Well, ok, yes, but ‘best night of tango of my year-and-a-bit of dancing’ is a little longwinded and doesn’t quite have the same ring to it …
Despite getting to bed after 3am, I was awake before 7am. Steph began the day Googling for a massage, and landed on The Complete Guide to Sex Massages and Brothels in Buenos Aires, complete with customer reviews. If a guy had claimed he’d landed on that website accidentally …
This was followed by the now-usual sugar-laden breakfast. Even the butter tray here offers a choice of normal butter or a dulce de leche version. The media lunas are mostly sugar. The jams are sugar with a touch of fruit flavouring. And about half the breakfast selection is various forms of sweet pastries. I have an incredibly sweet tooth, but even I can feel my blood slowly turning to treacle.
After that, we had a busy schedule. First, I had a tailor to pay, so I’d transferred a large wodge of cash through the Azimo app, and just needed to collect it. The agency opens at 9.30am and we got there shortly after 10am. No problem, right?
Wrong: the office may open at 9.30am, but they don’t get their daily delivery of cash until 11am. I did successfully collect it later, and handed it over to the tailor who confirmed the linen had arrived and I’d have my first fitting on Tuesday evening, with the second and hopefully final fitting the following day.
We also had time to finally sort the SIM – which was achieved by throwing away the completely useless Moviestar one that no-one can charge, and getting a new Clara SIM which the phone shop managed to activate immediately and charge with 4GB for just over four quid within 15 minutes.
After that, it was time to sample my first class at Steph’s preferred school. It was a 90-minute musicality class, and there was a mix of good and bad news.
The bad news was that the first 30 minutes of it was a lecture. In Spanish. It was on Di Sarli, D’Arienzo, Pugliese and Troilo. The teacher did translate a bit of it into English for my benefit, but that was maybe 5-10% of it. The other bad news was that the last 15 minutes of it was teaching some three-part sequence involving a follower back sacada. The teacher explained it was a very useful and flexible sequence for expressing the music. I could see that was true, but there was zero chance I was going to be able to do it.
There was, however, a lot of good news. First, the class was a tiny: just two leaders, two followers, so it was like a semi-private in terms of personal attention. The other three were all local. Both followers spoke some English, and one of them quite a lot, so she helped with some translations.
Second, there were some really useful solo technique exercises. They were actually a little more than this, as they were also things you can do in the dance. For example, he had us take a step, transfer our weight and then just pause at that point. ‘From here, you can wait, you can go back, you can go forward, you can turn.’ He had us try each of these things to the music. So this kind of thing too is part of the dancing in small spaces secret.
Third, he asked my favourite songs, and all of the dancing and exercises were done to these. I think that was his way of making me feel at home, and it was a lovely gesture.
Finally, the dancing part of the class was a huge confidence boost.
I’d given my usual disclaimer at the start of the class, that I have a very small vocabulary. The teacher waved that away. ‘In a milonga, no-one cares about steps.’ Second, he was very complimentary about my musicality. There was much ‘Bueno’ as he watched, and then afterwards: ‘You walk when you should walk, you pause when you should pause, you turn when you should turn.’
One of the followers echoed this. ‘You’ll pick up more things in time, but you are very musical, this is what matters in the milonga.’
Of course, all of this was to music I love in a decent-size studio with one other couple, so perfect conditions. It is still very much harder when I can’t walk. But I will have some privates during my visit, and dancing in small spaces will be a major focus.
I think my dance is very slow, and it always amazes me when teachers tell me to slow even more. But that is often the feedback I get, and today was no exception. ‘There is never any hurry. You can relax and wait.’
Milonga 2: Neuvo Chique at Casa Galicia
First up on our milonga schedule today was Neuvo Chique at Casa Galicia (above), which started at 4pm. (The Nuevo bit doesn’t refer to tango nuevo, but just that there was apparently a Chique before and it moved or was reborn or something.)
Mindful of yesterday’s experience, I wanted to be there at the start so there was some hope of an empty floor early on. This milonga was recommended by Terry and endorsed by Steph.
It felt like my first grown-up Milonga, with segregated seating, two deep. Tables at the front for the regulars, seats behind for the visiting nobodies. But there were decent sight lines even if the distance was at my limit for eye-contact.
I cabeceod a follower right away, and only realised later that I think she was the teacher from the class before which we’d missed! She was, at any rate, fantastic to dance with. She had this great way of proposing things to me. For example, I led back ochos and then turned it into a front ocho, but before I could lead the step, she did this little tiny rebound back and forth. I waited while she did another, and the second was a bit bigger than the first. At that point, I realised that was indeed a very back-and-forth moment in the music. I took the hint and turned her little rebounds into full forward and back steps before resolving with a front ocho and parada. There were other times she made similar hints, and I gladly took them all. She was very kind in her comments afterwards when she learned I was only just over a year in. Perhaps fishing for a student, but I’ll take it.
I won’t do the tanda-by-tanda thing, but she was the best dance, most of the others were very nice, one was a little disappointing and one was terrible.
The terrible one was a tanda thief! While dancing with Steph (of which more in a moment), she told me the woman in front of her was keen to dance with me. I cabeceod her, we both nodded and I walked across the floor maintaining eye contact with her all the way in the approved fashion. She was about to stand up when the woman behind her told her the cabeceo was for her and practically barged past.
I was so taken aback I didn’t know what else to do but go ahead. However, I have most assuredly learned my lesson! I’m British and therefore afraid of offending, but next time I will do the “Sorry, it was actually for the woman who is probably a much better dancer than you as she doesn’t need to steal other people’s tandas as the only way to get a dance” (possibly not in those exact words). She apparently told Steph afterwards that it was a great tanda; suffice it to say that I did not share her opinion …
One fantastic thing about all this tango on tap is I felt no pressure to dance to music that didn’t grab me. There were tandas I might have danced in London that I sat out. There were more followers than leaders, and I think I could have danced as much as I wanted, but was selective with the music.
I danced two tandas with Steph. I didn’t imagine I would, at one year in, have her write this to mutual friends, least of all at a milonga in Buenos Aires:
Only had four tandas, two of which were with Ben, which were the best of the lot.
She said this was because she really felt like she was dancing with me, not just being led. I think this is an object lesson in the value of leaders learning collaborative dance at as early a stage as possible – you can provide a good dance to a very experienced follower in comparison to much more experienced dancers with technique running through their veins. Even if they are Argentine.
Steph didn’t want to risk over-stressing her foot, so she opted for an early night while I headed out to what I didn’t then know was going to be – to date, anyway – the best night of tango of my life …
Milonga 3: La Maria at Casa Colombo
Technically a practica but really a milonga, this one was recommended by Diego as very friendly and a good level of dancing. I got there at 9pm, just as the class was finishing.
I couldn’t have made the class, which was a shame as it was run by Juampy Ramirez, one of the teachers from last night’s excellent class. Steph is trying to schedule a private with him, while I’m hoping to do the same with his fellow teacher Aurora Lubiz.
The phrase ‘good level of dancing’ can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s a delight to dance with skilled followers. On the other, it makes me fear my dance will be considered too basic. Tonight I need have had no such fears.
I have never before seen a room full of younger dancers – I would say the majority in their 20s to early 30s – dancing so slowly. At least 90% of the dancers there were dancing exactly my kind of dance. Slow, deliberate, simple.
Yes, most were doing more sophisticated giros than mine, with sacadas common, but honestly almost all of what I saw was walking, ochos, giros and paradas. It really was like watching a roomful of more skilled versions of me.
And the music! Oh my god, the music. Romantica Milonguera and Pugliese both featured not just heavily but almost exclusively. Again, it could have been my Spotify ‘most played’ list.
I couldn’t wait to join in. I changed into my shoes and cabeceod someone almost immediately. We then had an absolutely incredible tanda. She was super-skilled, took advantage of every opportunity I presented to dance her own dance – which, if anything, was slower than mine – but also instantly switched back into following the moment I led anything. She made me feel like I was the best leader in the world.
What I was able to lead included … walking! Partly because the floor was relatively empty at this point, as seen in the top photo taken later, but also because the floorcraft was the best I’ve ever seen. Things got very crowded later – at least as much as last night – but I never saw a single collision, and the whole ronda kept moving. I mean, as in able to walk for an entire phrase at a time. This was a roomful of people who loved to walk!
I’m not under any illusions about how things generally work at milongas. Usually there are more followers than leaders, which is how a one-year leader manages to get dances with much more skilled followers. But that didn’t seem to be a factor tonight. It was hard to judge the role balance exactly, as there were female leaders and male followers in the mix, with quite a lot of dual-role dancers. But certainly the sexes were pretty much even.
Yet I got to dance almost non-stop. I think the only tanda I wanted to dance but couldn’t find a follower was the first milonga tanda.
I completely lost track of how many tandas I danced; however many you can fit into two-and-a-bit hours of almost non-stop dancing. No exaggeration: there was not a single tanda which I would rate lower than ‘lovely.’ Many were amazing, and that first one was the best I’ve ever had. I want to pick up the whole club and everyone in it and have it flown back to London.
I had less than four hours’ sleep last night, and there came a point where I had to leave or I’d be falling asleep mid-dance, but I had to physically drag myself out of the door. There’s another one on Saturday afternoon. I’m almost scared of going in case it’s an anti-climax. It feels like it would almost have to be. But I absolutely cannot not go.