02 May 2007
Turning from Callao into Bartolome Mitre you quickly reach the double glass doors of El Arranque. Once in the 1930s marble lined entrance hall, the young woman on reception greets you and 14 pesos later (just over 2 pounds sterling) for two, you are able to enter El Arranque milonga. Ahead are rows of tables, occupied by women to one side and men to the other. The strict code of separation allows an ease of view and securing the next dance. Lucia and I, however, are taken to the tables at the head of the room where a few couples sit together. Generally husbands will part from wives and sit separately. But Lucia is my taxi dancer, known here in the club, and is to dance with me for two hours before the club gets busy. Our waiter comes promptly, probably because he knows Lucia well. She worked originally as a waitress in the milonga, danced with patrons when she could, out of a sheer love of tango became expert and now guides countless men and women to their own personal success on the tango dance floor. But Lucia in fact knows everyone in the tango world, including the exotic special street dancers who I watched on Monday night in La Florida at the junction of Lavalle. These dancers appear from the heart of San Telmo and make their living by dancing with incredible precision and passion. The walls of the room are lined with tall mirrors and the huge floor is polished for dancing. Music follows the usual pattern of three slow tangos, three fast tangos, milonga and waltz. It being just turned 4 pm there is a high proportion of mature people here. Men and women between 50 and 90 circle the floor, wrapped in each others embrace. Their dance is simple and unhurried. There are none of the lifts and flashy moves that one associates with salon or street tango. Here, gentle, timeless, unsophisticated moves, sometimes capturing a special atmosphere of love and romance. The older men are quite the better dancers. With nothing to prove and a life-time of milonga, they know exactly what they are doing and focus totally on their partners, both young and old. My dancing with Lucia is raw and somewhat predictable. Lucia kindly and gently gives me advice and helps to soften my moves. For a few seconds of each dance I will deliver the embrace and contact that is an essential part of tango. When absent, I notice it has been lost as if communication has stopped. This is hard stuff, but will be worthwhile if I can persist! What is astonishing is the difference in character of all of the dancers. Looking out across the floor every dancers moves differ, and importantly everyone creates their own special atmosphere in this unusual world of milonga, cut off as it is from the noise and activity of the street outside and this city that never sleeps.