"Yes, I've been there once before and it was fun". And so, with the taxi arriving at 11 pm together with my tanguera from El Sol de San Telmo we set off for La Marshall.
Maipu 444 could easily be missed. It is simply just another unprepossessing door into another block, sandwiched by large offices in the centre of downtown Buenos Aires. But there, everyday life ceases, giving way to La Marshall, known in the city as one of the two gay milongas.
My partner for the evening is Martina, a fitness advisor from Hamburg. She is tall, slim,and attractive with red hair and a lively sense of humour. "Let us see how it goes", she says as we ascend the stairs to the reception booth. Twenty pesos per head later and the blue curtain parts to allow entry to the milonga room. It is surrounded by small,circular tables with white cloths, some bearing the sign 'reservado'. Our host escorts us to one in the centre of the room on the edge of the dance floor.
The class is just finishing. There are about 30 dancers there to take the class. Others sit waiting for the milonga to start, as do we. Instruction is given so that everyone learns as both leader and follower. This is later to be seen in the dancing when leaders and followers switch, sometimes after dances or later after tandas. Everyone who attends the class is expected to change dance partners throughout the lesson, so dancers get to dance as both leader and follower with men or women at random.
Martina and I are in a small minority of opposite gender couples arriving to dance. Although here gender is almost an irrelevance when it comes to dancing, yet the gay men prefer to dance together and some of the mixed gender couples stay together for the evening.
Both Martina and I are open to the possibility of dancing with same gender partners. In Buenos Aires there has been a long history of men dancing together, as that is how men learned their tango skills back in the 1920's when the they would attend all-male practicas, initially as followers and later, after a minimum of 6 months, as leaders. Once competent, they would attempt a milonga, where dancing with the few women was a big prize worth practicing and competing for. The girls, I believe, learned technique from other experienced women, and the detail of steps by being led at the milongas, where the young men would invent more and more complex moves to impress....comme c'est la meme chose! Tonight, neither of us are invited by same gender dancers. For me, probably because I am seen as a leader, and even here at La Marshall, the leaders tend to invite. For Martina as a follower, perhaps because tonight there seem to be very few female leaders. Our fate is to dance together, but that is fine. Martina is a very experienced tanguera, having danced for many years and her style is open and dramatic. Our presence is soon felt and we draw a degree of interest from other dancers.Tonight the music at La Marshall is remarkably classic tango, but with the occasional tango nuevo, tango Greco and Esteban Morgado (a favourite introduced to me by Nefra) added.
We dance, promising each other that this will be our last tanda, then another song keeps us to the dance floor. At 2.30 we decide enough is enough. With a change of shoes we descend to Maipu, just to see the number 9 colectivo arrive. My Guia"t" de bolsillo (guide to buses) tells me that this is the bus for Chacabucco, and so, our fares of 2 pesos 20 centivos collected by the auto-ticket machine, we return at break-neck speed to El Sol de San Telmo, to tea, and bed.