Dancing from 3pm to 3am: Three milongas in 12 hours

I’d planned to go to two back-to-back milongas on Saturday, dancing from 3pm to midnight. That plan didn’t work out: I ended up dancing at three back-to-back milongas, dancing from 3pm to 3am. It wasn’t quite my record in terms of number of milongas in a day, but it was certainly my UK record.

I’d also planned to do about 50/50 dancing and socialising at each milonga. I managed that at the final one of the three …

Argentine Ambassador’s milonga

First up was the Tango Tea Afternoon Milonga at the Argentine Ambassador’s Residence. This was effectively a re-run of the event they’d put on in August, and I’d had an absolutely amazing time. Incredible setting, fantastic music, great floorcraft, magical atmosphere, so I was ready and waiting for my next chance!

The theme was ‘1913,’ chosen, I imagine, as the height of the country’s fortunes, when it was one of the wealthiest countries in the world. It was, though, an oddly specific timeframe when it came to dressing for the occasion. Many of the women opted for 1920s and 1930s look, with some absolutely stunning outfits! I did my best, with a jacket made for me in Buenos Aires and a Trilby obtained for the occasion – but of course the jacket and hat came off the moment I started dancing.

The milonga was every bit as wonderful as last time. Perhaps a little more so, as they chose a photo of me for their lead photo on Instagram …

In the five hours I was there, I ate one scone, half a sandwich, one-and-a-bit alfajores, drank one glass of Malbec, a few cups of tea, spent perhaps a total of about 45 minutes socialising … and the rest of the time dancing.

It was, once again, a magical occasion! Just a succession of mostly amazing tandas, with familiar and unfamiliar followers! Even if I wanted to attempt the impossible task of describing even a handful of the tandas, it was all too much of a blur, and I couldn’t believe how quickly the time flew past. It honestly felt like an hour or two between first and last tandas.

Given the impossibility of describing the dances, I shall just share three of the hilarious moments …

Who, me?

I’m a huge believer in inviting unknown followers to dance. Partly because that’s the spirit of a milonga, and partly because how else do you add to your list of favourite partners?

There was a follower in an absolutely splendid 1920s outfit across the room. The room wasn’t very wide, so it was perfectly practical to cabeceo from one side to the other. She looked at me but didn’t respond, just kept looking. I nodded. No change. I walked to the corner, to close the distance a bit. That got a ‘Who, me?’ gesture from her. I smiled and nodded, but she just repeated the gesture, and only believed it when I was about eight feet away! I have no idea why she was so hesitant, as she was an absolutely wonderful dancer, and we had a magical tanda. At the end of the first song, she did the ‘Who are you, and why have I never seen you before?’ thing, so I felt confident we were on the same page!

Meeting an old friend for the first time – with an unexpected twist!

Back in June 2020, there’d been a Facebook panel talk: Racism, inclusivity and tango: Women talk of belonging in tango. It had always struck me as odd that tango was so white in one of the most diverse cities in the world. Black faces, especially, are bizarrely rare. So I wanted to understand why this might be the case, and the talk seemed the perfect opportunity to find out.

It was, though, a full two hours long. As much as I wanted to understand the issues, I couldn’t see myself watching a panel talk of that length, so I started watching on the basis that I could probably get a decent sense of things in the first 30 minutes. But the talk was so engaging that I ended up watching the whole thing, and subsequently making friends with one the panelists, Anthea.

We’d made several attempts to meet in the 18 months since then, but she lives in Sheffield, and we’d never quite managed it during her visits to London. However, I’d no sooner claimed my scone and alfajore than my ex beckoned me madly over to the landing, and there was Anthea! She was exactly the same as her online persona, and we were soon chatting like we’d gone to school together – followed by a fun tanda.

She later told me she had a surprise for me.

Background: I have a filmmaker friend called CK (check out a fantastic short film by him here). We’d met at a film festival, and he helped out with a shoot I did to test the Cinematic Video feature of the iPhone 13.

Anthea showed me a video of her and CK in the street. I asked ‘Oh wow, how do you know each other?’ At which point Anthea revealed that … he was her brother! They had different surnames, so there had been no reason to ever associate the two of them. So a woman I met online by chance in one area of my life, and a guy I met offline by chance in a totally separate area of my life, each became my friends – and turned out to be siblings!

The cigar

While chatting, we suddenly smelled cigar smoke. We looked at each other like ‘Who the hell would smoke a cigar in here?!’ We looked through the doorway to see the culprit. Someone had gone up to him and, with a suitably disapproving tone, asked whether smoking was allowed in there. “Probably not,” he admitted, “but then I am the ambassador, so …”

He kindly posed for a photo, but I’m not entirely sure he’d approve of me putting it online, so do ask to see it when we meet!

City Academy Tango Ball

Janet, Anthea and I then headed straight from Belgrave Square to The Old Finsbury Town Hall for the second (and final-ish) milonga of the day.

Another impressive room, and they had a live band, which was great! This was followed by Sean DJing, which is always good.

Again, way more dancing than socialising, mostly with familiar faces, but a couple of new followers too.

As regular readers will know, I’ve now added calesitas to my core milonga vocabulary, and the ability to adapt quickly came in very handy, as the floorcraft here was not up to the standards of the Ambassador! Alessandra loves calesitas, and is definitely the Calesita Queen, so we had an absolutely fantastic tanda really playing with all the variations – including off-axis ones both leaning out and leaning in!

The time again whizzed by, and I was startled when they called the last tanda.

I was heading home from there, and since my feet were feeling the miles, I decided to grab a cab. Anthea was heading to Tango Cafe, and since that was on my way, I said I’d drop her off. The cab got stuck in traffic a block away, so I said we could get out, I’d show her to the milonga and then I’d walk home from there. Twenty minutes later, I’d be in bed.

Tango Cafe

Yeah, about that.

I danced my first tanda with Anthea. This was pure fun! By this time, we’d got a feel for each other’s dancing, and could play. It quickly became a case of not being sure who was leading what, creating a moment when neither of us was, and I said one of us ought to decide …

There’s a thing I don’t often see other leaders lead, but I really like, and followers seem to enjoy: me pivoting and leading the follower in forward steps around me. In collaborative dance, I let the follower decide when to stop. Anthea did, I think, three circles before handing back! I was dizzy and accused her of taking revenge for my endless giros earlier … It was a blast!

Afterwards, Anthea asked me what I wanted to drink. I said Malbec, and if none, then Pinot Noir, with Shiraz as third choice. You’d think that would be safe, but no: no red wine at all! This, it transpired, was not an oversight on their part. The milonga is held in St Ethelberga’s church. Much of it was destroyed in the IRA Bishopsgate bombing in 1993, but parts of it date back to around 1250, including the flagstone floor. Apparently they aren’t overly keen on 21st-century klutzes spilling red wine on their 13th century flooring, so only white wine is permitted.

There was a performance, and clearly it was small world day, because the follower was a woman Asia had met in Athens! I introduced myself to her afterwards, and she recorded a sweet video greeting for Asia.

I didn’t know many people there, so cabeceod an unknown follower, and we had an absolutely delightful collaborative dance to a Pugliese tanda. Anthea told me afterwards that they were in the same online class together, with Leandro and Maria. I had another tanda with her later, equally good.

I then danced a tanda with someone I know, and she, I think, recommended me to a friend, who cabeceod me later. Anthea and I had another tanda or two.

Last time, the DJ had been in Buenos Aires, and that had meant some glitches. This time, the DJ seemed to be in the room, but we still got the same glitches – including bits where it would suddenly speed up! Amusingly, this happened during the performance too, and they just adapted.

The milonga was due to finish at 2am. Two in the morning arrived … and departed; the milonga continued. At some stage, I found myself in a conga line. Don’t ask; I have literally no idea. And then this happened:

At least, I think it did. I might have been hallucinating by that stage.

I’m not known for leaving milongas before they end, but since (a) I wasn’t supposed to be there at all and (b) this one was showing no signs of ending before breakfast time, I finally dragged myself away at 3am for the (thankfully short) walk home.

That was my Saturday; how was yours?

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