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tango lessons, 1959

Wednesday night tango lessons! They have been a success, and Gesualdo is a popular instructor despite, or maybe because of, his unsteady command of English. Fourteen couples in the synagogue basement, stepping and sliding, heels clicking on the floor and the men’s shoes stomping, and the slapping of one pair of bare feet. Now the ladies twirl. For the third time, Mitzi misses Ephraim’s hand and swings past him.

“I don’t know what I’m doing wrong!”

“Let us see you to dance again, this the step number three,” Gesualdo says. “It is the step the more difficult.”

Ephraim and Mitzi try again. Ephraim, a meticulous dresser, is in an all-black ensemble of silk shirt, flared pants and pointed shoes. He clutches his wife’s hand, then spins her. Again she misses, this time almost falling forward.

“It’s my boobs, they throw me off balance.”

Gesualdo, hand up to his chin, carefully evaluates the source of the trouble. Then he looks down.

“You are . . . descalza, no shoes, angle diferente, so you can move the hips the more. Swing like this.” The recent Spanish immigrant gives an exaggerated sway of his pelvis. “Like Señor Presley.” At this everyone laughs.

Mitzi, brow knitted uncertainly, undulates her hips. Her breasts wobble then come to rest, then rise up as she inhales. She starts the step with Ephraim, and it works. The exaggerated pelvic swing and sway makes it easier to find him again, compensating for the unavoidable swing and sway above.

“Good!” Gesualdo goes to the record player. “Now the music again. . . Not Elvis!” He smiles at the laughs.

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