When Alberto and Paulina came to pick us up in the evening to go to Glorias Argentinas, Alberto made a disapproving face when we mentioned El Arranque and scolded us about sneaking off to dance there on Saturday afternoon.
He cautioned: "You should stick to milongas that are good if you want to become good dancers!" I had a witty response - "No, precisely the opposite - we should go to sucky milongas because it would appear that Man Yung is a dancing genius by comparison!"
Glorias Argentinas is in the barrio of Mataderos - a long drive, about half an hour to forty-five minutes from downtown. Once you get close to the milonga, you have to navigate all these one-way streets in a very quiet, dark residential neighbourhood - one wrong turn and you will be a few blocks short, or a few blocks off, and you will have to drive right round again. The low square concrete houses lining the broken roads are so dark they look deserted, so we definitely wouldn't want to be on foot being strangers to the area. We've had taxi drivers get lost trying to take us there.
But once we arrive at the brilliantly neon lighted entrance, it has always been worth while. The people there are fantastic, super-friendly, and since foreign faces are rare, the regulars actually try to make strangers feel welcome. In the barrio milongas like Glorias Argentinas, the regulars are there because they enjoy going out, seeing their friends and having fun on Saturday night. They dance for themselves and not to impress anyone or to get students. The milonga doesn't have that slick sheen of commercialism that you find in the more popular, "instructor-frequented" milongas of downtown. It's refreshing.
Saturday nights at Glorias Argentinas are for couples, but this does not necessarily mean that you can't get dances if you are either single or part of a couple. We've always danced with the regulars at Glorias Argentinas, and this second trip was no exception.
So what were we doing at Glorias Argentinas this evening? Well, we had been invited to Elba Biscay's birthday party (time to have a Wayne's World moment: NO WAY! YES, WAY!). Elba is the beautiful, tall, elegant milonguera who partnered with Alberto in the Milonguisimo show for many years. You may recognize her from a popular Youtube video in which she performs a vals with Alberto to D'Arienzo's Valsecito Criollo - and where? At Glorias Argentinas, no less! In that video Elba wears an ice blue top and harem pants with dangerously high ice blue stilettos. Ice blue seems to be her favourite colour, perhaps to match her ice blond hair - and she was wearing this luminous colour at her birthday as well.
If you want to talk about surreal experiences, here's another one. At the party, we were seated right opposite Elba with her partner Antonio Juffre (they competed in the Metropolitano and I think also the Mundial that year) and Adela Galeazzi. On one end of the table was El Flaco Dany's brother Jorge Garcia and Jorge Uzunian from Milonguisimo. Right beside us was Alberto and Paulina. The whole table were special guests of Oscar Hector, the organizer of the milonga and of the show Milonguisimo. The party occupied a long table right at the front and there were many people that we didn't know or recognize - all of them superb dancers. And they all made us feel quite at home, even though it is quite bizarre for these two chinese people from Toronto, Canada (one not speaking a word of Spanish and the other barely managing) to be in the middle of this crowd, some of the creme de la creme of milongueros in Buenos Aires.
When you are hanging around some of the best dancers in Buenos Aires you cannot help watch the pros dance in utter awe. First up was Jorge Garcia. "Look at that fleet-footed man!" Man Yung whispered excitedly to me. His footwork was fast, precise and amazingly clear - with a grounded solidity in his tango walk that would be impossible to find at that speed outside of Buenos Aires. Then there was Jorge Uzunian, who also has beautiful, rapid and rhythmic footwork. Both the Jorges can dance circles around anyone we know. Adela of course, was every milonguero's favourite partner - and her adornments playful and lightning fast. To top it all off, Elba was competing in the vals competition that night with her partner Antonio Juffre - and we had a chance to see them dance a wonderful lyrical vals, filled with the entrega of tango. All of this would make any mere "tango mortal" (like ourselves) feel too intimidated to venture out on the dance floor, but we were continuously encouraged to dance - "You must dance, dance!" they said. The milonga is not just for sitting and gawking and chit-chatting, you are there to dance, and, as the milongueros said, you MUST dance.
We didn't just dance together, we danced with others too. A regular of the milonga (he always sits with his wife right in front of the mirrors - and that has been his reserved seat for the past thirty years) recognized us from the previous year and asked me to dance again. Man Yung even had a chance to dance with Elba!
And what did Man Yung say when I asked him what it was like to dance with Elba Biscay? Well, absolutely FANTASTIC. Your partner can be a world-famous show (or even salon) tango instructor, or the most skilled follower in the local tango community, but she would still not come close to what dancing with a milonguera like Elba (or Susy Tilbe - Man Yung had a chance to dance with her on the first day of our first visit to Buenos Aires) feels like. "Milonguera" seems to be a state of mind that could be transmitted to the leader when the milonguera follows. It is a deep feeling, which also feels like complete freedom. You don't have to worry about whether your partner can follow or not follow, or whether something would be "too tricky" or "too plain" or "too easy" or "too difficult". The milonguera dances to enjoy the dance, she is not anxious about being able to follow everything that the leader is trying to do (even though she can, and she does), nor does she care. It was as if Elba had given Man Yung the order to "dance, dance!" and that was all he needed to do - to dance.
We had an exhilarating time. There were the photos, the huge homemade birthday cakes with raging bright spitting sparklers on top, lots of dancing - and Man Yung even won the lucky draw of 100 pesos towards a pair of Artesanaal shoes!
Just as we were about to leave with Alberto and Paulina, one of the milongueros (probably requested by our hostess Elba) at our table asked me to dance the next tanda. I was surprised, because this particular gentleman had been very quiet all evening, sitting in his seat right at the edge of the dance floor - he seemed rather stern and disapproving, in fact. The next tanda happened to be a milonga. The milonguero looked at Alberto (he knew he was our teacher), and asked him whether it would be "all right" to get me to dance a tanda of milonga, and that he could always wait for the next tango tanda. I guess he didn't have much hope that the gringa could follow, especially in milonga! But Alberto was very confident in my abilities and said "Go ahead, it will be fine!" So off I went to dance milonga with the reluctant milonguero.
The first milonga the milonguero was puzzled - puzzled why no matter what he led, I could follow it. The second milonga he tried every trick he knew for milonga - and still, I followed. I was not in the slightest bit concerned. The third milonga, the milonguero felt completely and utterly free to dance however he wished. He became happier and happier as the tanda progressed, and by the time the tanda was finished, he was beaming and we walked arm in arm off the dance floor. He gave Man Yung the thumbs up as he led me back to my seat.
Man Yung was watching the entire tanda. "He was testing out everything he knew, and you surprised him when you passed the test," Man Yung remarked to me. Well, I'm lucky that I learned to follow from Alberto and Paulina, and how to dance milonga from Martha and Manolo!
It was truly quite late by the time we left the party. As Alberto and Paulina drove us back to our hotel, Paulina asked me, "So, how was it dancing with Ruben _____?" I wasn't able to catch the rest of his name.
"It was pretty good, " I replied. "What is his name again? Ruben? Who is he exactly?"
Paulina said, "Ruben de Pompeya."
"You mean THE Ruben de Pompeya?!!?!" I was totally shocked.
If I had known that he was THE Ruben de Pompeya I'm pretty sure I would have been too nervous to follow the way that I did!*
* And that's why I am not a Milonguera.
Martha's Apartment in Buenos Aires
A Non-exhaustive set of Tango links in Toronto
- La Cachila - weekly milonga
- Paradiso -- weekly milonga
- Practica El Beso
- WE Tango
- Tango Sur - classes, shows
- Rhythm and Motion - classes, milonga, practica, annual Toronto Tango Festival
- Tango Obsession - classes, weekly Practica La Coqueta
- Tango Lirico - classes, practica, weekly milonga
- Tango de Oro - classes, shows
- Tango Soul Productions - classes, weekly milonga, shows, El Congreso annual Tango Festival
- Vivatango - classes
- Tango Argentino - classes
- Club Milonga - classes, special events
- Alternatango - classes, weekly milonga
- University of Toronto Tango Club - classes, practica
- El Abrazo - classes
- Tangoloft - twice monthly milonga