Life has been pretty stressful of late, so one of my goals for this trip was a take a more relaxed approach to my stay. Instead of spending all my time zipping from milonga to milonga, to dial things down, and focus on quality over quantity. Also, to curb my FOMO and feel relaxed about re-visiting milongas I know I love, as well as exploring a few new ones. Oh, and get some sleep!
I’ve been … somewhat successful at this, mostly sticking to one milonga per day, and taking some downtime just to rest and relax at home. However, I discovered that making friends with D’Arienzo has had one downside …
Typically at a milonga before my rhythmical revelation, I would arrive later in search of a more lyrical-heavy time of the night. That meant I wasn’t attempting to stay for the entire six-plus hours of a typical milonga here, and if there was still a balance between the two at that time of night, I’d be sitting out about half the tandas.
My schedule today did originally seem to be in line with this pattern. I’d opted to go to the last couple of hours of Los Domingos at El Beso, skipping the first couple of hours or so of Milonga de La Lucy at Gricel. However, that was the only respect in which the reality matched the plan.
A return to Los Domingos at El Beso
I timed my arrival well, the host making announcements, giving me time to get my shoes on. The only issue was that he wasn’t free to show me to my reserved table, and the commentary was going on for some time, so I took executive action and sat at the first table in the mixed section with a Reserved sign. Since nobody came to throw me out, I’m assuming it was mine.
The next tanda was a D’Arienzo. This wouldn’t normally have me leaping out of my seat, but to my surprise I found myself jumping up and looking around for a partner. My table was right by the main entry to the dance floor, next to the bar, so was prime cabeceo positioning. I had myself a partner within seconds.
I had an absolutely great time! As before, I wasn’t thinking about steps at all, mine or my followers, just dancing instinctively. Collaborative dance is different, as I mentioned before, but when I relax the embrace most followers are off! Lots of double-time, back-and-forth movements, and all I have to do is point myself in the appropriate direction, and gather them up when a gap opens up in front of us. It was a really amazing tanda, and my follower was as enthusiastic.
That set the tone for the rest of the night! My dance pattern had changed from ‘Dance the lyrical tandas, and the valses; sit out the rhythmical tandas and milongas’ to … Dance almost everything! Almost every tanda was from an ‘advance cabeceo,’ and I think I danced with every age-range from the youngest to close to the oldest.
One follower there had made what was possibly the biggest possible shift in both climate and culture: she’d moved from Peru to Finland! The latter culture, for anyone unfamiliar, makes Brits look warm and effusive.
El Domingo also has its salsa/rock/disco moments.
The two hours felt like twenty minutes, and I found myself wishing I’d arrived earlier.
Oh, one funny moment. I really like the tradition here of leaders offering the follower their arm at the end of the tanda, to lead them back to their table. I’d read that this isn’t just a courtesy, it’s also because a follower may not know where in the room she is, and therefore which direction to head to her table. I always do this, only … after one particularly energetic milonga tanda, I realised that I couldn’t for the life of me remember where she’d been sitting – so although she took my arm, she was doing her own navigation. Score one for gentlemanly behaviour, zero for practical assistance.
Latest level to The Bus Game
Getting from El Beso to Club Gricel involved a new experience: a change of bus. So long as you have either mobile data or offline maps, this is straightforward in principle, but the switch did add a new twist.
Once we get close, I zoom in enough on Google Maps to be able to spot the bus-stop locations, so I know when to ring the bell. However, in this case the bus drove straight past what I thought was the next stop.
That in itself was obviously no problem: I just walked back a block. But then I realised that this was also the stop from which I needed to catch my second bus – and it appeared to no longer exist. Even looking inside hedges and lifting manhole covers revealed no sign of a stop, so I decided it was safest to walk to the next one, on a corner.
There, I repeated the process. Peering into trees, behind lampposts, in the ice-cream freezer of the corner shop, inside someone’s kitchen, and lifting a woman’s pet poodle to check the pavement beneath. Nada.
I opted to stand there anyway, and hold out my arm in an optimistic fashion when my bus arrived. The driver stopped. I still have no idea whether the bus-stop existed.
Milonga de la Lucy at Gricel
I don’t think I’ve been to this particular milonga before, but I checked out a video, and to be honest it looked indistinguishable from La Cachila at the same venue in terms of both demographic and dance style.
It wasn’t Alessandra’s thing, despite her French Experience, so it was my first time being sat in the men’s section. I was at a table with two other guys, and although they spoke only slightly more English than I did Spanish, we managed to converse quite happily with the aid of Google Translate.
I am veeeeery slowly picking up more Spanish. It’s still pidgin-level, but the beauty of being a Brit is that by the typical standards of my compatriots, I’m fluent … I continue to be surprised by how much I can successfully communicate.
I had one brain-fade moment, when I failed to realise that a price of 2,100 pesos (about a fiver) for a very nice Malbec of course referred to a bottle rather than a glass. I managed to share some of it with my table companions, and to gift the rest to Silvia – who turned out to be sitting at a table diagonally opposite mine.
Yep, another milonga, another London friend!
She’s been out here several months, and we had a really lovely tanda.
The experience of La Lucy was mostly an extended version of El Domingo: dancing almost every tanda. There was probably a higher proportion of foreigners there – I danced with women from France, Spain, Italy, the US, Brazil, Japan, and the UK, and doubtless other countries I’ve forgotten – as well as locals. The age-range tipped toward the older, but certainly not exclusively so. The role balance was about 60:40 followers to leaders.
There were quite a few followers I’d love to have danced with more than once, but there were so many women waiting to dance that I felt that would be selfish – and I didn’t have a single tanda that was less than lovely.
The outer ronda was really packed, leaving at times just inches between couples. Floorcraft was generally great, though leader cabeceo was the exception rather than the rule. One guy decided to step backwards onto the floor in front of me, and I was unable to avoid my follower having a glancing blow between her heel and his leg. She was even less impressed than me: “I really hope my heel got him, he deserved it for that.”
Oh, and it was with this follower where I had a mistaken cabeceo. I was cabeceoing her, but another follower at the same table – with whom I’d had a lovely tanda earlier – stood up as well. There was a time when I would have been too embarrassed to correct this, but I apologised to her and danced instead with my intended partner. Enduring this social embarrassment is a major achievement for a Brit, roughly on a par with the discovery on penicillin.
I generally avoid the inner ronda, finding them mostly in the range of free-for-all to combat zone. But having been effectively forced into it one tanda, I actually found it was calmer, with a lot more space. I stuck to that afterwards.
Now, please ensure you are sitting down for this: I skipped a Pugliese tanda! Partly because I’d just danced a fast rhythmical one, and was roughly there same temperature as the centre of the sun, but also because almost the entire milonga rushed onto the floor. Both inner and outer ronda were sardine-like. If there’s one thing more frustrating than being unable to dance a Pugliese tanda, it’s being on the dance floor but being unable to express it with the required drama.
The milonga was due to end at 3am, but I was gradually realising that end-times are often more theoretical than actual. By midnight, the place was thinning out dramatically. Three back-to-back tandas later, I realised that there was in any case no hope of me lasting another 2.5 hours. My last tanda – with a Brazilian woman – had been gorgeous, so I decided to call it a night. I’ll definitely be back!
Other BsAs snippets
Differential pricing continues to be a controversial topic, with some milonga organisers either speaking out directly against it, or otherwise signifying opposition. I’ve added an update to the bottom of this blog post.
Additionally, at both El Beso and Gricel, I saw people being asked to pay interim bills before they were ready to leave. This later happened to me too. I wonder whether the difficult economy is resulting in people doing a runner?
The temperature in the city has been insane. It’s usually around 26C in the day here at this time of year, but has consistently been above 30C, mostly peaking at 36C, and once hitting 38C. Even locals were commenting on it, and followers very appreciative of my fan. But apparently the heatwave is due to end tomorrow. It can’t come too soon for me!
Tomorrow I have a private with a teacher Alessandra accidentally discovered, followed by a return visit to Parakultural at Marabú.