I wish I had a river that I could skate away on.
I wish I had a river so long that I could teach my feet to fly. Joni Mitchell
We are an ice people, a people whose consciousness and psyche have been crystallized with the cyclical freezing of our rivers and lakes and liberated by the feeling of gliding effortlessly and endlessly across a pond or along a river, as light as a snowflake driven by the wind. As a child growing up on the shore of Lake Superior, I lived or dreamed this euphoric, expansive experience twelve months of the year.
This sensation came back to me this summer during my brief foray into the Montreal International Tango Festival while watching the endless, rhythmic flow of dancers over the large outdoor patio with the majestic Saint Lawrence River as a backdrop. As they floated effortlessly, weaving in and out of the line of dance, each with their own style, rhythm, and tempo, they evoked for me those formative childhood experiences of weightlessness and freedom, skating over a crystal channel, mirroring the flow of the river beneath.
This, apparently, is not the vision of Argentine tango that my devoted teachers try to instill into this weathered, frost-bitten brain. I remember vividly - and fondly - Alicia Pons' passionate plea to her Edmontonian students this spring to never ever under any circumstances pass someone on the dance floor. She made a very reasoned and impassioned defense of tango as a social construct that we create in community by adhering to these constraints. Every dance couple, every move, every pause by the person in front and press by the person behind is an integral part of the fabric of the dance. If one steps out of line and passes the couple in front instead of waiting patiently, then one has ripped the social fabric of the dance asunder.
Out of respect to Alicia's experience and leadership in the international tango community, I determined to follow her directive. The next milonga in Edmonton that I attended was held in a hall with a dance floor as wide as a prairie river. This certainly was not the tight physical constraints that one finds at an Argentine milonga, where people are squeezed in so tightly that dancing in series is an absolute prerequisite to preventing severe injury or a mob riot.
As I watched people flow in and out at their own speed doing whatever felt right, dancing in their own little bubble without much thought and attention to others around them, my resolve to wait for the dolt in front taking way too much time trying to impress his partner, dissolved. Instinctively, I broke out from the line of dance, skating away just as if I was back in Northwestern Ontario. Inspired by the spirit of freedom and expansiveness and buoyed by the music and the embrace of my partner, I took off for open ice, resolving never to return until we tumbled into the snowbank at the river's edge and I kissed her on her frostbitten cheek.
Certainly there are perversions to this skating/ dance metaphor like the speed skater who zips around the dance floor like it was a time-triaI or the tangero-hockey player who seems to invite collissions, throwing a hip-check whenever someone gets close. These are to be discouraged.
But I wonder how many Canadians who like me learned to skate before they learned to read and write, retain within that instinctual motion of push and glide, spinning, cutting, faster, further, without constraints and limits. And whether this can ever be distilled out of us. Or if it should be.
I for one, carry this awareness deep within wherever I go, even to tango. And in some ways, especially to tango.
Tango Interludes - blog #4, Aydan Dunnigan, 06.09.2013