“Judges, couple 239 is now on the floor. Competitors, your next dance is the Tango.”
Already out of breath, we take the floor. It’s been a whirlwind of airports, hours, and frantic phone calls to get here–we’re just happy to have caught any of our heat at all. As we take our place on the floor something feels out of place. I reach into my back pocket, take out the offending object, and toss it on the nearest table. The music swells, I invite, and we’re off across the floor.
We’re an interesting sight, I in my grey jeans and casual button-down, Tijen in a simple dress, cardigan, and riding boots. Ballgowns spin past us as we tango, a bit chicken-legged, around the corner. “Go boots!” someone nearby cries as we strike promenade three quarters of the way down our second long wall. It catches, and we hear it several more times. The adrenaline pumping through my brain keeps me entirely in the moment, managing modifications where Tijen’s boots limited slide or spin while still focusing on the presentation of a calm and collected performance. We roll out and find ourselves presenting to more smiles and applause than we are used to.
Now, in the precious seconds between dances, a thought grazes my mind: The judges must weigh our suggestion of unflappability and raw, unadorned movement against the polished and properly clad dancers twirling by us. Would we make the final on only three of four dances? Perhaps more importantly, would it be fair?
I see the scenario playing out in several ways. Perhaps the judges will feel sorry for us and give us marks we don’t deserve. Perhaps, on the other hand, they think we’re late due to poor planning and look to other couples for callbacks. Perhaps they’re utterly unfazed by it all and go about their judging duties as they would in any other round. Perhaps–and this may be the best line of thinking–the degrees to which different factors may weight a judge’s stylus towards one number or another are best left to conjecture. I digress.
The foxtrot and viennese are one long blur. We spin, we kick, we drive through those dances, managing as best we can, fighting for every scrap of elegance we can muster. “Go boots!” rings out a few more times and it is over. We come off of the floor beaming, eager to await our fate at the callbacks screen, unsure if we should begin changing now just in case.
A competition official jogs around the floor, now occupied by some teacher-student latin couples, and takes my arm excitedly: “239, you made the final, you have 5 heats, go and get changed!”
A new fire in our eyes, we dash off to the changing rooms.
As I tug my dance pants out of my bag and hurriedly glance at the clock, the day’s events rush back to me. We arrived at the airport in plenty of time, waited patiently at the gate, and dutifully scanned our boarding passes, only to be stopped short of boarding by this announcement: a plane is burning on the runway at O’Hare, and all flights in have been halted indefinitely. We wait.
Eventually we do board our plane and take off, only to land 15 minutes before our Pre-champ smooth heat is about to run. We frantically contact all of our friends already there, begging them to hold our heats as long as they can. They can push it off, they say, but only so long. A nerve-wracking wait at the shuttle and a quick sprint into the ballroom leaves us where this story picked up, walking onto the floor for tango.
Back at the competition, the crash from our massive adrenaline boost and effects of zero warm up time show in the final. Our routines feel disconnected here and there and several transitions go quite roughly. Though our performance is presentable overall, it’s not what we could have done with adequate warm-up and preparation. Still, we’re happy to be there and on the floor with our friends and we take our place in the 8-couple line and receive 5th, better than we’d hoped for in our debut at Pre-champ. We tell our story several times to friends and share our happiness at having made the heat at all, let alone the final. We also thank our competitors for their grace in allowing the heat to be pushed back nearly 45 minutes in order to give us a chance to dance.
Our dancing done for the night, we return to our bags, tossed so carelessly aside in the rush to get on the floor and then torn apart in the glee of dressing for the final, to retire to our rooms. Just before leaving, a smiling woman stops me and presents a small, navy blue booklet. Recognition dawns across my as she says, “I thought you may want your passport back.”
Sure enough, the burden of my back pocket has found its way back to me. I sincerely thank her as we exit the ballroom, off to prepare for watching the night show and dancing the next day.
If you’d like to see a video of this street-clothed tango, check it out!