Tango and the Art of Motorcycle Riding
by Michele “Mickey” Reutty

On Thursday nights in the village of Maywood, NJ a really nice group of people come together to dance the Tango. Beginners and pros, young and old, they all come to Firehouse Tango. Why call this gathering of tangueros and tangueras- this milonga -“Firehouse Tango”? Do they set the house a-fire with their precision moves? Well, that may well be, but the more truthful answer is they started out meeting in a Firehouse and their membership grew and grew until they had to rent a space at the Knights of Columbus in Maywood, in Bergen County. Actually, I think they are getting so popular, they will have to move to a bigger place again!
  
This is the way a typical night at Firehouse Tango goes:

You come to the meeting wearing leather-soled shoes—this makes it much easier for you to glide across the floor, or, in my case, trip over your partner’s feet as you try an intricate move. But once you are there, you see that you are underdressed for the occasion. This is a time for women to show off their dresses and therefore, their bodies as they sway with the music—some of the dresses sway as they walk through their paces…and some of them cling. And the men are not to be out done—they are just as smart and colorful with their guayaberas (colored, embroidered shirts worn not tucked in) or cashmere turtlenecks or Hawaiian shirts.
  
Anyway-
For $15 you get fed, you get a tango lesson or two and you meet some really, really nice and interesting people.
       
Sue usually buys some prepared entrees to share, but mostly the members are so generous and creative that they bring appetizers, entrees, wine, desserts, etc. And I’m not talking run of the mill--I’m talking tomato salad with homegrown tomatoes, or brisket, the way your momma used to make it; brie and water crackers, birthday cake and semolina bread, crudités and baked ziti. You name it and it’s there on any given Thursday-and it’s a smorgasbord. It is representative of the nationalities of the people who come to dance the milonga.
       
But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

You come in and some hunk takes your name and your info. If you are there to dance and eat, you pay $15. If you are only there to take lessons-$10. You walk through the bar to large wood-floored room where the music is already playing. At 7 sharp, Fran and his lady, Pat, the dance instructors, will be patiently standing there. Usually the music is played by D.J. Joe, Sue’s husband, and there are as many styles of tango music as there are step combinations. Some are orchestral, some feature accordion and violin--all have a background of smoldering sexiness…and yet a tinge of sadness to them...I don’t quite know why. Think of Al Pacino dancing with Gabrielle Anwar in “Scent of a Woman” to the tune “Por Una Cabezza.”
       
People stand in a circle around Fran and Pat, man, woman, man, woman. Everyone will get to dance with everyone, unless a man and a woman state that they are there to dance only with each other. The later case is rare. It usually doesn’t matter who you came with…you can dance or ask to dance with any one, and no one takes offence.tango dancers
       
The first hour is spent in beginner lessons, then the second hour is spent in intermediate lessons. Fran and Pat demonstrate a figure several times. Then the couples practice, while Fran and Pat critique and correct in a way that makes you feel you just might be able to do this.
       
Dinner is served at this time and the floor is open to any and all dancers.
       
It is as much a pleasure to watch an experienced couple dance the tango as it is to see someone who truly is a master at riding a motorcycle. Excellence in most anything is a joy to behold.
       
When you are watching people demonstrating how to perform a dance move, it is usual to watch their feet. In tango, you also watch the body’s attitude. And I watched their faces. The woman, Pat, would look off in to the distance. Not betraying any emotion while dances. Not happiness or boredom or anything other than a blank expression.
       
I asked Pat what she was thinking when she was demonstrating her steps.
       
She said she was “listening with her body.” What a wonderful expression. “Listening with her body.”
               
And so it is when you ride the Blue Ridge Parkway, or the Dragon’s Tail, or the back roads of New Jersey, I realized.

Riding the mountains is like dancing the tango in that you must listen with your body. You adjust your speed, your lean, your breaking according to what the mountain is asking of you. You listen with your body and you respond to the conditions set by the mountain.
       
Mountain CurveOne of the most difficult concepts to grasp in riding a motocycle is “surrendering” to the curve. It goes against a lifetime of training, intuition and good sense. If you lean far enough, you will fall. In cornering on a motorcycle, if you DON’T lean in to a curve, you could be in trouble.

You must gauge your speed, slow down or speed up at the proper time, know when to lean and, according to the road’s camber and your speed, adjust your angle, AND if your bike doesn’t pop up coming out of the curve, you must be able to pull it up and out---and do this all in a matter of split seconds.

In other words, you listen with your body and respond as the moment dictates.
       
In some zen-like manner, when surrendering to the curve, you and the curve and the bike become one.

And if you’re really good, you can dance with the mountains.

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