“Your face looks like a gravedigger’s while dancing”, a friend told me. I remember the occasion well, a crowded night in De Duif in Amsterdam. The woman I danced with was wearing an intoxicating perfume. I wanted to enchant and impress her with a subtle, yet surprising connection. The stone floor sagged into one corner, causing a weird sensation of drunkenness. The risk of bumping into other couples was high, so it required extreme concentration and my face was showing it. “You’re supposed to enjoy dancing,” my friend said, “and possibly inform your face about it.”
Isn’t it wonderful to have friends who tell you the truth. I had never given much thought to my facial expression while dancing. Her observation made me quite self-conscious. “I was focusing,” I explained to her. “A smile finds its way to the dance always,” she assured me. “How’s that possible? Dance partners can’t see my face,” I said. “Oh, they know how you feel without seeing it,” she laughed. “And let’s not forget all the dancers sitting on the side. They’re wondering what your face will show when you’re dancing with them.” I got the message. Who wants to dance with a gravedigger?
I studied the faces of leaders in the milonga. A dazzling plethora of options became available. Some danced Zombie-like, with a wide-eyed gaze. Others stared intently at some point in the distance, stone-faced, like a killer in a movie. A teacher told me tango couples face each other during the dance and I remembered with horror the plastic smiles of ballroom dancers. However, some tango leaders indeed continuously made eye contact with their partners, with a frozen grin on their lips. I tried looking at my partners more often too, but it made me even more self-conscious. “I shouldn’t care what people think or say about my face when I’m dancing”, I told my friend. “My face feels all contorted like Munch’s.”
We exchanged notes on maestros’ facial expressions. “Chicho’s is indifferent. He doesn’t care”, I said. “Noelia always seems slightly amused. Carlito has this dreamy Cheshire cat smile.” “Isn’t it all part of their performance?”, she speculated. “When they make a mistake, they laugh as if it’s all just great fun.” None of those performers looked like a Zombie, a killer, or a gravedigger, though. I probably should model myself after them. But weren’t we mere social dancers? “Are there different expressions for a vals, a tango, or a milonga?” I asked. “Sure,” she said. “And a different face for a d’Arienzo, a Troilo or a Di Sarli. Your face fits the music and the mood, I suppose.”
This was all years ago, and I eventually forgot about the whole thing. My face looked the way it looks, so what? Some things a man just must accept. But the whole episode came back to me, during a recent encuentro, when a couple came up to me saying “We’ve had so much fun looking at you dance, smiling all the time, you have such a comical expression!” The way they said it, it was hard to know what to think about it. “That’s not so bad”, I thought. “First a gravedigger, now a clown.”
Published: 3 Jun 2023 @ 10:45