Last ones standing: Closing Salon Canning at 4am (Video)

A friend suggested I might get more sleep if I weren’t writing my blog posts. In truth, I’m buzzing so much when I get home from milongas that there’s no chance I’d sleep anyway if I tried going straight to bed. Writing is for me a way of winding down, even if I do also do it for a living!

I have made it to bed on previous nights, albeit sometimes at 5am. Last night, however, I was so euphoric that I might as well have had a nose full of cocaine for all the hope there was of sleep …

The previous night I went to bed at 5am, slept until about 10am, dozed again until noon, then struggled out of bed. I had a private booked with Diego for 6pm, which seemed just about enough time for me to drink the required amount of tea and coffee to be halfway ready for it.

When it was a few minutes before Tina’s preceding lesson at 5pm, she had just woken from a nap on the sofa and asked whether I could go first. I pointed out I had a few things to do before I would be ready for a lesson, namely showering, shaving and getting dressed …

Private 3 with Diego

I’d had more time to practice double-time at home (it became my standard way of waiting for the kettle to boil for a cup of tea, which means I was practicing around a thousand times a day), and I was feeling increasingly comfortable with it. I’d also been really happy when using it (in limited doses) in milongas.

That meant we were able to focus on technique. We worked with forward steps, side steps and rebounds. For the latter, Diego wanted me to transfer less weight. His top tip was to keep weight on the heel of my standing foot, which is a highly effective and really simple way to keep my axis back. Because that forces less weight transfer, it makes double-time rebounds much easier. (We also worked on double-time changes of weight, but that’s more of a work in progress.)

Ironically, after I worked so long and hard on my posture, Diego now thought I was a bit too upright when entering the embrace with Tina, as she is so much shorter than me. He now feels there is zero danger of my reverting to my previous hunched position, so he says now it is safe to bring my head down toward her – and that I do this when dancing, but not when first entering the embrace. Doing that from the start will complete the feeling of a hug for a follower.

We also worked on taking my walk to the next level, by really grounding my standing leg before every single step. Essentially, bending the standing leg a little as a way of signalling the beginning of the step.

Extending this principle, to use this kind of grounding to signal other changes: a change of pace, change of direction, and so on. A change of weight is also a useful way of punctuating different movements, for example from walking to ochos.

Diego suggested maximising the contrast between steps and rebounds by taking large steps when walking or doing side-steps, then making the rebounds very small.

For changes of weight, what we’re aiming for is for the hips to be like a pendulum, swinging left to right.

Diego said that when I’m able to combine these things: double-time, double-time weight changes, small rebounds in all directions, then … I’ll be able to dance real milonga!

Finally, we spent the last 15 minutes of the lesson watching the video I shot of Tina and I dancing at Le Catedral. It was super-helpful to have an example of my real-life dancing in a milonga, rather than what I do in lessons. He gave me lots of compliments on my dance, but said that I really need to work on the position of my left arm, as it still has a tendency to go behind the plane of the lead.

Pre-milonga snack

After the lesson, we were hungry, but had dance plans later, so had to settle for a light pre-milonga snack at a back-street restaurant all of a minute’s walk away.

I think it was approximately one cow and half a pig. It wasn’t the most tender steak I’ve ever had, but it was extremely tasty.

Milonga 7: La Viruta, with La Juan D’Arienzo

I’m all about dancing to live orchestras! To me, that’s part of the magic of BsAs, that here you can do it most days, and there are a number of them on the ‘must see’ list. This includes the D’Arienzo tribute band, La Juan D’Arienzo!

Laura let me know they were playing tonight at La Viruta. I’d been there before, when one amazing live band was playing – which I’m now pretty sure was Orquesta Típica Misteriosa Buenos Aires. But a D’Arienzo tribute band? Who could possibly resist!

They were every bit as good as advertised. A huge amount of fun, with a good variety of music. It seemed to end in the blink of an eye, but we’ll have another opportunity to dance to them again tomorrow, this time at La Catedral. (Or, er, not – but that’s for tomorrow’s blog.)

Like La Catedral, there were a lot of couples there for date-night, so not a lot of cabeceo potential, but I had Tina and Lillili, so who needs more?!

Tina had kindly given me free reign to practice my double-time things with her in La Viruta, and gave me some really useful feedback. It was also somewhat scruffy at first, but I’d kept repeating Diego’s advice to myself and suddenly it had just clicked. It was working with 100% reliability, and it felt smooth and controlled. I asked Tina to give me an honest rating out of 10, and she said 9.9. The missing .1 was because, during my earlier rough-and-ready stage, I half-stood on her toe …

The main issue with La Viruta is that they have a habit of playing relatively short stretches of tango, interspersed by everything from salsa and jive through chacarera and samba to modern ballet. Ok, perhaps not the last, but I wouldn’t entirely rule out the possibility with that lot.

By 2am, Tina and I decided it was time to head out.

Milonga 8: Parakultural at Salon Canning

Not to do anything as sensible as going home, you understand. Salon Canning – the most famous milonga venue in the world – is literally two blocks away from La Viruta (or three if you go the wrong way to start with), so we couldn’t possibly go home without at least popping in for a coffee and a little soaking up of the atmosphere.

Of course, I’d gone there once before, just to watch, and had ended up dancing three tandas, so perhaps what happened shouldn’t have come as a complete surprise.

Last time I was there, at around the same time of the morning, it was more crowded that I would ever have imagined possible. This time, there were perhaps a dozen couples on the floor

I had admitted to myself that I might just dance one wafer-thin tanda with Tina, but I definitely wanted to get more BsAs miles under my feet before I tried dancing with anyone else there.

They were just starting a Pugliese tanda. How could any man resist? So despite Tina’s protestations about easing in slowly, we got our shoes on just in time to dance the last song. It was amazing. This music, this follower, this place.

We returned to our seats buzzing. As an indication of just how far we’ve come, neither of us felt we were out of place on the dance floor – at least in terms of musicality and style.

After the cortina, a Troilo tanda. I can remember hating these, as I had no idea how to understand them, or predict what was coming. But somewhere along the line, I must have listened to enough of the Supreme Bandoneón of Buenos Aires to feel comfortable with it. I stood up and looked around. I couldn’t see any followers looking around much, so I decided to take a stroll around the room.

With wide aisles for roaming cabeceo, and perhaps 30 or 40 people in the entire room, this was easily done. Reaching the first corner, a woman on the next one looked in my direction. One cabeceo later, I had about a 30 feet walk to her table. I will admit that my heart was beating a little faster by now. This is Salon Canning. She’s likely to be a really advanced follower. She might be a teacher. She could even be a tango celebrity for all I know. I hoped I wasn’t going to disappoint.

Apparently I didn’t. We had a beautiful slow-motion tanda, pretty much in sustained close-embrace. In London tango, I’d say the norm is close embrace in the walk, flexible embrace for most pivots. But here, in Canning, I see no sign of flexible embrace: dancers are glued together at the chest. That means I have little experience of it, and while I had a private on just that scheduled with Laura for next week, it hadn’t occurred to me that I might find myself in this place before then!

I am very careful to distinguish between things I can do in a lesson and things I can do in a milonga, and would normally never dream of trying something this new with a stranger in a milonga – let alone this milonga. But the simple double-time rebounds honestly now seemed so simple I couldn’t really see what all the fuss had been about. So with the next follower, I tried it … and it worked perfectly, feeling just as well as it had with Tina.

It was a similar story with the grounding concept of sinking a little toward the floor as the opening to any movement. I’d heard about this many times, but it had never really sunk in in an meaningful way. Now, however, it totally did. Diego said this one thing would transform my dancing, and he is absolutely right. It feels great to me too, so the only challenge now is to make this into a habit.

I won’t do the tanda-by-tanda thing. Suffice to say that I got more declined cabeceos than accepted ones, but between the latter and Tina, I was kept busy! The official photographer, Monteleone Tango, got a photo of me – but sadly not one with Tina.

It was a really odd feeling, being within these hallowed walls, way beyond my tango pay grade, with by now just a handful of couples on the floor, making each of us very visible. I should have felt intimidated, but somehow I didn’t. I could see from the dance around me that slow and simple were the watchwords, and that’s me my dance.

The room was emptying fast – and in what seemed like no time at all, it was time for the last tanda, another Troilo. I simultaneously cabeceod Tina and wedged my phone upright between water glass and bottle and hit record, hoping to get a few video clips of the good bits of our dancing.

We were initially joined on the floor by two other couples. One dropped out for reasons unknown (it wasn’t my floorcraft, honest), and the second for reasons also unknown at the time, though we later got some kind of hint from watching the video.

As with any video of myself, I can immediately see things I want to work on – and I’m very sure Diego will see more when we review it next lesson. But … I have to say I’m also very happy with it. Tina was sceptical about me sharing the whole video, but I assured her that her dancing looked absolutely great, and she was forced to agree when I showed it to her.

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