Last night my best friend and I FaceTimed, tried to do a women’s tango technique class in our living room, which basically sounded like this for an hour:
Me: Can you see my feet?
Her: How about now?
Me: No, turn the other way.
Her: How about now?
We made the class work, joking often about climbing into each other’s camera so that we could take practice embrace to work on our disassociation, but in our cases, my yoga ball and her trash basket had to suffice.
In tango instruction, touch is an essential teaching tool. We may place our palm on a dancer’s hip or tailbone to demonstrate the pelvic tilt that occurs with each step. We may turn a pigeon-toed ankle to correct a common error in dancers. We may lower a dancer’s shoulders and joke that there is no reason for our shoulders to whisper lies into our ears. To teach, we even touch our own bodies to demonstrate a point about balance, relaxation, and breath. On our digital devices, without interpersonal touch, we are nothing but a composite of pixels compressed like sand into sandcastles. We can admire them on our beaches, but they can never fully capture the majestic beauty of castles in England, Portugal, and Germany.
Tango is not the only industry to suffer without touch. On April 1st, I will have to miss my monthly hair appointment. I will miss the way Max massages my scalp while the warm water pools at the top of my head and cascades down my hair. Although I forgot to schedule my 6-month appointment with my dentist, I want to say I’m going to miss the way my dentist jams her fingers into my mouth to floss my teeth and runs her index finger around my gums, but that would be plain crazy. And then there are the pedicurists, manicurists, massage therapists, physical therapists, doctors, nurses, fashion designers, and I dare say, sex workers, all part of a multi-billion dollar touch industry that involves person-to-person contact. This country is about to face a red-alert recession, and employers and employees in the touch industry will be hit the hardest.
At the end of our women’s technique class, my dear friend advised me to try self-hugs. I laughed and replied, “Sweetie, that’s called masturbation and I get plenty of that.” She laughed, but I could see the look of concern on her face, knowing that I live alone. Today, I also received several virtual hugs, which are also quite endearing. Cognitive-behavioral psychologists say that we can imagine sensations, experiences, and narratives in such great detail that in time, we would struggle to tell the difference between truth and fiction. It is this limitation of the human brain that criminal or military investigators exploit during interrogations to obtain a confession. As a thought experiment, I can imagine with all my creative powers and beg the gods of literature to bestow me a narrative so real, where I feel throughout my entire body a tango embrace, two bodies, infusing together like molten silver and platinum into a solitary ring. At that moment, I could plead guilty to the crime of complete surrender. However, no matter how much I convince my brain to impregnate my body, I will never get pregnant. Without touch, it’s all fiction. What is equally true is that without touch, our loved ones stand a fighting chance to survive, which is the ending I want to believe in.