The Dairy Queen Tango Meets Lord of the Dance
It’s almost St. Patrick’s Day which triggers me to bake copious batches of lovely soda bread. It’s not whimsy; my day job is as a professional baker and cookbook author that also happens to adore Irish soda bread. Who couldn’t adore it? Big, rustic rounds, redolent of buttermilk, organic whole-wheat flour, some gorgeous, plump raisins, a nob of sweet butter, all waiting to be enjoyed in hearty hunks alongside marmalade or a Guinness-laced Irish stew. And St. Pat’s always makes me recall, with no little pleasure, my most memorable St. Pat’s Day.
As St. Pat’s approached a few years ago, I mentioned to my tango friends that I was making soda breads as gifts. Most of my tango-mates had never heard of Soda Bread and I happily explained my pet recipe.
Jean-Michael, my (then) partner, perked up and began to wax lyrical about soda breads. Here was this part Franco-phone, part Argentinean, ultra-macho tanguera that knew about soda breads! In fact, he confessed he was beyond a fan of this wonderful bread; he was a true soda bread aficionado. I found that charming. Perhaps I will surprise Jean-Michel next week with real soda bread, I thought.
As next week’s tango class began however, Jean-Michel, a rather good dancer albeit a perfectionist was in one of his more moody of moody moods. He became increasingly annoyed as another tango fellow revealed a chronic, nasty habit of looking at his own feet as he led his partner. Consequently and with alarming constancy, he bumped (hard!) into everyone on the dance floor. An otherwise nice man, Paulo was generally an adequate partner but a virtual terror on a crowded dance floor. That evening, head bowed as he led his partner around the dance perimeter, he did his bumper car routine once too many times for Jean-Michel’s tolerance. Around the third bump and nudge, without warning, the simmering Jean-Michel hauled off and neatly slugged the other man, dragging me with him in one clean sweep and making Paulo and his partner, Giselle totter and almost fall over! Other dance couples leaped to help them avoid hitting the floor. I was aghast — and caught between apologizing to the other couple and maintain some modicum of loyalty to my own partner. Everyone who saw it was shocked. Tango is a contact sport but it generally does not involve full body checking. Unbelievably, the tense moment was gotten past, but not without sulky angry looks the rest of the night, incredulity from everyone else, and the occasional hissing comments from the two men as we two couples danced by each other.
Well, I thought — forget about the soda bread plan! That man does not deserve soda bread, I thought, among other far less polite things. How uncivilized, how gauche — for I am nothing if not allergic to temper. But as the week went on, I mellowed. A soda bread could not be a bad thing; stuff happens, feelings settle. Maybe it is Pulp Fiction tango guy stuff.
So on tango class day next, I relented, baked and brought beautiful soda bread with me. Still warm from the oven, perched on its baking sheet. I gave it to Jean-Michael as soon as I arrived. He actually teared up. Now that is the power of the Irish baking. I was pleased I had decided to make it after all — rather than withhold the gift. The better road was the higher road and Jean-Michel’s unadulterated pleasure was my reward.
A mercifully uneventfully tango class ended and feeling the winter-ending, spring-on-its-way dusky air, I decided it was post-tango Dairy Queen nights. In fact, the DQ had opened just that day for the new season. It was an evening that called for hot chocolate fudge sundae with raspberries. Jean Michel asked to tag along.
So we sat in the Dairy Queen at the café tables, the only people in the place, and we chatted about tango over ice cream and chunks of soda bread. Jean-Michel remarking on the newly laid marble floor in the Dairy Queen terrace where we sat — now empty of patron except us two. I thought nothing of his observation — dancers are always looking at floors and considering their dance worthiness.
Then all too soon, the lights began to dim, and the young man who had served us, now began his rituals of closing up the shop and stacking the café chairs on the tables. I reached for my coat and my purse. Just as we were just about to leave, and only a few ambience lights were left on, spattering out tiny sprays of light on that marble floor, Jean-Michel asked for my coat and purse. Perplexed — I handed him the items, which he cavalierly threw over the chair backs. He beckoned in one gesture, drew me into his arms, and hummed a familiar tango tune, struck a dramatic tango pose, and then whisked me away. We swirled, dipped, ducked, and tripped the light fantastic, to the low growl of the ice-cream compressor and to the awestruck stare of the young man, who simply leaned on his mop, and watched us tango.
”Told you this was a great floor to dance on’, Jean-Michel smiled into my hair, as we covered at least more one mini acre and caused our audience of one to widen his eyes into pure astonishment.
Somebody pinch me, I thought. My life just became a movie.
Better yet, it was one of those times where I followed seamlessly. I hadn’t time to protest, resist or otherwise balk. We ended in one of those hovering tango poses that is stiller than statues and then dissolved, the outlines of our bodies dispersing again into the air and atmosphere, leaving shadow version dancers of us, lingering in our own reality wake and a run-off of tango heat to warm up the ice-cream compressors who hummed their ovation.
Done, coat and purse handed back, we waved goodbye to the gaping young man and his (own) mop partner. Into the streetlight glow we went, where along with some mist from the pavement, it had begun lightly snowing again. I could hear the dim music of Michael Flatley and swear I saw an impish leprechaun tango down the misty street.
As each snowflake melted on my face, it occurred to me how many perfect conversations take place without a word ever being spoken. Plus it’s always a good thing to judge less and bake more. There but for the grace of fresh Irish soda bread, fragrant of dusty whole-meal wheat and pungently sweet sultanas, I might never have had that experience on that mellow March night and my evening might have ended with a solo fajita ejected from the window of McDonald’s drive-thru.
I attribute this stellar interlude-turned-memory to the moonlight, spring fever, and what a little tango can do. But I also owe it to soda bread and the dual charms of the Irish and the village baker who danced tango.