He told me that he and El Chino Perico were talking about Alito recently in Porteno y Bailarin. They remembered when Alito held a milonga in Confiteria Piccadilly in 1960 on Corrientes. Henri drinks coffee every day at this café on Callao and Lavalle around 6:00, and he goes to Porteno y Bailarin on Tuesday to talk with the men and listen to the music.
The milonga organizers are Juan Lencina and Daniel Rezk; they also run Derecho Viejo on Monday in Gricel. I attended on December 4 with Ricardo Pol (milonguero and tango singer) and his friends who are learning tango.
Floor: A suspended pine floor of 110 m2 that is painstakingly maintained and easy on the legs.
Sound system: Two large speakers hang over both ends of the rectangular floor. The music and sound were excellent.
Entrada: 60 pesos
Seating: Capacity is 320, arranged more like a club de barrio than a city milonga where all seats face the floor. Tables have groups of four or six without separate sections for men and women. It works.
I called Daniel at his home phone at 6:30 to reserve a table. When I identified myself, he inquired about Alito. Daniel speaks English and is very cordial. I arrived at 8:30, and Daniel took me to our reserved table in the back with a good view of the floor. I know of no other organizer who designates the reserved tables with a name card. Table 26 had my name on it. Most organizers take reservations and deal with finding a table when you arrive. Daniel impressed me on how he handled my reservation, because it’s uncommon in my experience. The men arrived later, asked for me, and Daniel knew where to bring them.
The grand milonga takes place on the first Saturday in December on Avenida de Mayo in downtown Buenos Aires. There are three stages with orchestras and dancing in the street from 8:00 until 2:00. The best dressed milonguero viejo is always Ricardo Suarez (90).
I organized a group of North American and British friends to join me in a reserved section in front of the stage. There was a good turnout of locals from the milongas who danced to recorded music planned by Vivi La Falce. The wooden platform was coming apart at the seams while we danced the night away, but that didn’t put a damper on our enjoyment of the beautiful night of tango.
Photo by Gerta Woodberry
The highlight of the night was a brief appearance of the tango legend Alberto Podesta who sang Percal (solo) and then Nido Gaucho (duet). Dancers stood in front of the stage while he performed only ten weeks after his 90th birthday. Podesta walks with a cane, but he didn’t need any help singing. It was a special treat to hear this great singer in person.
This is an afternoon favorite of newcomers who enjoy the friendly atmosphere on Tuesday and Thursday. The milonga is held in the first floor salòn of Casa de Galicia on San Jose 224 in Montserrat. I attended today for more than two hours.
Floor: It’s wooden and repaired. My heel tip brushed a rough edge once.
Sound system: There are two speakers at one end of the rectangular floor providing enough volume to the entire salon. I sat at the other end of the salon.
DJ: The best in Buenos Aires — Daniel Borelli. He included a lovely tanda of Julio De Caro for Dia del Tango.
Entrada: 40 pesos Bottled water: 20 pesos
Seating: They designated the left side of the dance floor for women and the right side for men. The far end tables are for couples. I was told to find a table myself during the Cortina.
Dancers: Locals range in age from 60-80 years. Many foreign women attended. The level of dancing is average. Four men approached my table to invite me to dance; I refused them since I’d not seen their dancing and prefer an invitation by cabeceo.
Waitress: Vicki had bottled water ready for me before I ordered it.
I did a random survey during the Pugliese and De Angeles tandas to see if there were more women dancing with their eyes closed or open. The results: more women danced with their eyes open.
The questioner arrived at this blog looking for the answer. Of course, men don’t shut their eyes while dancing for a very good reason — they lead. But so many women in the milongas dance with their eyes closed for the entire dance.
I’ve never asked women why they close their eyes. The reason could be less visual distraction and a more intense experience. Some may want to get to a meditative state.
I found what Carlos Gavito had to say about it:
I’ve met girls who thought they had to have their eyes closed to dance a good tango. That’s a mistake, too. You close your eyes when you feel like it, when you’re comfortable, not because you have to, or because it looks better.
If tango is a sensual experience, as my friend John points out, how can it be so when the sense of sight isn’t active?
And besides, we use our sense of sight for balance, not our partners.
Do men prefer dancing with women who help them by keeping their eyes open?
My first tango teacher was Jorge Bartolucci, an Argentine living in Mexico City. He and his wife Monna spent the school year 1991-92 at the University of Chicago during their sabbatical from the University of Mexico. I heard about their group classes at a Chicago dance studio and scheduled weekly private classes with them. I was hungry to learn all I could about the dance and the music. We attended the Stanford Tango Week together in July 1993, and they encouraged me to begin teaching tango.
I added tango to my teaching schedule in September 1993 and formed the Chicago Argentine Tango Society. A few months later, Barry Jones from England was in town on business and heard about my classes. His guidance was invaluable to me and the men in the class. Barry encouraged me to go to Buenos Aires and dance in the milongas.
That’s the short version about my tango journey that continues in Buenos Aires. Jorge and Barry were instrumental in my development as a tango dancer and tango teacher.
You can imagine my surprise when both of them were present at Lo de Celia on Sunday. Both came to Buenos Aires this month on vacation. They met each other in Chicago over 20 years ago. The three of us were together again without any communication. I was in awe for hours.
There are many women who assume that any man who approaches is coming to dance with them, which is often not the case. Some are very successful in tanda interception.
A newcomer at Lo de Celia assumed that Juan invited her and quickly entered the floor. He told her otherwise, but she tried to convince him to dance the tanda with her, while the intended partner waited patiently nearby. Eventually, she left the floor, and the other woman danced the tanda with Juan. He invited her later.
Another desperate milonguera has no patience, but then that’s why she is desperate. She initiates the cabeceo when any man looks her way and isn’t always successful. I’m surprised her neck isn’t broken. After twelve years in the milongas, she doesn’t know that the men are the ones who do the inviting.
It’s good to see Jorge smile. A year ago he said he didn’t have the desire to dance, but continued going to Lo de Celia twice a week. I know it’s the music that brings him back, especially Juan D’Arienzo. The cabeceo is a challenge for him, even after eye surgery, but that doesn’t stop him from dancing.
I remember the first time I heard, “todo bien?” Argentine tango dancers were on tour in Chicago, and one of them always greeted me with those two words. I knew enough Spanish to understand the question, but what I didn’t know was the importance those two words have in daily porteño life, especially in the milongas.
Todo bien translates — all good. It doesn’t include a verb. Todo esta bien translates to all is well. Spanish speakers abbreviate the language just like English speakers do.
Gregorio approached my table in Lo de Celia with a big smile. He hadn’t been around for some time, and I wanted to know that all was well with him. He confirmed it was and added how good he feels in the milonga where everyone is happy and nobody has any problems. We come together to dance each week and leave with smiles on our faces and tangos in our hearts.
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