A few years ago, Chris came back from a trip to South America, raving about an impromptu tango evening she had been taken to by her hosts. “There were all shapes and sizes, young and old,” she said. “The men came up and asked me to dance. I didn’t know I could do it but they led brilliantly and made me feel so graceful.”
My own terpsichorial repertoire being limited to headbanging and a rather pale imitation of John Travolta, I let her comment pass. But when she followed up in the next few weeks by renting DVDs of Sally Potter’s The Tango Lesson and of Al Pacino strutting his stuff in Scent of a Woman, I took the hint and booked a half-day tango lesson for us both as a surprise birthday present.
Sadly, my two left feet combined with Chris’s absolute refusal (in practice, if not in theory) to allow me to lead her anywhere, left us both frustrated and footsore. Nevertheless, we bought some fancy tango shoes and determined to give it another go. A couple of sessions later, however, the reality of my incompetence on the dance floor overcame any remaining Strictly Come Dancing fantasies.
We put away our tango shoes for good. “Well, at least we gave it a go,” said Chris, finding a crumb of comfort in the fact that I had been willing to suffer public humiliation for her benefit.
“I’m not sure those shoes were good for your feet,” was all I could think to say.
But Chris continued to dance with life, through images, ideas, words and deeds. She brought the same playful impulse to her art and her work, making no real distinction between them. She danced with her illness and, in the end, she danced with death.
She understood, as Susan Sontag wrote in Illness as Metaphor (1978) that the metaphors we use to describe our illness come to define us. Wisely, she refused to frame her condition as a battle against cancer. “How can you fight something that is part of yourself?” she once said. “This is about living well and looking after myself; about doing what I love and being myself, whatever the circumstances.”
So instead of fighting her illness, she allowed it to lead her, responding to every improvised step with the verve, intelligence, and spirit of a true tanguera: a mistress of tango.
[Picture: Valente Celle Tomb, Genoa, 1893]