The fickleness of tango finally shows up: An empty Parakultural, and a dancing desert at Pipí Cucú

It had to happen at some point. Tango wouldn’t be tango without the downs as well as the ups, and my stay had been so amazing to date, it was inevitable the tango gods would eventually notice they hadn’t had their fun with me for a while.

It had seemed like a promising night: the reliability of midnight to 2am-ish at Parakultural, followed by the fun of trying out a new milonga at Pipí Cucú from 2am-ish to 4am …

An empty Parakultural

Parakultural had become a fixture in my tango schedule: the right level of dance, friendliness, beautiful recorded music, and of course the live band.

The night started well. When I arrived, the host recognised me, and greeted me by name. He then showed me to a rather prominent table at the end of the dance floor, next to one occupied by a group who clearly knew everyone.

However, as soon as I looked around, I was like ‘Wait! Where are all the dancers?!’ The usually-crowded floor had just a handful of couples dancing, and the tables too were mostly unoccupied. It was a very different picture to the usual Friday night crowds.

Still, I thought, perhaps people are leaving their arrival until the likely start of the live music, which is generally around 12:30 to 1am. I danced a few tandas, having to really hunt for followers each time, and then the performances began. I decided this was a good time to sit back and sip the now-standard Marabú bucket of Malbec. Last time, I managed to drink about a third of it, tonight it was about 10%.

The performances over, the live music began, but … there was still nobody there!

Side-note: The woman on the left here was … of a certain age, several times over. She had her right arm in a splint, and I was scared to go anywhere near her as she looked like a moderate breeze might kill her. But I think I have quite literally seen her out dancing every single night, well into the early hours, in the arms of a different taxi dancer each time! Here’s to having her energy at that age!

Of the very few couples on the dance floor, about half seemed to be on date-night, dancing only with each other. Among the sparsely-populated tables, nobody seemed to be looking to dance. More date-night couples, and a few groups tucking into food. I literally couldn’t find anyone to dance with for the first 20 minutes of the live set.

One tanda later, there were no new arrivals, and indeed some were leaving. I decided it was time to follow their example.

It was my first ever disappointing night at Parakultural – but it wasn’t long before I discovered the explanation …

A dancing desert at Pipí Cucú

The reason nobody was at Parakultural was because the entire population of BsAs was at La Nacional for Pipí Cucú! This was a milonga Alessandra wanted to try, so she’d gone on ahead, secured a good table, and met up with another London tanguera, Sasha.

I didn’t know anything about it, and decided to start by finding out the meaning of the name:

Ok, thanks for that, Google. Fortunately a blog reader from Sweden I met here back in 2019 solved the mystery! The short version is that a famous boxer in Argentina won an award in Paris, and being an uneducated man, he was really worried about having to accept the award in French. They assured him all he had to say was “Mercy beaucoup,” and kept repeating the phrase over and over again, even in the car on the way to the award. He got up and said “Pipí cucú.” An Argentinian comedian then adopted it as a kind of catch-phrase, and it became part of the language. Today, it’s used to indicate something elegant and perfect.

Thanks to Hjördis for the video link to the story!

While the table was great – the left corner in the above photo, one of the organiser’s own tables amid the various performers and tango celebrities – one problem was immediately apparent. Instead of the usual layout, with an aisle between tables down both sides of the room, or an aisle at the back, there was nowhere to pass other than the dance floor (which is of course impossible during a tanda).

This would be a problem at any time, as roaming cabeceo is my usual approach here. You can cabeceo as you walk the aisles, and easily get from one end of the room to the other to cabeceo at the group tables at the front and back. But it was a much bigger problem here. Being seated among the stars may have been an honour, but it wasn’t like Corina was going to dance with me, even if I could have cabeceod her simply by turning my head, so finding followers among my tables wasn’t an option.

I did walk from one end of the room to the other during a few cortinas, but the opposite end was really crowded, with large groups standing around, so sight-lines there were absolutely hopeless. Plus the level of dance was so high that my options would have been very limited, even if I could actually see anyone.

My sum total of dances here was one tanda each with Ale and Sasha.

Alessandra didn’t dance much more, but she’s much happier than I am just sitting and watching high-level dance. I mean, I can enjoy it somewhat, and can draw inspiration from it – most especially in terms of musical expression – but when there is such beautiful music playing, I really want to dance!

The other thing about just watching and listening was the sound level. I’m more often bothered by volume which isn’t high enough to overpower the chat in the room, but here the volume was almost painfully high. Even my Apple Watch flashed up a warning.

This also meant that chatting at the table wasn’t feasible, as even leaning right across the table you could barely hear each other.

I do have to say, the performances were impressive. They were more contained than the usual stage tango, bearing more of a resemblance to social dancing, and the quality of the dance was beautiful.

There was one delightful moment: meeting Luis as I walked in! He used to teach an intermediate class at Tango Space, and is a fabulous teacher and a really lovely guy. Hopefully we’ll catch up properly later.

Overall, though, not quite the evening I’d hoped for. But (a) that’s tango, and (b) the experience I had at the peeing cuckoo is not terribly unusual for a follower, so call it a reminder of leader privilege …

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