That Fear of Falling

The other night at the milonga a couple near me fell to the floor. I heard them before I saw them: a heavy thud and a gasp that rippled out across the room as people sensed a disturbance in the tango force. Behind me I saw two bodies where they did not belong. She was sprawled across her partner, her short black dress hiked up even higher over her thick thighs, revealing her black lace underwear. Their arms and legs were splayed out, tangled in each other. While I had imagined it many times – usually with me as the protagonist – I had never witnessed such a sight.

Other dancers were already reaching down to help them up. Awkwardly, the two dancers made their way back to vertical, smoothing out their clothes, brushing themselves with their hands, as if to rid themselves of the floor karma.

It was shocking to see a couple go down, actually go down, and end up flat on the floor. We all lose our balance sometimes but somehow avoid disaster and I personally love to play in that space where one could go down… but doesn’t. But I hadn’t fully imagined what really losing control would look like – until then.

It wasn’t pretty.

My greatest fear as a dancer is not being able to dance because of an injury. I’ve renounced numerous sports that I love – skiing, horseback riding – to extend my dancing life as long as possible. But right up there on the fear scale must be falling down splat in the middle of a crowded milonga.

On the face of it, the two cannot be compared: one is dance threatening; the other merely a hefty dose of social ridicule. And yet, against all logic, they feel equally painful to me.

I break a lot of the codes of the traditional tango scene: I take novice tango dancers on the dance floor so they can get a taste; I dance with men; I let women lead me; I don’t mind a milonguera inviting me to dance; I even – oh heresy! – prefer to dance to non-traditional music. But I realize that there is one thing that is sacred and it is balance.

It is fun and even charming to push the limits of the dance. It is fun to defy conventions and gravity. All that is good… just so long as you don’t lose your balance.

Balance in dance is life itself. There is a sense of ecstasy in the movement when all the world would have you crumpled on the floor, in abject submission to gravity. Every moment that we somehow remain in the air, is a pure delight. But when you lose your balance – physically or emotionally – it is a little taste of death.

Of course, all in dance is metaphor: falling is a taste of death but not death itself. And if you are worried about that couple that fell, they are okay. They brushed themselves off and got right back at it.

Such is the game of the dance.

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