How the tango helped one woman heal after her divorce.
The morning after I learned about my husband's affair, I woke up at sunrise on our living room couch, still dressed in jeans, still stunned. I couldn't quit thinking about how the past few months with my husband had been a lie. The future I had imagined and hoped for—a child, a house—had been shattered. I sunk into an abyss, between lies of the past and the pain and disappointment that lay ahead of me. MyDaily: I'm Happy Married, But I Still Dream About My Ex
I had liked being married. I felt more at peace. I loved the idea of sharing my life with another person. But this was a deal-breaker for me, and now I needed a plan, a goal, something to replace the loss and emptiness I felt. My husband and I had meant to attend our friends' wedding near Buenos Aires. We had danced salsa together and in passing discussed taking tango lessons before the trip. I decided to learn the Argentine tango and travel there without him.
Initially, I just wanted to see people dancing the tango. That first night out at a social, the music played right to me—the melodies and harmonies of the violin, flute, guitar, bandoneon and piano mourned the inescapable pain of betrayal. I knew that tango understood my broken heart.
I spotted a man I had known from salsa dancing. Marcel. He insisted I dance with him.
"Hey, where's your husband?" he asked.
Tears welled up in my eyes. "It's over," I told him.
"I've been divorced," he answered. "I'm sorry. It's awful." Then he took me in his arms and helped me with the tango embrace.
As he pulled me to him, I felt warmth from his upper torso go straight into me—my chest, my solar plexus, my stomach —and the leaden feeling inside of me softened. I could feel the dark, gaping hole, the deadness I felt since learning of my husband's affair, and I let the heat coming from this man fill that void.
The second song started and I became aware of Marcel's arms around me: One pressed into my hand and kept the circle of connection but it was the other arm I really felt, the one wrapped around my back that held me to him and made me feel secure and cared for. I started to sense his pulse and, for a moment, with my chest pressed against his, I felt all the good intentions of the human heart.
After the dance, he explained to me, "It takes a village to make a tango dancer." Then he suggested different studios and teachers.
I quickly realized that the only time I didn't feel bad was when I was dancing tango, and so I disappeared in to the tango hole. This meant answering "no" to invitations for dinner parties, cocktail hours and theater tickets. Instead, several evenings a week, I attended a dance class, followed by a practice; at times I went to private lessons. Learning tango is not easy, but soon I was going out to social dances, or milongas.
Through dancing, my spirits started to boost. Any exercise that gets your blood pumping lifts your mood. As the heart rate increases, the brain starts to stimulate the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine, all of which work to shake depression. These feel-bad battlers also encourage your body to create endorphins, which make pain go away and replace it with euphoria.
Human touch, our first language, breaks through our isolation and relaxes us: Our pulse slows and muscle tension softens. When civilians, or non-dancers, can't quite understand why some people want to dance every night, my explanation is that dance is highly addictive, and tango even more so.
When the time arrived for me to go to Buenos Aires, I still wasn't a tango dancer and I hadn't fully recovered. I realized, as I wound my way through the crooked, cobblestone streets, that I searched this city for something the tango promised: a lessening of the grief, a segue from lost love into acceptance. In the full light of day, it was business as usual for the Argentines, but like a shadow, tango was always there; I passed by stores with dance shoes and cafes where the occasional tango melody floated onto the sidewalk.
There's a term, "mufarse," in the local dialect of lunfardo, that carries the cadences and nuances of longing. Mufarse is the melancholic pleasure that comes from surviving the shock of heartbreak; it's relief that the worst has passed. This is what I set out in search of at lessons and milongas.
At a woman's styling class, a tango diva announced to us students, "You must love yourself enough to say 'no' to bad dancers." And she added, "Women here get their attitude ready when they are preparing to leave the house. You must be strong and confident on the dance floor."
I thought about her words as I put on my new stilettos, my tango dress. I knew that tango was transforming more than my broken heart. It was a way of approaching life. Fully feeling both good and bad experiences, not shying away from either. MyDaily: Growing Up Clumsy: How I Learned To Accept My Two Left Feet
Later, I took a private lesson in the house of a professional tango dancer. We worked on a few steps, as well as improving my balance. Toward the end of the lesson he ceased instructing and just danced with me. "Close your eyes," he said.
He felt sublime. The confidence that he transferred to me made me feel safe and cared for and valued. By just simply walking and turning, stopping and starting, he led me to places I hadn't been before. There's an expression in tango, "La lleva como dormida," which means, "He leads her as asleep." This is when the follower trusts her leader so completely that she fully relaxes, closes her eyes and reaches a slightly somnambulant, dreamlike state.
While dancing like this with him, I became acutely aware of the scent of his neck, the soothing energy radiating from his chest, his breath that occasional brushed my face. I realized the paradox of the tango; that it was possible to experience the lingering sadness of past heartbreak and the tingle of future romance at the same time. It wouldn't be this man, and maybe it wouldn't be right then, but I knew it was possible.
After I left the lesson, I walked the narrow sidewalks bustling with foot traffic. I passed along city squares where trees arched over the walkways. I knew that I was going to be okay, that I had survived the worst. I felt a shiver of pleasure. MyDaily: Diet Secrets Of A 'Dancing With The Stars' Instructor
Written by Maria Finn for MyDaily
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