Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Diana Howell in Buenos Aires 3

Hola Mis amigos y amigas,

Dios Mios, I dont know where time goes, but it does, it always seems there is not much time during the day to write, and that soon nap time comes around, and getting ready for milonga time. Incidentally, I do know the rules of punctuation,etc., but still haven t mastered they keyboard here.

Milongas here in Argentina are really a ¨Cafe Society,¨ you go not only to dance, but to meet and talk with friends. Argentinians do a great deal of socializing this way, young and older. Having clothed tables is a great plus, and makes this possible. Ladies, it is so much easier sitting alone at small table with your beverage than in the ¨high school¨ wall line-up at milongas in the states. Kudos to we Montereyans for taking care of that with our ¨semi-tabled.¨ events, we broke the mold! When someone you know arrives at the milonga, you immediately get a kiss on the cheek, same sex or not, and I´ve really confused some people with my two-kiss routine, one on each cheek, which is cemented into my brain after 28 years of going to Morocco (two kisses there). It is also a way for a leader to let you know that he is aware that you are there, and will watch out for your cabazeo.
As time moves on in the milonga, it gets so crowded that making eye-contact gets really hard, seeing through the dancers is really a task, and you see both men and women leaning this way and that way, trying to scope out the opposite sex across the room (most milongas still seat men in one section, more or less, and women in another, groups and couples together at a table). As I think I mentioned before, is that glasses go on during the cortina, and get taken off once the cabazeo is made and confirmed. Actually, I ve grown quite fond of the cabazeo, because if there are people who you dont want to dance with, you dont have to, and you learn how to look right through them, as if they were transparent, if they are cheeky enough to keep staring at you when it is apparent that you have no intention of a cabazeo response. But, you have to be brave and strong, because some of these guys do not give up, even changing tables to get nearer to you, in case you didnt see them! In the states, women ¨cruise,¨ that is, they change their position in the room, ¨trolling for mackeral,¨ you might say, over here, the leaders are the ones who troll, and if you are in a really bad spot (low visibility, behind a lot of gorgeous young women, etc.) you must be very careful about changing your location, less you come off a bit like a long-ago tanguera, rather like a ¨working girl.¨

Boedo tango is organized by a really interesting lady, who is also the ¨moderator,¨ and can rarely be seen in the same outfit twice. She is of a certain age, and favors strapless longer fish-tailed, form-fitting numbers, matching tights, and armlets nearly up to her armpits. The other night she was all in pink lace, (dress, tights, armlets), the night before, in white polyester with just a trace of her black & white polka dot underwear showing through (it looked really cool!) She comes up with great Cortina games, like the ¨tanda de las rosas,¨ (she has bouquets of single red roses), and at the beginning of the tanda, each leader goes a grabs one and presents it to the lady that he wants to dance with; you then dance with it draped over his back. Her other standard is the ¨tanda de los bon-bons,¨ a bowl of candy is set out on a chair in the middle of the floor, and a lady gets a piece of candy and presents it to the leader that she wants to dance with. And then, of course, there are the drawings; you get a number at the door, and there are one or two drawings a night during a cortina, for a bottle of champagne, shoes (that come with an advertisement for the store); kinda spices things up! At Boedo, she also does ¨theme¨ night, like ¨ladies, wear a tie,¨--so ladies come with all manor of decorated and jeweled ties, worn backwards, in their hair, on their waist. Fun stuff! Tonight, it is scarf night.

The popularity of milongas is very changeable. what was hot in November is not necessarily hot now, it is amazing how fast they change. Once the crowd decides they are hanging elsewhere, then the new spot becomes ¨the place.¨ I particulary favor some of the older, and long-standing ones like ¨Baldosa,¨ milonga, functioning almost 50 years, and popular with locals. Of course , with 15 or more milongas to choose from, and BA being as large as it is, almost all milongas have lots of people, but some are definitely more crowded. You do not seat yourself at milongas, you wait at the entrance to the dance room, and someone seats you, always asking you if you are ¨sola?¨ (alone), because, then you get seated in a different way, and once you get savy, can direct them to where you want to seat, for the best looky-look at the leaders, (easiest to see and catch their eye). There are milongas that the very young frequent, that nuevo people frequent, that gays frequent, that middle-aged plus frequent, that tourists frequent, that only neighborhood people frequent, and of course, mixed. The milonga listing magazine tells you which are milongas, which are practicas, and which are gay, it is up to you to ask and find out about everying else. I always ask people that I am with, good dancers that I am dancing with, where they go. You can choose your cake!

When I first came here, I always used Radio taxi to get to and from the milongas, but as I learned my way around via the subway, Ive become a real subway ¨ratona!¨ I check out the route and subway changes before I leave, and then start my journey. It is so much cheaper, taxi will cost about 15-25 pesos, but the subway is only 2 pesos, and definitely more fun!
They stop running at 10:00 pm, so do not always work for getting to one milonga from another, then it is bus (runs all night for 1 peso) or taxi. The other night, in my smugness about a complicated three train route change, going from one milonga (made sure I was on the train at 9:30pm) to another, I hopped the wrong train, but the young guy next to me spotted my ¨oh-no,¨ look, and got off at the next stop with me, and directed me to a safe taxi area (the area was questionable). People here are so nice in this regard, so willing to help you; last night a ¨chica¨ and I left El Cachirullo because there were not enough good dancers, and I asked her if she wanted to share a cab to go to the National, but she wanted to go home, and said ¨dont take a cab, it cost too much, I´ll take you to the bus stop, take the bus for 1 peso. So, she not only took me to the bus stop, explained the route, and THEN told the bus driver where I wanted to go, and to make sure and let me off close to the milonga. She then kissed me on the cheek with much ¨muchos gracias¨ from me and departed with friendly wave. That is how it has been here for me, very helpful people! So, now, I am learning the bus system, which cost next to nothing and is really interesting to ride, you can go even to the outskirts of the city on the buses. Generally, the further out you go, the poorer the neighborhoods, so ¨cuidado!¨ Most of the teachers and taxi dancers take buses too, to conserve on the cash that they make, even in-between the milongas.

The other night however, I was way too tired to do the buses, it was late, and the neighborhood a a bit ¨feo,¨ so I hopped a Radio Taxi (the most reliable company to use). My driver looked like Gabby Hayes, drove like %&"• (really fast), all the time, turning around to engage me in conversation about tango (he doesn´t like it,¨ it is too sad¨), politics here and in the USA, blah blah blah; expertly avoiding the numerous pot-holes and cross traffic, (like, not even looking at it!!), and with the aroma of alcohol on his breath! Dios Mios! What can I say, I was so tired, so just went with the flow, and it was o.k.

Tango in Argentina: Probably less than 5% of the people in BA do it, and it does not come with the genetics, (of the ones who do dance, not all are good,) the people who don´t do it, generally seem to complain about the ¨triste¨ aspect of the music, or are just to caught up with other things in their lives. The ones who DO do it, are devoted, I mean they tell you their favorite orchestras, singers, places to go; and it almost has a tribal aspect to it, shared music, shared movement, shared sentiment, shared devotion. No one EVER talks about steps. There is no ¨spontaneous¨ tango in the streets, only professionals trying to drum up money from tourists in tourist-populated areas, (very few--like Boca, which is like Fishermanś Wharf, completely touristic), no men wearing hats at milongas.
The greased hair, long side-burned, ¨piggy tail,¨ are sported by performers, teachers, and some Taxi dancers. Slit up the leg dresses are for the stage, other performers, and street entertainers. At milongasÑ 2-3 tanda rule: if you dance more than this with a leader, it means you have some kind of a relationship going or brewing, and as ladies here say (like my older friend Chi-Chi says, who never comes to a milonga without a bag of gum drops and lemon cookies, ¨two or at the most three is enough, they can have any more than that in one evening.¨) If you dance more than 3, you get hardly anyone ¨cabazeoing¨ you, they figure, somehow, you are ¨taken¨.

I have three lessons with the sweetest and really good teacher, Pablo Ugolini, who was recommended by my Danish friend. Think, very young, longer, leaner Antonio Banderas, who sings while he dances; yes ladies, poor me! Liquid brown eyes, gold earring in one ear, pig tail, side-burns, pin striped pants, AND an excellent teacher, (all in Spanish). One private, including floor fee in mirrored room is about $47, and he is booked out of Tango Escuela in Galleria Pacifico. I decided against taking classes (many offered) there for $16 pesos ($4 US), because of the quality of the leaders and not enough personal attention, and what a great choice! Iḿ not learning any ¨new steps¨, but he is tweaking my bad habits.
Tango is not about fancy steps, unless you are on the stage, and if you watch the dancing at the milongas, you quickly learn this; you are not seeing leg lifts, wraps, taps, whatever; but the beauty of well-, and passionately executed steps; this IS tango.

Which brings up Spanish, or as here, it is called ¨Castellano.¨ Thank goodness, my Spanish is good, it would be difficult to function here with English only, not impossible, but difficult; so if you are thinking of coming, better get some conversational Spanish (not the book kind--worthless). I was at the very contemporary, wonderful and large museum, MALBA, the other day, waiting outside for it to open at 11:00, with others, and there was an American couple waiting also, impatiently taping their feet, and looking disgusted, because it was 6 minutes after, and still no open doors (think ¨Ugly American.¨) When they got in, they decided to get as far as they could with out paying (I understood what they were saying in English), all of the time complaining about no translated signs in English. The tango people (non-Argentinians) are great, almost all speak some Spanish, and many speak really good Spanish, a real credit to our ¨tribe.¨

Besos from Tangolandia,
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