31 Jul 2007

El Beso: Part I

That night, we made our way to El Beso at Riobamba 416.

El Beso’s entrance and stairway is an immediately reminder of its name. Coated not in vermillion or burgundy, but in a shade of true red.

It was a Tuesday night milonga at El Beso, Un Morton de Tango, organized by Osvaldo Natucci and Osvaldo Buglione. The room was not filled to capacity, as June is typically a quieter month off the peak tourist seasons in Buenos Aires. Later I also found out that like myself, the portenos are not fans of the cold (de sangre caliente! one milonguero said to me tongue in cheek) and some responded to the onset of a surprisingly cold winter this early June by staying home.

I was intent on observing the dancers at El Beso, to identify good dancers and also those who would not suit my dancing preferences. In general, I prefer to dance in close embrace. I find it distressing in particular if the leader choose to open up the frame in mid-dance to do open figures, so I am always keen to avoid such experiences.

Loretta, Colin and I chatted to catch up while we watched the dancing. We had a good vintage point with front row seats. Regardlessly, I kept losing track of milongueros who I particularly enjoyed watching once the tanda finished and the crowd return to their seats en masse. My eyes furtively scoured the room, skittishly shunning any accidental eye contacts. Oh dear, what did he looked like? Was it him? Or him? Or..was it him?

After a while, I received verbal invitations from a couple of the younger men in the room. Again like my opening dance at Salon Canning, the first question that I was asked both times – do you not dance? The first invitation I declined with apologies, and felt embarrassed immediately. Because El Beso is a relatively small setting, unlike Salon Canning, it is very obvious for the leader when he has been turned away. Even though it was the men's choice to risk a verbal invitation, my rejection will result in a public loss of face for the man, and it didn’t feel good to do so. The cabaceo originated in the milongas of Buenos Aires for a good reason. The code of inviting and accepting dances via cabaceo serves a very necessary function while preserving social conviviality. I find it a graceful and effective system, and it works to the advantage of both men and women.

Not wanting to go through causing more public rejections, I accepted the 2nd invitation. To my relief, the dance turned out well.

I was keen to put a stop to any further verbal invitations. The only logical conclusion and solution is for me to actively accept some dances via cabaceo. Even more than ever, I felt my eyes to be dangerous weapons which I lack control over. There were no safe directions where they can rest unmolested. Special protective visors required, por favour. With a feeling of desperation like a punter with a last roll of the dice at the roulette tables, I simply casted my eyes in the general direction of the row of tables on the adjacent end of the room where the men sat.

My eyes fell directly onto the path of a milonguero gentleman. In all honesty, I don’t know who was more surprised, him or me. This time I forced myself to hold the locked glance. The milonguero gentleman paused, then asked silently, “bailemos?” Yes, I nodded. There was a hint of disbelief in his expression. We got up to dance but he didn’t appear all that enthusiastic. I knew then that likely he had followed up with the invitation out of politeness, since a younger lady asked and he happened to be caught in an unguarded moment.

My milonguero partner has a precise way of leading with tiny marcas which was yet comfortable. The tanda playing was a mellow one. He danced calmly and very smoothly to the music, and shortly, I relaxed into peaceful, melodic contentment with the music and into my partner’s embrace. By the end of the 2nd song, my partner was also smiling and nodding as we attempted conversation. By the 3rd song, it seemed he has completely forgiven me for any transgression. We parted at the end of the tanda. The feeling of warmth and contentment stayed with me.

“So! How was it??” Colin asked when I returned to the table. “You know, I have not seen him dance with tourist women!” I found out that my partner is a regular milonguero at El Beso. Not only does he dance only selected tandas for the night, he is selective about his partners. It is then that I understood that I had “invited” one of the more exclusive milongueros to dance with me.

Later, from one of the tango mangazines, I found out that the milonguero gentleman’s name is Abel. Always elegantly dressed, in a slightly raffish way. With Rat Pack cool, like an Italiano Frank Sinatra or Sammy Davies Junior.

He is one of my favourite milongueros to watch, I enjoy seeing his style on and off the dance floor. In particular, I am always fascinated by how he does amazingly supertight hiros on the spot, one after another, smoothly, calmly in control. I see Milonguero Abel often at the traditional milongas. He never has a shortage of older, but always pretty and sexy women to dance with. He does not often dance with young women, even the Argentine ones. At least as far as I can tell, unlike some other milongueros, I have not seen him dance with young tourist women.

The tanda with Milonguero Abel was a fortuitous accident on my part. But it would seem I have some ways to go with the cabaceo yet…

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