A Nervous Dance Over Evita's Success The Movie Revives The Pain Of The Last Tango In High School.

Posted: February 06, 1997

Madonna's latest flick is packing 'em in and has even achieved a ``two thumbs up,'' but it still seems a safe bet that the tango isn't going to replace the lambada any time soon. I'm not talking some middle-aged, Marlon Brando metaphor. I'm talking the real thing: the classic Argentinean dance that first gave legs to Eva Peron.

As it happens, I can tango. But it has never brought me pleasure. It started in the fifth grade, when my mother signed me up for ballroom dancing lessons. Every Saturday morning I had to put on wool pants and a clip-on tie and pretend I was at a tea party with a dozen equally reluctant, though infinitely more poised, little girls - excuse me, I meant young ladies - in their white gloves and chiffon dresses.

We began with wedding dances. The waltz. The fox trot. And, this being '50s Chicago, the polka. But the teacher fancied herself leader of the neighborhood avant-garde, and so we moved quickly on to Latin dancing - the rhumba, mambo, samba, cha-cha, and, of course, the tango.

I don't know why or how, but I was the only boy who could remember the different steps, which meant that I always had to demonstrate with the teacher. If I stood on tiptoes I could almost see over her shoulder, that line of sight being crucial to executing the rhumba without slipping.

Of course, the price of clear vision was an unbearable strain on the muscles in my instep, which caused cramps in my metatarsal arch that I still feel whenever I hear the rhythmic beat of maracas or see I Love Lucy reruns.

Well, the dance class ended and there were blessedly few opportunities to mambo in middle school, but then came the homecoming dance my freshman year. The band specialized in the Twist and the Pony, but just after the first intermission they announced that ``someone has requested a tango,'' and they launched into an awkward rendition of ``Hernando's Hideaway.''

Trust me, it wasn't my request. But compelled by an incomprehensible impulse, I took my date's hand and led her through the spins, dips and turns of the only tango that gymnasium would ever experience. Not another person was dancing. All eyes were on us. The music ended; I waited for applause. You know, like Frankie and Annette might get after a hot number.

Instead, there was laughter, and lots of it. My date was stoic, but she politely insisted that we leave early.

It took years to live that down. To this day I flinch when I hear flamenco guitar, and I can't eat paella. But I'll be all right, as long as gaucho jackets and bolo ties don't make a sudden fashion comeback. So, as you might guess, I've been following the success of the film Evita with great apprehension. I figure I'm safe at least until the Academy Awards. In the meantime, don't cry for me - Argentina.

Steven Lubet is a law professor at Northwestern University.

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