This episode in my Buenos Aires tango adventures is officially the first in my series called ‘The Cachirulo Chronicles’ that I introduced in a recent post. To refresh your memory or to bring you up to date if you’re new to the Tango Mojo community, you may wish to review that post here.
In Episode 5 of my “Adventures in BA Tangoland” entitled “Tougher milongas:how I cracked the code!” you’ll get a more complete picture of why, with all my years of tango experience and quick success in almost all the traditional milongas I attended in Buenos Aires, I was struggling to get accepted into the inner circles of two challenging milongas, with the same nucleus of “high-powered” milongueros. I would say that in this generation of men, they are among the best dancers in the city. I knew from watching them that most of them would love dancing with me, if I only had the chance! I was extremely perplexed and frustrated that in these two high-level milongas it just hadn’t been working for me.
In Episode 5, I also wrote about how discovering a new-to-me tactic for enjoying oneself in the B.A. tango world was my missing link for breaking the ice in tough milongas.
The tactic was "Stay late and go back". I had been delighted to have broken the ice and danced for hours with the cream of the crop at Lujos on Sunday night in Plaza Bohemia.
So let’s continue with my Cachirulo journey.
The following Thursday, I tried the same milonga, Lujos, this time in the favorite venue of most of the Cachirulo crowd, “El Beso”. I expected it to be tough on my stamina, getting there for my 7 p.m. reservation and staying till closing at 2 a.m. That’s a long time for me to go without food! (I eat mostly organic food - no empanadas or pizza - and also I don't like eating at milongas.) When I got settled in early at a pretty good table, I saw two men with whom I often danced in other milongas. One helped me get the ball rolling. Before long, a few of my new "conquests' from Lujos the previous Sunday night arrived. So I had 4 strong tandas in the first hour or so.
Also present that night was a Porteño tango professional who lives in Italy, whom I've known for 15 years. Let’s call him “Roberto”. Roberto had once taught a workshop with me in my tango school in Umbria. But we hadn't danced in over 5 years, and he didn't invite me the last two times we saw each other at El Beso. Aside from a quick “hello”, I had given up on even looking at him. But this Thursday night at Lujos he surprised me with an invitation.
It was funny how he invited me: the dance floor was already pretty packed when I returned from the ladies‘ room at the beginning of a tanda. It was almost impossible to see the men’s tables behind the crowd of dancers. I bent down to put my purse inside my larger bag on the floor. When I did so, Roberto also bent over to catch my eye at the level of the tabletop, below the dancers’ elbows, as I was coming back up!
Fabulous tanda. Roberto expressed enthusiasm between tangos, and so did I. He said "I'll see you again later", but it soon got very crowded, he didn't dance again. He left the milonga around midnight. [Note to tangueros: even many professionals prefer not to dance when the floor is extremely crowded, choosing to dance before and after peak hours. You have that option too, and you won’t be “wimping out”.]
Roberto had been sitting, as usual, with a few other expert Cachirulo milongueros who also rarely danced that night. I figured that after observing my tanda with their friend Roberto and hearing his positive comments, they’d invite me. Occasionally I looked in their direction, but nothing. I stayed through the crowded peak hours of the milonga, rarely dancing, being patient. I felt the usual irritation, but reminded myself that this is part of the “Stay late and go back” process, and my time would come in a couple of hours. Around 11pm, I ordered an espresso to give me some artificial fuel till the end of the night.
It felt like time dragged on. Yet I enjoyed listening to the music and watching the dancers. Finally, the crowd started thinning out. I got more invitations, and enjoyed more good or great tandas. Lots of pleasure and lots of emotion.
But then came the most surprising part of the evening: I got up to leave during the final tanda. As I was leaving the milonga, the eldest milonguero from Roberto’s table was also departing, accompanied by a younger bailarin who had sat with them all night. We walked down the stairs simultaneously, keeping our distance. Out on the sidewalk, the tall, distinguished older man who had hardly danced asked me where I lived. There were car keys in his hand. He was offering me a ride home. I politely told him the general location, and said, “It’s okay; I’ll take a cab.” He looked displeased. But when the young man with him said he knew the owner of my building, and introduced himself as the owner of a tango guest house, I relaxed and I accepted the ride.
In the milonguero’s car, the men invited me to join them to get something to eat. I thought I’d enjoy that. We relaxed with a bite to eat and a pitcher of clericot. Clericot is Argentine sangria. I knew it was loaded with sugar, so I ordered a glass of red wine. As we chatted, the young bailarin gave his elder friend a proper introduction, with his full name. I learned that he’s a highly regarded milonguero who's been dancing for 50 years. “He’s the real thing”, said the young man in Castellano. The milonguero told me stories from his 50 years of tango life, and I was very engaged! He had a rather mumbling way of speaking, with lots of slang expressions (probably Lunfardo), so I often turned to the young bailarin to translate into regular Castellano.
Finally the milonguero revealed that he had watched me dancing and followed me out to speak with me. He said next time he'll invite me to dance and hopes I'll accept. And do I like to eat fish and beer at Puerto Madero? (A now-chic waterfront district.) Oh, boy . . . the plot thickens. Anyway, I understood that I had a tanda date with this semi-legend.
The gentlemen split the bill between them and drove me home. The elder milonguero courteously walked me to my door. He was very tall and still looked elegant at 4 a.m. I
shook his hand and reached up to give him a kiss on the cheek. Once inside, I felt happy about my whole evening. It was another successful night with a tough crowd!
But the milonguero’s promised tanda, to which I so looked forward, would only be a success if he actually kept his word. As a New York tanguera with a few years on me once warned when one of my recent regulars pretended not to see me, “Tango men can be strange.”
Yes, this was a successful night with the Cachirulo crowd in El Beso. But the milonga was still not Cachirulo.
Stay tuned for Episode 2 of The Cachirulo Chronicles!