I’ve absolutely loved Romantica Milonguera ever since I first came across them, so leapt at the chance to see them when they made their first ever visit to London. They were doing two live sets during a milonga, with recorded music the rest of the time.
Very few people I knew seemed to be going, so wasn’t expecting to do much dancing, but I was going to be more than happy just viewing it as a live concert …
The milonga was at St Columba church in Knightsbridge, which would be a rather splendid setting at any time, but the atmosphere this evening was amazing.
I like to get to milongas at the start, when the floor is relatively quiet and there’s a chance to walk. That turned out to be a forlorn hope this evening! We were there just after 6pm, when it opened, and there was already a queue out of the doors.
I got my first taste of another important part of Argentine culture: empanadas! For anyone unfamiliar, these are kind of like small Cornish pasties, but smaller and spicier, and absolutely delicious.
We ate these in the practice room, which had the music piped down from upstairs, and was completely empty when we got there! I was really wishing some of my fellow students were there, as it would have been the perfect low-pressure way to dance to the recorded music before the first live set.
Downstairs, in the milonga, there weren’t many chairs – a few reserved ones around the edge, then some rows of open seating at the back. Fortunately we were early enough to snaffle a couple of seats there. Steph usually grumps a bit about turning up early, but she was glad of it tonight.
The band was doing a sound check when we sat down, which was a bit of a tease. They were playing and singing brief sections as the sound people did their stuff.
After that, the recorded music started. Steph offered to dance the first tanda with me. That’s two Saturdays in a row! Either I’m getting better, or Steph’s becoming more tolerant. Personally I’m veering more toward the former theory …
The floor was already crowded, but I’m getting better at coping, and we had an enjoyable tanda with me again employing the ‘lead lots of pivots and let Steph do her stuff’ approach.
I spotted a few of my fellow Tango Space students there. Three followers and a couple of leaders. I danced next with one of the followers – not one of my regulars, but still a relaxed next step. At least, until we started. I’d led the way to a corner, where we had a little space around us. But as soon as we entered the embrace, someone jumped in front of us. Then another couple. Then another. Then another. And, yes, one more. No exaggeration: five extra couples before we could take a single step! Which we then couldn’t for quite some time while we waited in the newly-formed line.
I led some side steps, circular rebounds and then finally room for some circular steps before we could actually walk a little. It was crowded throughout, but my ‘dancing in small spaces‘ skills are coming along now, and I didn’t feel pressure except when people veered wildly from the inner ronda to the outer one.
It was super hot in the room. It was a warm evening anyway, and with hundreds of people in the room, the air-conditioning was definitely not coping! One of the fire exits was open, so I headed out to get some fresh air and cool down. Quite a few others had the same idea. In the end, I decided to remain out in the cool air until it was time for Romantica Milonguera to do their first live set.
The first live set
When I first started this tango lark, I was faithfully promised there are more women than men in tango. That has rarely been the case in class, and it’s not infrequently the other way around. Same with the Tuesday milongas, as those are mostly populated by students from the classes.
But tonight it was definitely true.
I’m generally reluctant to cabeceo random women at milongas as I don’t want them to be disappointed by my level. However, once the live music started, Steph pointed to a group of women in their late 40s to 50s who were looking keen. She said that too many men just go for the younger women, not thinking about the time older women have put in and the skill level they likely have as a result. Which means a lot of really good followers end up doing way less dancing than they’d like. So although they were almost guaranteed to be far better dancers than me, they would probably still appreciate an invitation.
This turned out to be excellent advice. I cabeceo’d one woman standing at the edge of the floor, and it quickly became apparent she was an amazing dancer. When I lead a pivot and waited, she was doing all kinds of double-time decorations and things I didn’t even recognise. I was just constantly smiling at her inventiveness and musicality, and she also gave clear signals of when she was ready for me to lead the next move, waiting for me as I’d waited for her.
It was such fantastic fun. Although my dance was simple, she could count on me to lead both steps and pivots to the beat, and that clearly gave her the freedom to do double-time stuff both during a step and a pivot. For her part, I think she appreciated a leader who was happy to give her all the opportunity she wanted for her own dance; certainly she was smiling a lot too.
As it was a live set, there were no cortinas. I was delighted to keep dancing with her, but after what I think was the sixth song I wondered whether she might want to dance with someone else. I told her I was happy to continue but didn’t want to monopolise her if she wanted to dance with others. “Let’s dance one more,” she said. I thanked her profusely afterwards for making me feel like a far better dancer than I was.
I even got a souvenir photo of the endless tanda.
I had a similar experience with the next follower. She wasn’t quite in the same league as my previous follower, but was again way better than me, and again able to take advantage of me employing my Follower’s Liberation approach.
The next song turned out to be a milonga. “Do you dance milonga?” she asked. I told her yes, but the most basic one imaginable – “lots of rebounds.” She told me that was fine.
It turned out to be an incredibly fast milonga! I wasn’t sure I could lead it at full speed, so led the first song at half-speed. At the end of the song, my follower said I could lead it full-speed. I wasn’t convinced, but said I was willing to try if she was willing to risk her toes. After an initial false-start, slipping accidentally into half-time, I paused, led some full-speed weight-changes, then said ‘Ok!’ and went for it.
It worked! At that speed, there was no time to even think about what I was going to do. All I could do was find an empty space, take a step in that direction and repeat. As I had no idea before I led a step which direction I was going to go, I was astonished that she could follow me perfectly. I did a mix of rebounds, forward steps and side-steps – with the occasional back-step when I was certain there was room. It was a huge amount of fun!
The final milonga of the set was the same, and I similarly thanked her for making me feel at least twice as good as I am.
By the end of that one, I was feeling like I could do anything! I cabeceo’d another woman without even thinking about it, and again had a really nice dance.
When the live set ended, I was really, really hot! I found Steph and we headed back outside to cool off. We again stayed out until a few minutes before the live set was due to start.
The second live set
I won’t do the blow-by-blow, partly because this blog post would go on forever and – much as I’m still buzzing – I do need to go to bed at some point. (I always backdate blog entries so they show up with the correct date, but I’m writing this at 1am.) But also partly because, in truth, by now everything was starting to blur together.
I do remember a lovely vals. I don’t attempt anything fancy in those, just try to ensure that I’m expressing the 3/4 signature, and keeping a flowing feeling. A lot of the time I’m doing no more than circular rebounds and three steps and a weight change. That particular follower didn’t do any embellishments (I’m not sure there’s the same opportunity without pauses anyway), but we felt so perfectly in sync, the lead was totally effortless. It just felt like we both decided to do the same thing at the same time.
I don’t mean absolutely everything about the evening was perfect. There was some … interesting floorcraft at times. And I don’t mean that my own was perfect: there were times when my follower tightened her embrace or otherwise signalled that I was trying to lead a step that would bring us into conflict with another couple – another benefit of a highly skilled follower. Not everything I led worked. But mostly when it didn’t I was able to follow my follower. There was one time when we somehow got out of sync and I had to pause, lead some weight changes and set off again. But 99% of it was fantastic!
I’d been chatting with someone earlier about how much tango had changed me (a topic for a future blog entry!). I’ve gone from a typical British bloke who hugged only the closest of friends to someone who hugs rather casually, for example, and the heat of the room prompted mention of another change; sweat! The idea of getting physically close to someone who was sweating would not have been high on my list of desirable activities outside of the obvious exception. But in tango you frequently do, and in that room, we absolutely were! And I was fine with it.
My final dance was with another fellow Tango Space student. (Would you believe another M?) She’s from the intermediate class, but was someone who offered me encouragement very early in my tango journey, and I’d told her that anytime she wanted to dance with me, just ask. Which she did.
She’s again a lovely dancer, and did plenty of embellishments. She knows the music very well. I’d been doing really well at ending songs properly – not with anything fancy, but recognising the ending at least a beat or two in advance so I could, at minimum, bring things to a stop. With M, however, I was somehow missing the endings. Her knowledge of the music, however, came to the rescue. She back-led me to a halt a couple of times, resulting in laughter from both of us, and in the final song of the live set, which slowed before the ending, I just led a pivot and followed her to the end.
When the band finished, the entire room absolutely insisted on an encore, and almost everyone decided simply to watch and listen rather than dance. As we were right by the stage, we did the same.
Returning to recorded music would have been a terrible anti-climax after that, and I felt that if I did any more dancing I was going to be more liquid than solid, so we called it a night. I stopped off in the lobby to buy a CD. I don’t really do CDs – all my music is digital, and most of it is streamed these days – but vocalist Roberto Minondi was signing them, so I decided it had to be done. I told him it had been stunning and I hoped they’d be back in London again; he said he hoped so too.
And with that, it was back into the streets of Knightsbridge. As we walked, I check the rulebook with Steph. Yes, I was told, you can have a whole-evening tangasm. So it is official: I did.