Posts Tagged ‘Lo de Celia Tango Club’

Why fix what isn’t broken?

September 6, 2016

Lo de Celia was one of the best (if not the best) milongas in Buenos Aires for 16 years.  It was perfect the way it was, especially when Celia Blanco was with us. I say was, since many changes took place in the last month.  We pay 33% more to enter.  Ouch!  Attendance is always down during the winter months, so this wasn’t the best time to increase the entrada or prices on the menu.  This was the coldest (and longest) winter in Buenos Aires in 30 years.

If you check FB (which Erwin maintained for years), you’ll see the announcement of classes by a well-known professional couple for Thursdays which were promptly cancelled. My guess is no one showed up.  Next came a new milonga scheduled on Thursday evening.  Everyone (except the owners) knows that dancers don’t go to the same venue two days in a row. A Thursday milonga in Lo de Celia wasn’t going to draw people from Wednesday.  There was no entrada for the opening, yet only fifty people showed. I know because I was there, watching the owners making no attempt to greet dancers all night.  Thursdays was off the schedule after the second week.  The owners don’t know how to manage a milonga, only a business. They haven’t figured out that what has worked for 16 years doesn’t need fixing.  Celia ran two matinée and two night milongas at one location.

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Last Sunday, one of the owners was present for about two hours, handing out numbers for the raffle.  Then he left for his real job in El Abasto.  The other owner was ill.  Celia’s staff takes care of everyone and every detail as they’ve always done.  The inspectors arrived, and Erwin gave them what they needed to certify that everything was in order.

The Friday night milonga includes exhibitions for the first time.  The new owners might think that it will attract more dancers, but I doubt it.  They’re trying to make our Lo de Celia like all the other milongas.  We attend Lo de Celia for one reason, and that is to dance and listen to great music.  The Friday attendance is abysmal, even with free entrada.

The Saturday night milonga has another milonga organizer since late August.  She has a loyal following after many years.  Unfortunately, the Saturday night regulars of Lo de Celia weren’t given their preferred seating, and many have gone elsewhere.

Lo de Celia Tango Club was a milonga for 16 years, with a high level of dancing and excellent music.  Now, Lo de Celia Tango has a practica, tango classes, yoga classes and exhibitions on the schedule for a new and younger audience.  No more dress code.  A new menu is on the table to sell more food and drink.  Dancers don’t come to eat, they come to dance.

A foreign visitor who knows and loves Lo de Celia as much as I do understands what our milonga family and home means to us.  It was therapeutic talking with someone who clearly sees the path of destruction.  It’s not easy to sit back and watch the family home being ruined right before our eyes.  It is sabotage, plain and simple.  Putting my thoughts in writing is part of my therapy while the destruction continues.  Sunday evening is still intact.

Celia took care of us.  She knew everybody by name.  Even when she wasn’t well, she came to see the family.  She was dearly loved.  She’d call out our names on the microphone every Sunday during chacarera.

Someone should write a handbook entitled, How To Run A Successful Milonga in Buenos Aires.  Until then, common sense and personal attention are basics.  If it works, don’t fix it.  Standing in a corner, having no one-to-one contact doesn’t support a successful milonga.

Sneakers allowed

August 24, 2016

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This sign prohibiting the use of sneakers for dancing in Lo de Celia is gone from the wall.  It’s one of many changes this month.

I sat in the front row on the other side of the room so I was close to three milongueros with whom I wanted to dance.  I had a better view of the floor, too.  There were lots of pretty shoes on display, and I was sorry I forgot to bring my camera.  Women dress elegantly at Lo de Celia, even on Wednesday.

Today was the first time I saw some strange shoes worn by men.  One foreign visitor wore silver sneakers.  Another young dancer wore dirty sneakers.  It ruins the milonga for me.  All the men and women are well dressed as usual, and then a newcomer who thinks he’s at a gymnasium shows up.

Call me old-fashioned, but the dress code at Lo de Celia was elegant sport for 16 years.  That sign on the stairway is gone, too.  There isn’t even one photo of Celia on the wall anymore.  It’s still called Lo de Celia Tango Club, but for how long?

Taking care of business, not people

August 19, 2016

I attended a new milonga last night in my neighborhood with no entrada.  I arrived by 7:00.  There was no one at the door to welcome me.  I went directly to the lady’s room to change my shoes, where there was no attendant on duty.  Then I went to greet a friend at his table.  No one was taking care of seating dancers, so I sat near my friend’s table.

The music was excellent by a DJ I know.  There were very few couples dancing, unusual for an opening with no entrada.  I counted 50 people in attendance, when the salon holds 200.  I knew about the opening only by word of mouth since it wasn’t listed on Hoy-milonga.com

I knew most of the dancers and enjoyed many tandas during three hours.  Others said the poor turnout was a surprise, and the lack of publicity was probably the reason. The first night can decide its success or failure.  Word gets around quickly.  One milonguero didn’t think the milonga would last another week, let alone until closing time.

The organizers stood in the background all night and didn’t welcome or socialize with their guests.

I’m sad to report that this opening was in Lo de Celia where two weekly milongas are enough for most dancers. The regulars go Wednesday and Sunday evening.  Friday and Saturday nights have different dancers including more couples.  The Saturday milonga has a different organizer and hours this week.  Anyone knows that dancers like a change of scenery.  No one goes to the same place two evenings in a row.  Announcing the Thursday opening to the Wednesday crowd wasn’t enough to fill the seats.

We love our milonga home and family at Lo de Celia, but it’s not warm and welcoming anymore.  When you invite guests to your home, you make them feel welcome.  You ask if there is anything you can do for them while they’re in your home.  I’m afraid that the new homeowners are too busy with new construction to take care of their guests. I hope they figure it out soon what it takes to manage the successful milonga entrusted to them by Celia Blanco.

Taking a break from all your worries

August 15, 2016

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.

Where Everybody Knows Your Name — lyrics by Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo

The milonga is where people can take a break from their worries, where people are glad you came, and where people know your name.  That’s why the lyrics of the theme song of the former American television program Cheers comes to mind.

Lo de Celia Tango Club is my second home in Buenos Aires.  I go two or three times a week to dance.  I don’t feel as welcome or comfortable in any other milonga.  I sit at the same corner table near the bar for more than ten years.  I look forward to seeing the friendly people who go there.  I always enjoy the music of Daniel Borelli and Erwin Quispe Zapata.  The sound system is perfect.  The chairs are comfortable.  The staff is the most attentive of any milonga.  As I watch the floor, I mentally name the dancers.

Celia Blanco worked hard to create her milonga.  That’s why those who go regularly feel like a family in their second home.  Everyone is happy there. You can see it on their faces.

Celia and Alejandra (hostess)

Celia and Alejandra (hostess)

When Jimena left as hostess a couple of months before the birth of her baby, Alejandra moved from the security to hostess.  She was a familiar face for several years, greeted people by name, and was a member of the Lo de Celia family.  When she disappeared recently, I had to ask about her.  Jimena always greeted me at the door with a big smile, saying my name.  Alejandra did the same.  I felt welcomed, and that meant a lot to me.  Jimena knew everybody’s name and was always glad they came to Lo de Celia.  Celia knew how to carefully select her employees.  Now Alejandra is gone because of a reduction in staff by the new owners.  I feel a void.  They don’t understand the key role Alejandra played in welcoming everyone.  There is no one walking guests to their tables.  Carlos is at the door and points to a table.  I doubt he knows a regular from a visitor, let alone anyone’s name.

Celia and Silvia (ladies' room attendant)

Celia and Silvia (ladies’ room attendant)

My first stop is always the ladies’ room to change my shoes before going to my table.  Silvia greeted me by name, and we always chatted.  She was there to keep the toilet areas clean and fresh.  Silvia worked on Wednesday and Sunday — the busiest days.  First, she was absent on Sundays for a few months.  Recently, there was nobody taking care on Wednesdays.  Silvia was let go to cut salary costs.  I know Celia would not be happy with the way things are these days.  Celia often cleaned the washroom herself so they were clean to her satisfaction.

Celia and Anna (kitchen/bar attendant)

Celia and Anna (kitchen/bar attendant)

When Anna began working in Lo de Celia, she was the ladies’ room attendant.  A few years ago, Celia needed her in the kitchen, preparing picadas and heating empanadas, etc.  She takes care of the bar and accounting for everything served; no small task.  In addition, now that Silvia is gone, Anna has to find time to check the ladies’ room, keep it clean and stocked with paper towels and toilette paper. She told me last week — I have four jobs.

Celia and Ruth Quispe Zapata (waitress)

Celia and Ruth Quispe Zapata (waitress)

There were always two waiters on duty — Johnny and Ruth.  Now Ruth works only Saturdays and Sundays.  Johnny handles waiting on everyone in the salon on Wednesday.  He can handle it during the winter months, but the milonga is full during summer.   There is no other milonga with great service like Lo de Celia.  I can name milongas where I’ve waited an hour for a waiter.  Ruth was working on Sunday, and I told her that we miss her presence on Wednesdays. She’s a sweetheart.

I had conversations with several women in the lady’s room, and we all are in agreement — they are ruining our milonga!  The new people in charge aren’t milonga goers, so they have no idea how to run a milonga.  One owner dances on stage at Esquina Carlos Gardel. They aren’t asking the staff for suggestions, but are making radical changes.  The table cloths were laundered, but they weren’t ironed.  It’s a detail, and Celia would not approve. All milongas have pressed table cloths.

There was an announcement made yesterday, but there was so much conversation by the women next to me, that I wasn’t certain I heard correctly.  I asked someone if the entrada increased.  Celia has always charged the lowest entrada of any milonga along with El Arranque. Once a year she raised the entrada by ten pesos.  It’s been 60 pesos for more than a year.  Celia never announced the increase during the milonga; you learned that from Mario who is cashier.  The dancers weren’t pleased to hear 80 peso entradas, and they responded vocally.  Two owners aren’t going to split the profits, they’re going to increase them.

The only use of the salon for 16 years was for milongas.  There was a time when Lo de Celia was home to other organizers’ milongas.  For the last eight years, there were four milongas by Celia.  As of last week, there are classes and a practica on the schedule.  Fliers are on the tables for the first time, but the regulars aren’t interested in classes or practicas.  A new Thursday milonga begins this week.  This means more work for Erwin Quispe Zapata who is the house manager responsible for ordering and storing beverages, etc.  Fewer staff members have more work to increase the bottom line.  Lo de Celia was never about money for Celia Blanco. She took care of everybody and always welcomed visitors to her home.

On rare occasions, Celia would dance a tango with Pedro at the end of the evening.  The only time I saw her dancing tandas was at her birthday or anniversary parties.  She knew her job was to socialize with her dancers and keep an eye things.  She did that job well, although she was harshly criticized for her management style.  The ladies are not happy to see the new owner dancing while they are sitting out a tanda.  She doesn’t know that dancing with men isn’t in her job description.  The new owners don’t know what to do with themselves.

We were hit with these changes all at once.  A milonguero viejo told me he believes the milonga won’t survive very long with discontent.  We like going where people are friendly, know our names, and make us feel welcome.  This doesn’t include the new owners.

People aren’t happy with the new management.  There is nothing stopping any of us from going around the corner to Obelisco Tango or down the street to Salon Leonesa.

DSCN5088 Erwin Quispe & Daniel Borelli

If the best team of DJs in Buenos Aires, namely Erwin Quispe Zapata and Daniel Borelli, leave the family, that will be its demise.

Celia left us only four months ago.  She entrusted her milonga to new owners who need to learn the ropes.  I thought Erwin or Johnny were the most likely ones to take over.  We all thought the milonga would continue as it had for so many years, but there is more than decorating going on at the corner of Entre Rios and Humberto Primo.  The demolition crew arrived this month, and we are all worried about the new construction.

Is tango sophisticated?

June 14, 2010

I read recently on a dance forum what has to be one of the most outrageous comments about tango. 

BTW I couldn’t care less about how they dance in BsAs. If they do nothing more than follow then they’re obviously not as sophisticated as the followers in Europe. 

You might think that this comment came from someone who has never visited Buenos Aires or danced in the milongas.  That is not the case.  Tango may be intellectually appealing to many well-educated people who are trying to learn it and analyzing it to death in the process.  I know that isn’t the reason that Argentine women my age go to dance in the milongas.  They feel tango in their souls, they love the music, and they want to surrender to the embrace of a man. 

Last night at Lo de Celia Tango Club was magical.  I haven’t felt that level of energy in months.  Dany programmed one great tanda after another for six hours.  The salon was full.  The tanda of D’Arienzo/Echague was the highlight of the night for me.   I sat back and enjoyed the music while watching the dancing.  This video gives a glimpse of last night.

I remember seeing Miguel Angel Balbi dancing with a very young Argentine woman at a downtown place years ago.  Not only was it unusual for him to dance with someone so young, but he walked off the floor after only one tango with her.  Later that night I asked him why he did not finish dancing the tanda with her.  He said that she wanted to dance her own tango, not his; and that he was unable to take charge of the dance.  This sophisticated young woman is somewhere in Europe teaching tango.

Tango doesn’t have to be analyzed; it needs to be internalized.  It isn’t complex to dance as many claim.  Ordinary men who are milongueros drive taxis or work as mechanics can’t get enough of it.  They know the music and surrender to it.  That’s all that matters to them.  Their tango is not sophisticated.  It comes from the heart.

Do women need to be men in tango?

January 25, 2010

Women learning the man’s role in tango is an ongoing debate.  What began as a street dance practiced between men in Buenos Aires has women taking the lead in ballrooms around the world. 

Traditionally, tango is a social dance between a man and a woman.  The dance venues in Buenos Aires hold to this tradition with only two exceptions in recent years.  Rarely will one see two women dancing together in a traditional salon in Buenos Aires.  Recently, I saw this occur in Lo de Celia Tango Club.  It was Wednesday evening when a smaller number of dancers are in attendance.  The couple seated next to me were watching someone on the dance floor.  I quickly realized they noticed two women dancing a milonga.  I had never seen this in the nine years I have danced in Celia’s place.  It appeared that a newcomer had decided she didn’t have anymore patience to wait for an invitation to dance, so she went to the table of a woman and invited her to dance milonga.  The woman didn’t dance the man’s role very well.  There they were on the floor while everyone watched in amazement.  The hostess passed by my table, so I commented that I had never seen this before.  When their second dance ended, the security guard was speaking to the newcomer (an Argentine) that Lo de Celia Tango Club is a traditional place where women dance tango with men.  Both women returned to their tables.  I was a little surprised that men were inviting this newcomer to dance after she demonstrated her disrespect for tradition.

Later in the ladies’ room,  I met the woman invited to dance by the newcomer.  I asked her how this came about.   She explained that she simply didn’t know what to say or do when the woman approached her table.  She knew the woman from another milonga.  She wasn’t comfortable dancing with her because she only dances tango with men.  She felt relief that the security guard intervened.  The situation was over quickly and quietly.  It was certainly noticed by everyone in the room.

Today more women are teaching tango and therefore learning the man’s role.  The late Ricardo Vidort said that when a woman learns to dance tango as a man, she no longer dances as a woman. 

Tango isn’t a dance between leaders and followers–it is a dance between a man and a woman, a blending of the masculine and feminine energies.

Primera fila

April 1, 2009

Who doesn’t like having a front row center seat at the theater or a concert?  It’s the best seat in the house to enjoy a performance.  The same can be said for the milongas in Buenos Aires.

I didn’t know a good table from a bad one during my five trips to Buenos Aires from 1996-1998.  I went alone, and I sat at whatever table I was given.  I was glad just to be there.  I didn’t know why certain people had reserved tables near the dance floor while others were seated near the wall.  All I knew is that I was happy not to be hidden behind a curtain or a post.  Tourism ten years ago to Buenos Aires was nothing like it is today.  When I danced a tanda, it was always with an Argentine.

I went regularly during my visits to Regin, Glamour, Pavadita, Club Almagro, and Club Gricel.  I had no knowledge of the hierarchy which existed in the milongas in those days.  It wasn’t first-come, first-served.  Those who were regulars had their table held for them every week without fail.  The best dancers (milongueros) were seated at the edge of the dance floor where they could observe the dancing.  A front row table was the best place to see the nightly show of dancing; and I don’t mean exhibitions because there weren’t any. 

The arrangement of tables depends on the size of the room.  Regin was an odd shape, and so was Pavadita.  Both salons were small, so table location wasn’t as critical.  Club Gricel has a  rectangular floor which makes it impossible to see dancers at the opposite end.  Then there was Club Almagro.

Club Almagro had a square parquet floor with three rows of tables on all sides.  There was an aisle between the second and third rows for passing through to avoid crossing the dance floor.  Every chair faced the dance floor. I used to go on Tuesdays and Sundays to Club Almagro and was content to be seated in the back.  It was where José Santoro would seat me.  I didn’t have difficulty seeing men across the room for the cabeceo.  I will never forget the night Jose seated me at a front table.  I could see the show, and believe me, it was a show not to be missed.

I have never gone to any milonga from opening day and then return week after week in order to have a reserved table.  That has never been my practice during ten years in Buenos Aires.  I go to the milonga when I need to dance and listen to the music.  I often observe women arriving late demanding a front row table when one isn’t available.  Those who want a front row table have to attend every week and arrive before the time when reserved tables are given to others.

Things certainly have changed in the milongas.  It’s no longer about how well you dance that determines where you are seated.  I have seen milongueros given back row tables when they deserve a front table.  I have heard of foreigners who come for a few weeks being given the best tables, and locals are seated at back tables.  Some organizers are forgetting how to take care of those who have attended milongas for decades in order to please those who come for a few weeks. 

Being seated in the front row doesn’t mean much these days.  If you are friends with the organizer, you have your favorite table held for you every week until you arrive during prime-time hours.  If you are a young, attractive foreign woman, you are likely to be seated in the front row of any milonga, unless you come with a dance partner.  You have the advantage of being more visible from the other side of the room and asked to dance more quickly that those in the second row of tables.  This doesn’t mean your dancing skills are of primary consideration; not at all, it’s what you’re wearing and your age that really matters.  The Argentines on the other side of the room are eager to dance with the steady supply foreign women who show up daily at the milongas and ready to dance with anyone who looks their way.  They don’t care how the women dance.  It’s about trying out a new partner, no matter what their age.  Men in the milongas love women and tango. 

Generally, the milongas seat single men together, and single women together on opposite sides of the room.  Couples are seated in the back tables or another section separate from the singles. 

I have gone to dozens of milongas in Buenos Aires over the past ten years. The only one where I have “my” table is at Lo de Celia which I call my second home.  It’s not in the primera fila, but it is the table I have selected where I am content listening to Dany’s music and seated alone when I’m not dancing with my favorite partners.

Lo de Celia Tango Club

April 21, 2008

The space was formerly known as Re-Fa-Si (which was named after the tango by Enrique Delfino). In fact, Marina Palmer mentions dancing at Re-Fa-Si in her book, “Kiss & Tango,” on page 111. I danced at Re-Fa-Si for the last time in January 2000, just before it closed due to the death of the owner. 

celia-tango-club-constitucionCelia Blanco took over the space and spent months renovating it for her grand opening on July 14, 2000. I lived three blocks away on Virrey Cevallos and Carlos Calvo at the time, so I went to dance as many as four nights a week. At first, Celia’s was open only on the weekend, but eventually there were milongas on other nights.

I consider Lo de Celia to be my second home, and I know others who feel the same way. The staff sets this milonga apart from all others. Claudio is the security guard at the street door. Mario collects the entradas. Olga, his wife, manages the coat checkroom.  Johnny and Rosario are the friendly waiters. Daniel Borelli is the best deejay of all the milongas in Buenos Aires. Silvia is the friendly attendant in the ladies’ room who takes care of everything. Celia is always there to make certain that everything runs smoothly.

I have a reserved table on Wednesday and Sunday in a corner next to the bar. It’s convenient to check with Daniel for the name of an orchestra, etc. Here’s the view from my table in the photo below. The two men seated in front of the bar are Roberto Angel Puyol (left) and Orlando (right, who died two years ago). Lo de Celia (corner of Humberto Primo and Entre Rios) is the place I enjoy dancing more than any milonga in Buenos Aires. And the best thing is it’s only ten blocks from my apartment.

Rob Nuijten 2002