The silhouette of a stiletto glided gracefully across a seafoam floor, like a swan in still water, generating gentle, quiet wakes. Notes of an Italian ballad hung almost visible in the air, controlling the movements of each dancer like the puppet strings of fate. The women held practiced posture, their elongated necks aligning to the stars. A man is now checking out my combat boots. It doesn’t take long to notice I am an outsider.
It is my first night at tango, and I haven’t a clue about the rules of the game. It feels like the adult version of a middle school dance, amped up on the pheromones of sexual energy. Men are waiting on the perimeter, watching the scene, hoping for the right moment to swoop in on a target.
“You invite them with your eyes,” Alessandra explained, as we sat on a black painted wooden cube lined with jackets and discarded drinks. “If you make eye contact, a man can then ask you to dance, but the woman has the choice to say yes or no.”
The friend I came with is lost somewhere inside the scene. All of the women are dressed in tight fitting clothes with strappy high heels, teetering the line of sexuality and class. I am not worried someone will ask me to dance, because I look as elegant as a worn-in recliner on a strangers’ front porch. Comfortable for a weary traveler, but nowhere near desirable. I am content in the concept of my own isolation.
Some sips of a beer later, enters Skillo Spaghetti. He says something to me in Italian. “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Italian,” I reply in a courteous tone. He told me his friend wanted to dance. “I’m sorry, I don’t dance,” I smiled. Marcello Mastroianni’s ghost could not have pulled me onto that floor.
“We don’t dance either,” he exclaimed, nearly ashing a cigarette on somebody else’s shoe. “What do you do?”
“I teach English.”
“Ahhh Madonna! You teach me?
“Maybe, if I have the time.”
Outside of the dance room was quiet room with a bar. I made my way to the less dramatic space and quickly made friends with a barman who Skillo later informed me I should call “Tarzan.”
We were at a cultural center, the home of hundreds of immigrant families of who don’t have a place to stay. The basement of the center hosts a variety of events each month, including the tango night we were attending. They range anywhere from zumba to writing workshops, I observed, as Skillo thrust a calendar into my hands.
“Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,” Tarzan shouted when I returned from a cigarette. I told him he had a good memory. He made a show of disagreeing. Tarzan and Skillo told me the whole operation was illegal. I asked how it was running so successfully. “The police can’t arrest us because we don’t let them in,” skillo beamed, a tiny wrinkle traveling through the star shaped scar situated under his left eye.
We talked politics for awhile, it seems neither of them supported Hilary or Trump. Bernie Sanders was “OK.” They laughed and joked with staff workers who all came from diverse backgrounds. Most who worked here also lived upstairs.
“I want to see you here again,” Skillo said, he was about to go upstairs and take some rest. When I said goodbye, I was reminded of a lot of great people I have met. He had an unwavering personality, a keen interest in life and the people who inhabit it. He was himself with no restraint, and I thought back to my years working in bars and meeting characters of the same fabric. These are the real people. The ones who don’t care how much money’s in your pocket or who you know. They’re the ones who have seen things, not always good, but came out on the other side with a child-like innocence about the nature of man. When I agreed to come to tango, I didn’t know what I was going for. Sometimes life pulls you in the right direction.