Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Tango in Spanish: Porteno y Bailarin

Monday morning: a week here, less a few hours, and it's beginning to be fun. For the first time since I arrived it's cooler outside than inside, and I can live without the aircon. There's a cool wind coming from some undetermined point of the compass, and I need a jacket when I go out. A few mosquitos, but they are small and not a serious problem. Not yet, anyway. & still no internet.

I went to Porteno y Bailarin last night. A lesson was advertised from 9 to 11, with a milonga afterwards. Trepidation: a new place, an unknown class and in Spanish, Castellano, too. But it was fine: very carefully taught, starting from simple balance awareness exercises, leading into walks and then a sequence. The other students were locals more or less struggling to get some tango together. As to language, it's important to know the words for 'left' and 'right' but after that just pay attention to body language, and smile. There's a marvellous documentary about Nijinsky's sister, Bronska Nijinska, recreating her ballet, Les Noces, to Stravinsky's music, with the Royal Ballet in the 1980s, I believe. She must have been in her 80s, and it was said of her that she spoke 5 languages and had forgotten all of them. There was no linguistic communication: the Russian dancer said Bronska spoke no Russian, the French that she spoke no French, and no one quite knew how she recreated the work with them, apart from working mercilessly hard. You listen to the music and watch the body: the less you can rely on words, the more you look.

I think I got thru' most of the class before anyone started to realise I didn't understand a lot of the words. It certainly wasn't a complicated sequence, but a lot of observation and correction was given, and to dance as expected took care and attention. It was really excellent, and it seemed closest to a kind of tango that flows directly from the music. Even Oscar's teaching, tho' I like it, sometimes seems like needless elaboration.

& my friend from Friday night turned up. She called out to me as I was sitting down after the class: Why aren't you dancing? Come on! You must dance with all the 'chicas'. We all need practice! – and dragged me kicking and screaming onto the dance floor. It was different from Ideal: at Ideal there's more room, but at Porteno y Bailarin the floor is small and more crowded so the whole dynamic was different, no walks, a lot of tight turns. & I danced with several partners from the class, including a breathtaking vals tanda with one of the shortest partners I've ever danced with, who managed to stretch right up and make a good connection.

Porteno y Bailarin is much less formal than either El Beso or Ideal. It's small, intimate and friendly. As at Ideal there's no separation between men and women, but at Porteno y Bailarin, although glances and nods work easily because the place is small, you don't rely on them. Men, and to a lesser extent women, also ask each other to dance. I heard a woman sitting close to me explain politely to a man why she couldn't dance with him, although she was dancing with someone else not long after. Very Conway Hall. You don't just sit and stare at a line of partners: you can get up and wander around till you find someone looking for a dance. There are actually two small dance floors there; the main one isn't much more than 3x6 metres, and there were at least 14 couples on it at times. The dancing is mostly close-hold, and some of it looks wonderful. Nothing complicated, nothing most of us don't learn in the first six months of classes. It's just the way it's done, the way it's put together with the music, that makes it so special. Certainly the easiest place to get a dance so far.

Oscar's milonga class at El Beso, Monday afternoon. I'm perverse: tango makes me happy, and milonga makes me really miserable. But the level he's teaching is really way above what I can lead. I need something more basic.

Many of the clubs, like El Beso and Maipu 444, host different milongas on different nights of the week, run by different people and perhaps for different people. Thursday night at El Beso is a milonga called Lujo, but on Saturday night it's the Milonga de las Morachas. The hardware, the premises, remains the same but everything else can vary.

Oscar runs a milonga called Mi Refugio on Monday night at a venue called Nino Bien, which is a big, rather dreary hall, and I found it an intimidating social event. It's a long hall, women sit one side in a long line facing a long line of men, with a dance floor in between. The lighting isn't relaxing and there's nothing at all intimate about the venue. The dancing was interesting to watch, as always: I learn a lot, perhaps even more than from classes, from watching the people who dance with the music. I didn't enjoy the event, didn't feel like dancing, and left in time to get the last subte back, but it was another glimpse into the social tango world. El Beso separates men and women too, but it's a small intimate venue. I'll go back to Porteno y Bailarin every evening I can, but not again to Nino Bien.


msHedgehog said...

You know what, this is the first post I've ever read on anybody's blog about tango in BA that's actually succeeded in making it sound like something I might possibly enjoy. I think the chicas are crucial.

Tango commuter said...

The chicas sure are crucial! But sadly I haven't run into that one since.

Glad I made BA sound like something you might enjoy, but I don't think you need worry about that. Anyway, it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a well-dressed woman sitting at the edge of a dance floor will get asked to dance, and that some of her partners will be first-rate. In fact the chicas have a lot of power, as you'd find if you were trying to get dances with them! They can simply ignore you: they don't even have to explain politely that their feet ache, or whatever.
I'm beginning to get a bit more confident with 'asking' (at least the 'cabeza' doesn't involve speaking Spanish) but the amount of dancing I get is still way, way below my evenings in London. But I've watched a lot, and that's been really useful.