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In 1970, whilst at university in
Edna and her brother had failed to find a suitable male competitor in the advanced class, so in desperation their scout peeped into the beginners’ group and caught sight of me on a ‘straight stretch’. I was chosen, perhaps for my perseverance, and after intensive training, mastered the corners and danced competitively on the national stage.
Fifty years later, who would have thought it? Fifty five year old Bill Bailey winning BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing’s glitter ball! Thirteen years older than Joe McFadden, the 2017 veteran winner, Bailey creates a new world record as the oldest contestant to win the title.
After 43 year old Ranvir Singh exited the competition in the semi-finals, Coral’s betting odds on Bill Bailey to win shortened to 8/11 in the belief that he would inherit Ranvir’s mid-life groupie following. And, it seems they were right.
As an ageing tanguero, I watched Strictly with a fairly discerning eye, finding myself in a lonely camp (so to speak) with 55 year old Craig Revel Horwood – rather than 39 year old Motsi Mabuse, 60 year old Shirly Ballas – or indeed the ‘from a distance’ 65 year old Bruno Tonioli.
But this competition was not about age, nor, it seems, about dance ability. It showcased the contestants’ effort, commitment and improvement – or to put it in Strictly cliché, ‘their journey’.
In the case of Bill Bailey this was quite remarkable, leaving aside his age. What Bailey undertook was a root-and-branch investigation of each dance form he was asked to perform – learning its history, culture, and the secret elements of excellence that go beyond simple technique. He became a part of the dance, he disclosed his humanity, and achieved a milestone of its development.
When competitors internalise the essence of a dance, their commitment shines through the dance form, albeit in a 90 second vignette. It recounts their struggle, moments of exasperation, exhaustion and defeat, making their ultimate triumph more sensational. And this is what the great British viewer saw – an ageing comic transcending expectation with sheer joy of dance. In my book – a worthy Strictly winner.
At Tacuari 905 is our first San Telmo milonga ‘Chanta 4’, and at Estados Unidos 802 you will encounter the Museo Argentino del Titere (puppet museum).
A stop at Estados Unidos 617 is a must. Here you will find Walrus Books, one of the more interesting stores in Buenos Aires, stocking the widest selection of foreign books in the city.
Further on look out for the street art at 553 and proceed down to Peru, where a few steps right will take you to The Gibraltar at 895, a very popular San Telmo pub. Thirst quenched, continue on to La Brigada at 465.
La Brigada is said to be one of the best steak restaurants in Buenos Aires, combining eating with football. But this place is no slouch. Booking is essential, as is a well-charged credit card. It is all worth the effort and expense, setting almost unattainable standards of cuisine and service for its rivals.
Across the road from La Brigada is the Mercado de San Telmo, the city’s most iconic covered market containing restaurants, cafes, antiques, hardware, grocers and butchers.
Freddo (Defensa 901) might prove to be a suitable stop for ice cream, but for morning coffee, lunch or afternoon cocktails continue down to Café Rivas at 302. This has to be a favourite for those visiting San Telmo. Intimate, smart and friendly, Café Rivas ticks all boxes for those seeking a midday snack or full evening meal. For vegetarians, continue down to Balcarce, turn right to 958 where you will find Naturaleza Sabia.
Beyond Balcarce, Estados Unidos descends to Av Paseo Colon with the dramatic frontage of the Engineering faculty on your left and the gorgeous Ministry of Agroindustry to the right. Walking between them leads you towards Av Alicia Moreau de Justo, the gateway to Puerto Madero where Estados Unidos gives way to Rosario Vera Penaloza and the Rio Darsena Sur.
James McManus, born on 05.01.20 in Paisley; still dancing.
What do you want to do for your 100th birthday, Jimmy?
“To dance Argentine tango with tangueras in Buenos Aires, of course”.
For most of us, our imagination, impulses and passions will be extinguished long before we reach 100 years of age, but for James McManus from County Wexford, Ireland they are only just beginning.
James has taken on arguably the most challenging of dance genres, Argentine tango. And now, four months before his 100th birthday has today landed at Ezize Airport, Buenos Aires with the intention of competing in the qualifying rounds of the ‘Mundial’ – the prestigious World Tango Championship 2019. He will be the oldest contestant. His partner will be the renowned Lucia Seva.
James is not a stranger to dance, for it has been part of his life for 80 years, his first dance experience being in the ballroom above Paisley’s 'Burtons' shop to the west of Glasgow, Scotland. However, at a theatre show in 2002 he was first introduced to Argentine tango. “I always loved tango music but this show really got me hooked.”
In preparation for his trip to Buenos Aires he has been dismantling a lifetime of ballroom dance and jive, to assimilate the special intuition of Argentine tango from his teacher Hernán Catvin, for whom each week James brings a bottle of his favourite ginger beer.
Born in Paisley, Scotland, James’ father was a Fermanagh man from Enniskillen and his mother from Sligo, and his childhood holidays were naturally in Ireland.
James joined the Territorial Army as a teenager, was mobilized in August 1939, and by 1 September 1939 was guarding fuel storage on the Clyde. During the war he was posted to France where he saw action as part of the Northumberland Fusiliers after the disbanding of the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders.
The war over, James travelled the world as a marine telegrapher and radio operator, and following retirement in 1994 moved to Waterford, Ireland with his partner Patricia Lusby; and later to his childhood haunt of Wexford where Patricia died in 1998.
Described as kind, gentle and ‘an inspiration to his community’, James’ tango journey has kept him young. In conversation with Ronan Morrissey (Waterford News & Star) he said, “You get to meet people, it’s very social. It’s important now that I’m older because otherwise you’d sink into a seat and it’s a spiral to oblivion”. “I love the music. It gives you a buzz and when you’re moving right in time with it… it’s hard to describe it. It’s a feeling of happiness.”
James is now in Buenos Aires in the hands of one of the best of the world’s top tango teachers, Lucia Seva, described by Buenos Aires’ elite milongero the late Pocho, with the words, “La flaca Lucia, oh how she dances, incredible"; and by the late Alito, “Yes, she lives and feels the moment”.
So who would bet against James becoming part of Buenos Aires’ history of tango?
To find out more about his journey, subscribe to the blog.
- Respect the traditions - they are not restrictive - they are what allows tango to develop and remain the most fascinating dance genre
- Use the cabeceo and mirada - without it you are simply a tourist to be avoided
- Perfect your embrace - with the right embrace, you may be forgiven all of your other shortcomings
- Concentrate on musicality rather than steps - any fool can learn steps
- Leaders - always respect the pista, the lanes, your partner and lead her from the pista
- Followers - relax and have fun - your mood will be infectious
Perfect for dancers, especially tangueros and tangueras. Leave a message below to say how you got on with the simple but effective exercises from Sophie at The Soma Room.