I wasn't going to be satisfied until I made it to Sin Rumbo. I wanted to go last year but didn´t have a chance, and last Friday we didn't go because we went to La Milonguita with Alberto instead. After finally getting a taxi (La Baldosa is in a rough part of town with prostitutes on every corner) and a twenty minute drive into a very quiet neighbourhood (lucky our driver was a nice guy because it wasn´t a Radio Taxi - and he was from Villa Urquiza so he knew the way), we arrived at the Cathedral of Tango.
Like most glorious legendary places of tango, in the dark, all you get to see on the outside are bits of glossy whitewashed wall, florescent lights, and bugs flitting around crashing into the said lights. In the daylight it may be even more non-descript. But in any case, we were too rushed to look for the tile with the photo of the horse "Sin Rumbo" - a milonga was just steps away and we were late! We charged in with the kind of clumsy anxiety and excitement that tango dancers get when visiting a new, strange milonga.
The organizer, Julio Duplaa, always looks completely deadpan serious - but I suspect that he is struggling to curb a huge sense of irony. When you have organized a milonga (and a "legendary" one at that) for as long as he has, and seen all sorts of things, from the great to the mediocre down to the downright silly, you've got to have a sense of humour (and try not to show it). When we crashed in enthusiastically - wide-eyed and disheveled from our hair-raising taxi ride - he was just passing by the entrance. He gave us a "look" with a ever-so-slightly raised eyebrow that seemed to say "Oh, MORE tourists!". Then in a split second, he decided to be nice - and let us in for free! He must have been asking himself: "How much more damage to tango could these little Japoneses do? Everyone has already gone home!"
We parked ourselves at a table on the edge of the dance floor right under a colour photo of an ancient but cheery and minuscule Carmencita Calderon. Good omen, I thought, whatever good omens in tango are. The floor was half filled with locals and half filled with crazy Geraldine and Javier clones. Well, not "filled" so much - it was really late so a lot of people had left, only the die-hards remained. We had to be patient with the waiters with regards to ordering drinks - because they had basically deserted the room.
Guess who we bumped into at this late hour? It was C and A, a couple from Toronto [now instructors]. A was noticeably pregnant and looked extremely happy. They were as shocked as we were at our chance meeting on the other side of the universe. But to think of it, nothing should be shocking, since Argentine Tango = small world. They were just leaving.
We started to dance immediately because there was good music and we had nothing else to do but to wait for the waiter to come. It happens all the time: Music starts playing - and we can't keep sitting down, we are never cool. We were such a contrast from the Urquiza clones - all were dancing the style that you find everywhere these days on Youtube with the women doing crazy crazy and precise adornments and the men with really stiff backs doing "walks" and "enrosques". They even had "Villa Urquiza" costumes on - I wonder if they go to the same tailor? Man Yung's suits always in the wrong kind of colours ("orange-red" and "yellow" come to mind) and ride up in all the wrong places making him look like a hunchback with a claw over his head and no neck. These tangueros wore suits that won't ride up and that made their frames perfectly ninety degree angular even in gale force winds.
Teasing aside, we've got to admit, the technical skill that those dancers had was pretty high. One slim young girl with short, boy-cut hair in Comme Il Fauts with criss-cross black ribbon ties up to her knees was particularly remarkable - I don't think there's any tanguera on earth who could do such rapid adornments, it was like machine-gun fire the way she worked it.* I was thinking: the adornistas at home (professional and otherwise) should just hang up their hats and give up. No way they were going to beat that.
* It was SAMANTHA. We didn't know until the next year we saw her again with her parents in Sunderland. We couldn't recognize her face - despite watching many videos of her performances, we had never seen it clearly before (Thanks a lot, Youtube!)
No matter, no dejection for me because I'm certainly not in the competition. We really enjoyed just dancing together at milongas when we weren't hanging with other people on this trip. It was just us - as it should always be. We danced to Pugliese, to Troilo (lots of Troilo on this trip, whereas there was a lot of DÁgostino last trip), some vals, some milonga, all fun.
The few remaining local stragglers seated at the sides started to stare. At us.
So we were just doing our own thing, Man Yung doing all his steps and looking like Quasimodo (him) spinning around a flapping black-clad dying swan trying to take flight (me) and then we passed by a table of locals still staring. They had been waiting patiently for us to make it to their table in the ronda. Then they completely shocked us because they started applauding!
It was kind of awkward, to say the least. I was so embarrassed I couldn't even look, though Man Yung acknowledged the applause and thanked the onlookers with a nod and a smile. And some other local gave us a thumbs up on the dance floor. Was there something about our dancing that the locals could identify with? I'm not saying that we are great or anything, there was just something - was it because we were more human than machine? More underdog than wi(e)(n)ner? More old than young? A mystery.**
** Or, according to Man Yung, perhaps not a mystery and something to do with Man Yung's musicality... loud jackets and good looks!
We saw a guy that looked like Jorge Dispari [Geraldine´s step dad] seated way back near the big wall with the mural, but we were not sure. He had a little posse of the "Villa Urquiza" dancers around him and Julio Duplaa would check in on them once in a while. It was none of our business, we just carried on dancing. Then a plump lady with wavy black hair in a deep burgundy dress said hello as she passed our table, and we said hello back and we exchanged kisses in greeting - hesitantly, because we didn't know who she was, but we didn't want to disclose that we were bewildered and thinking, "Who the hell are you?". She looked familiar... I asked her if she was Geraldine's mom - and bingo, she was. So in fact we were in the presence of Maria Carmen and Jorge Dispari and we didn't know! Blame Youtube and its grainy dance videos. We had no idea that Maria Carmen and Jorge Dispari would look the way that they looked - it was shocking to come face to face.
After a few tandas, Man Yung went to the washroom to change his shirt and the place started to clear out for real. Julio Duplaa, to be polite, asked one of Dispari´s "posse" to dance. Probably a student of the Disparis from abroad - leggings and a short dress. She had just taken off her shoes so she accepted the dance barefoot. They started to dance - but it didn't work out. For some reason her whole body was at an angle from him - to make space for her non-stop twirling feet. He was trying to dance but she was leaning and wobbling and pulling all directions in the embrace, trying to do adornments to prove her tango-mastery... including a really nasty one during a giro that made her look like a dog lifting its leg to pee.
Julio Duplaa appeared to have reserved his expletives for some other time and looked suave and calm as ever in his cream-coloured sports jacket. Perhaps he thought, "I'm on a roll here, I will dance with all the other (remaining) tourists in this room and the Tango Gods will put me on the good books for this year even though it's only March" - because the next thing I knew he was snapping his fingers and looking slightly annoyed [codigo experts - try and analyze this] to get my attention and to invite me to dance!
I knew that he had been looking at us dancing and talking to some of the regulars about us, but the invitation was kind of unexpected. Despite the strange "snapping fingers", you know, I'm just a tango tourist and game to dance with any milonguero (if only for the chance to write about it at nauseating length afterwards). I popped up out of my seat, ready to polka!***
*** Refer to Part 9 of our 2008 adventures where Tete had to disturb a whole section of seats at El Beso to get my attention for more Irene-flavoured awkwardness.
It was a tanda of Troilo with Fiorentino, not usually chosen by modern "Villa Urquiza" dancers who like their music nice and slow and dramatic to show off all their elegant "lines" and "pauses". Their dance interpretation of anything faster or peppier could sometimes look like they were, as the chinese would say, "trying to drag a bull up a tree". I was therefore, curious how Julio Duplaa would interpret early Troilo.
No worries - Julio Duplaa is a complete dancer, like all the milongueros. He dances really pleasantly - easy going, gentle leading, great musicality. Lots of giros - pretty difficult but not as difficult as Tete with his dynamic explosions! No problem following for me, Man Yung does so many giros that giros are now easier than walking :-P I certainly enjoyed this dance and Julio may be just happy that I followed without tripping over either my feet or any imaginary fire hydrant - well, I'm being modest, more than that because he was smiling and not grimacing or looking irritated anymore. In fact, it was the nicest dance I´ve had with a "milonguero" this trip so far. Julio asked me to dance again and even got his wife Elsa Marie to dance with Man Yung when he came back from the washroom.
Julio Duplaa with Natacha Poberaj at Buenos Aires Gran Milonga Nacional 2009. I tell you, dancing with Julio himself was even more awesome than this video could ever express.
After all this Julio took us by the hand and asked us whether we "knew" Maria Carmen and Jorge and whether we would like to be introduced. We had said hello to Maria Carmen but not Jorge so we said yes - and we trekked over to the back of the room to be "properly" introduced. Maria Carmen and Jorge were nice and friendly. Jorge didn't mind at all when Man Yung proclaimed Jorge danced well... but Maria Carmen danced even better! Afterwards Jorge danced two tangos with Maria Carmen and we got to watch them dance without the graininess of Youtube intervening. Yes, Maria Carmen has amazing, bold, clean but intricate footwork - the two of them together are classic.
The locals who applauded us were leaving and before they left we exchanged a few words and kissed goodbye. It may seem strange for strangers to tell you that they liked your dancing, but it appears to be normal in Buenos Aires. I recall something that Osvaldo said in an interview - when he was young and attending milongas for the first time, the milongas were filled with Tango Gods and Goddesses. If they liked someone's dancing, they would say it, even if the dancer was from some other barrio. It was honest appreciation and encouragement. Here in Toronto, it's a different mentality. No one would speak up to criticize and especially not to praise, unless one was naive or had ulterior motives. Would it make us seem like losers to admit someone was dancing well? Our egos are wrapped up in cocoons.
It was time for us to leave too. Julio got Elsa Marie to call us a remise, and it was time to say goodnight. We had a pleasant conversation with Julio about where we were from (and where we got the chance we got to correct any lingering misconception that we might be Japanese) and he gave us his business card. Julio works in an important advertising agency downtown when he isn't being the lord of his milonga. The remise came - and off we were again into the night.
OK, I have to take a nap now to get ready for dinner at Alberto´s tonight. I´ll tell you all about Saturday´s adventures later.