A tango lesson we all learn rather early is that there are never any guarantees. You can go to the same milonga in the same place with the same DJ – even dance with some of the same people – and have wildly different experiences on different occasions.
While our head may know this, however, it can still prove difficult to convince our heart that we haven’t found the secret formula …
That’s why a return visit after a wonderful milonga can be extremely dangerous, raising expectations which may not be met. In this case, I wasn’t even going to the same milonga – but an afternoon milonga at El Beso creates certain expectations regardless. Even Alessandra, who had initially rejected the average age, is now a convert.
But yesterday’s experience was so good that I went in knowing it couldn’t possibly be repeated – which was just as well!
Perfume de Mujer at El Beso
Things got off to a decent start when an excellent local leader I’d chatted to the previous day, Facundo Correa, turned out to be a taxi dancer, and suggested I too was cut out for this career. That may have been based less on his assessment of my dancing and more on the reaction of the hostess he witnessed at the close of yesterday’s milonga.
Today’s hostess greeted me with a welcoming kiss, and showed me to a table with David, the Brit guy I’d met there previously.
It was indeed a very different experience, sadly! While rhythmical music and I are now friends, we’re still not best buddies, and there was a pretty much non-stop stream of it, despite arriving two hours in. Even the Troilo tanda was a rhythmical one! I did at least get to begin with a delicious Pugliese tanda.
I briefly considered dancing to the first milonga tanda, and was very, very, very glad I didn’t! Any vocals, and you can guarantee I’ll be dancing to the singer. Which is basically impossible during milonga, so instead of being my favourite instrument, the singer is instead a distraction. The third song in the tanda was also incredibly fast, with those bridges of super-fast sections which remind me of fun-fair music – which is definitely not my idea of fun!
I also learned another lesson about stolen cabeceos. I was trying to cabeceo one woman at a table, when another basically leaned forward to block my view of her, then fixed me with a smile and a nod. It was less a stolen cabeceo, and more a pleading one. I made the mistake of nodding back. The music was the second-best tanda so far, and unfortunately the dancing was fairly painful. She was basically on auto-pilot to the beat, when I wanted to dance to the singer and the violins, and short of applying emergency brakes, it was basically impossible to stop her.
Even when I brought her to a screeching halt, her heels smoking and smelling of brake-dust, she still didn’t take the hint and set off at the same speed afterwards. It wasn’t a terrible dance, but it was not the dance I wanted, and a total waste of that music! She tried to cabeceo me again later, but I had learned my lesson.
A far happier auto-pilot experience was when I danced with a very skilled follower, who managed her own double-time steps with no input from me, but without in any way disturbing my movements. There was a time I led an ocho-cortado, and instead of crossing with a single movement, she did four high-speed steps to arrive in the same place in the same timing.
It was mostly dance rhythmically or not at all, so I opted for the former, but only around one tanda in every three or four. The dances were mostly pleasant to good, but with uninspiring music, there’s a limit to how much pleasure I can get. I decided to leave early after there was no change approaching the final hour.
Ale’s farewell dinner
With evenings devoted to dancing rather than eating, and that rubbish parrilla, I was desperate for a good steak – while Ale wanted to eat at a seafood restaurant without so much as a single chunk of cow on the menu! This was neatly solved by eating there but me ordering my steak from the restaurant next door.
We were joined by Sasha – as well as Facundo, to discuss his management of my new taxi-dancing gig.
It was a lovely evening – great food, great company, great chat.
Sasha turned out to be the perfect accidental Spanish tutor for me. She’s a year or two ahead of me, so her Spanish was simple enough for me to understand a decent chunk of it, and while she didn’t speak at Ben speeds, it was still slow enough to give me a fighting chance.
She and I were trying to explain to Facundo the huge gulf between BsAs and London tango, and he clearly had trouble imagining milongas where people cared more about steps than the music.
Never travel with Ale!
Experience of travelling to 83 countries has taught me many things. Among these are the very many things that can go wrong when doing something as simple as travelling to an airport. These include an airport bus taking four hours from Euston to Heathrow on a tube strike day, and spending an hour behind a jackknifed lorry on the M25 at 5.30am. The latter journey involved rather a lot of illegal driving, and having to dump my car in the short-term car-park for 10 days (thankfully on expenses, though eyebrows were raised when I submitted them).
I’m also a great believer in the art of never having to break sweat when travelling. Ale, on the other hand, is not. She decided to begin packing at around the time I would be leaving for the airport, and her planned airport bus journey would have seen her arriving at the airport at around the time her flight would begin boarding. She’d left zero margin for unforeseen circumstances, like say a protest blocking the motorway for an hour, to pick a not entirely random example (2019!). She also decided to begin her journey with a leisurely 20-minute walk to the airport bus, rather than catching the connecting one.
Fortunately, I happened to have just enough pesos on me to pay for a taxi, which took 40 minutes rather than 90, so she made it in good time in the end.
However, that rushed negotiation with the taxi driver, and bundling her into it quickly, meant she ended up taking my phone with her! I had to complete the world’s fastest 100m sprint down the road, chasing the taxi. Apologies to Usain Bolt, but c’mon dude, you held the record for a long time. One might even say you had a good– Ok, ok!
I’ve told her if I ever travel with her again, I’m meeting her on the plane.