I’m not ready to invite the best dancers, but we all do our best here. I’m trying. That’s why I’m in this class. You don’t have to dance with me if you don’t want to.”

He backed away. Fernando came up and said to the two of them, “Do you need some help, Richard? Let me see how you are doing.” Richard hesitated. Jessica stepped forward dutifully. Richard tried the combination with Jessica. This time he remembered the cross basic. He was stiff, but managed.

Fernando said, “Very good. Both of you are really beginning to catch on.” Jessica couldn’t believe it. ‘Beginning to catch on.’ She. Fernando looked at Jessica and said, “Try to keep your feet together. It will preserve your axis and you will be able to understand the lead better. Not only that, it will improve your line. It creates a very feminine look.”

Fernando turned and announced the end of the class. Jessica didn’t hear Richard thank her. She found her bag which she had stashed in the corner of the studio and sat on the floor. As she changed her shoes she saw the blonde take Fernando’s arm and they left the studio. Jessica saw them through the glass doors. Fernando was speaking to the receptionist at the front desk. Jessica sat and watched until Fernando left with the blonde. Jessica wasn’t crying yet.