Buenos Aires continues to thrum with activity. We are currently experiencing a cool spell accompanied by torrential rain. Seriously, it feels rather as though someone placed the Iguasul falls over the town. When the downpour gets heavier, water runs in thick rivers down the streets, gushing in - and more problematically out - of the drainage system. But enough talking about the weather.
Time for the taxi anecdote. The other day I climbed into a taxi - normally I take the 'Colectivo' (bus) as it costs around 2.70 pesos where a taxi would be 30 or 40, but I was late - and after a while the taxi driver asks me where I'm from. 'Greece,' I answer, because I do get rather tired of saying Switzerland, and I am as much Greek as I am Swiss, after all. So we talk about the economical situation of both countries, of course. Then he asks me why I'm here. 'Tango.' 'Ahhhh, tango!' It turns out my seventy-so taxi driver grew up with tango - not dancing, but listening - and had a great fondness for d'Arienzo and Pugliese. I swear he almost kidnapped me just to keep talking about tango. 'Young people these days,' he told me, 'don't know tango.' He pointed people out in the street. 'She doesn't know tango. Those two don't know tango. This one? No... It's the people like you who make tango live. Who come from abroad, for tango. When I was young, tango was everywhere. People danced in the cafés, in the streets - they didn't get drunk or take drugs, they didn't go in nightclubs, they danced tango.' I smiled and nodded, despite not agreeing entirely. How much of his speech was nostalgia for better times? How much was true? I do wonder.
Milongas seem somewhat less full than they were last month. A great number of tango tourists have had to return to their homes and obligations. Another wave seems to be trickling in - the occasional face of wide-eyed discovery gives away most new arrivals. And when it doesn't, you can generally identify the newcomer as the more-or-less advanced dancer who makes perfect straight lines but for 'some reason' is having a lot of trouble with the Ronda. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, especially in the people who have been here more than once or for prolonged periods of time.
My favourite milonga is still El Yeite. The room often feels a little bit refrigerated, especially if you happen not to be dancing. Regretfully, I do not dance every tanda. This is due to two reasons:
1) El Yeite is like a professional playground. You see Chicho, Noelia, (often dancing together, those two) Pancho, Damian Garcia, Balmaceda, Lorena Ermocida, Fernando Sanchez and Adriadna Naveira, Pablo Veron, Celeste Medina, Mariela Sametband, Natalia Fures, Octavio Fernandez, Andres Molina, and the list goes on and on, happily social dancing with each other. It is, quite understandingly considering my current level, practically impossible to dance with that particular category - and entirely impossible to dance in that particular category.
2) I am picky about my dancers. I know some people who tell me I should just dance with everybody, and that I can enjoy it even if they aren't that good. Sorry, but no. Yes, I have enjoyed tandas with less experienced dancers - but some of them out there look so tense, my shoulders scream just from looking at them. Then there are the suitcase dancers. They tuck you under their arm and then proceed to drag you around the floor with no regard whatsoever for your musicality, expressivity, or even comfort. Considering I am working very hard through classes and solo exercises every day to develop these point I am finding suitcase dancers increasingly intolerable. Let's not get into the subject of do-you-know-deodorant dancers. They are much rarer here than in Europe, anyway.
Another milonga I much enjoy is Viva la Pepa. It's relaxed, fun, but can get very full. Pepa seems to infuse the place with her friendly, enthusiastic personality. Generally, the milonga is preceded - like most milongas - by a beginner class given by a local dancer, an intermediate class given by promising young dancers, and finally an advanced class given by well-known dancers; in January Moira Castellano and Gaston Torelli. The whole package costs around 50 pesos - practices and milongas are generally between 20 and 50 pesos, unless there is a special event. Demonstrations by well-known performers are not considered a special event, as there is one in almost every milonga.
One of the main difference between Buenos Aires and Europe is the one-tanda rule. This is an excellent thing in my opinion because it ensures a better mixity. It ensures that a lot of dancers invite new people, and there is always someone around to TRY and cabeceo. On the other hand, most good dancers know enough women that is they don't want to dance with someone new they certainly don't have to. Besides, sometimes, you just really, really, really want to keep going for much longer than those pitiful twelve minutes. Well that's what practicas are for;
La Viruta is an unavoidable stop for any tango dancer in Buenos Aires. Personally, I find Wednesday and Sunday are the best days - the level is high, and the room is not too full. Then again, I have discovered I much prefer the adequately populated milongas. Overcrowding tends to make me feel stifled and claustrophobic. The medialunas are commendable :-)
El Motivo is another very nice practica - high level, good music, all positive. It is, like Viva la Pepa, in Villa Malcolm; a lot of events take place there, but the different organisers ensure very different atmospheres. I can't say I like them all. El Motivo, thought, is very hard to get dances in, especially in the beginning. You need, as in many things in life, determination, grit, and the capacity to improve regularly.
Las Malevas is also excellent - but often completely packed! Often practicas contain beginner and intermediate dancers serious about improving their dance, young professionals intent about practicing with each other, and just friends coming to hang out and occasionally dance. This creates a very nice atmosphere completely different from Europe - where we take our tango less seriously and ourselves more seriously, no offence intended.