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Blind Man, Dancing Tango

In a continuing exploration of my interest in tango, please enjoy this sample from my book, Tango Confidential, (being written as you read this), a collection of vignettes and portraits from the world of tango.

Blind Man, Dancing Tango
Marcy Goldman

I used to see him every once in awhile – his name was Michael – and he always came to tango by cab with his dog, a black Labrador, ever by his side. Other tango students would whisper to me if he happened to come in to a soiree or some other tango event, ‘Michael, you know, is quite blind but he has been coming to tango for many years’.

I was always a bit curious about Michael, having grown up and shared my room, as a kid, with my grandmother who was also blind. You get attuned, as a sighted person, around blind people. While it is true that they cannot converesly, you, for virtue of having been so much a part of their eyeless sphere, move in your own altered state ever after – well, at least, concerning the blind. You see things sighted people just don't after that. If there is a sixth sense, it becomes that awareness.

At any rate, one day, one class, Michael turned up in my tango class. Tango 3. (I was in Tango 3 for quite awhile. I was not even sure there was a Tango 4. Now there is – as well as rumours about a Tango 5. If it is there, I will enrol unless it is like floor thirteen – there just is not floor thirteen any more than there is Tango 5. Stay tuned).

Everyone greeted Michael with warm hugs and two-cheeked kisses, as most knew him and he certainly knew them. He seemed quite popular, in fact. His dog, Austin, lay obediently at one of the café tables his master installed him at, and gave a dog’s sigh, as he anticipated two hours of tango music. How patient he seemed! Dog and master, both entirely in black….how tango, how appropros. But it was dance time and this was a working dog, having his break. It was his master’s turn to take the floor. Austin yawned and settled in.

At the switch partner time, I got Michael, finally. He introduced himself and I found his first language was English, rather than French, which I actually prefer for whatever reason. Although I am fluent in French, I somehow prefer the incognito berth I have, gliding around in a second language. I am quieter as my French self - I am nicer.

 “How do you do?” he said, I am Michael". And then music started and we were off.

Michael moved in a very studied, deliberate way. He held me closer than the other men, and his cues, as far as the movement of other dancers went, was different. He never, ever, once collided with another couple nor bumped me into someone else. Other dancers do; it happens -  but Michael had a true sixth sense about that.  I began to trust him more, knowing we would be ok. Sometimes, I caught him smile as we executed one step or another without a mishap. We tried more and had more success. “Are you a dancer?” he asked. “I mean, do you dance aside from tango? I can feel it in how you carry yourself ” I was pleased he noticed.

"It's in your posture, your carriage. I can feel it in your shoulders when I lead you", he added.
You have....grace.

The instructor stopped the class to offer more counsel. Michael rested his hand on one of my shoulders. I learned he preferred to always keep physical contact with his partners, whether they were dancing at the moment or not. But that is the way at times, with the blind - they like the constant touch and proximity and being near him reminded me of  my childhood in a way - hovering near my grandmother, anticipating her.

I got very accustomed to Michael’s style of lead. In a strange way, he became my guide dog or I became his -tango's version. I never moved away from him if we had been dancing, and the teacher was talking;  there was always some part of our bodies that touched the other. Anywhere else, with anyone else and that could be perceived as a pass, but in dance, especially tango, it is not. Certainly with Michael it was as natural as breathing. One day I was standing near him but not too close as I was not his partner on that occasion. But he turned and said “Marcy, is that you?” I said yes, and kissed him hello on both cheeks, oddly, mildly ashamed I had not made my presence known and greeted him earlier on. “How did you know?” I asked him.

“Oh, that is easy. Your scent. You always smell like lilacs or lily of the valley or you have one other scent – something with jasmine and roses. It is easy to know you” he smiled, ‘even when you are two yards away. I could pick you out like a flower on the dance floor, he chuckled. Ah, I thought, this is simply a Man Flirting and I smiled. This was territory I did know. An easy read – no need for guide books on this, I thought and gently elbowed him in response. 

Sometimes I stumbled and Michael would subtly  guide me and it was an inverse equation: blind man leading seeing woman.

When I talk about Michael once in awhile to other people, they say, ah ha, just like that scene in Scent of a Woman. I want to say no – that is movies - pure Hollywood but if that is an image that makes Michael real to them and inspires them that is ok. I like Al Pacino fine but he is an actor.  And real tango versus Pacino acting tango is as different as opening a bank account is to starting a new business. Worlds apart.

I saw Michael some other times after that session and occasionally I see him at tango evenings and other tango schools. I dance with a lot of men and have many other partners as we all do. When a partner of mine has a hard time or the dance floor is particularly traffic-filled, and we bump and collide with other couples, I fob it off. That is how it is handled by any of us – it happens.  But inside I muse, in the kindest of ways, Michael was blind and yet he guided me perfectly.  He trusted that other dancers would not crash into him; he trusted his own dancing and sense of direction, gleaned from his other four senses. He led me without faltering, out from his own inner, uniquely lit world into a dark one. Michael trusted it would just be alright. And it was. And we were.

 At the end of the evening, other tango dancers would bring Michael a glass of water and a bowl of water for his dog. Hugs goodbye and a pat for Austin and Michael, accompanied by another student dancer, would leave. I wondered how he got home until I saw one of the other dancers that knew him well hail a cab for him outside. He got in and I assume, went home or perhaps off to friends. I liked seeing the other tango dancer turn tanquero into helpmate. It showed me another dimension of them as well - the humanity part.

At any rate, I liked dancing with Michael. He reminded me of that closeness of spirit I shared with my grandmother. You forget, you know – but it is a bond you have you do not know you have until you encounter another blind person and then you remember in an instant that connection between the sighted and the non sighted. But the other thing about dancing with a blind man is another lesson entirely. The thing is, and I should know this having lived with a blind person, but more so, for having danced with one: some people just have this inner compass that guides them. You worry for them but they are fine. It's you that you should worry about.

In the end, in tango, as it turns out, you do not always have to see to lead. You just have to know what you are about. You do not have to even have to be blessed with sight to know where you are going.  I mean in the end, tango, much like life, is about a hunch about direction. You give it a shot. Then you put one step in front of the other. From a distance, it looks like dancing. From a greater distance, it looks like a straight line. Two people, doing this in tandem, doing it well - now that, is quite the vision.

From Tango Confidential Marcy Goldman 2008 ©

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