The missing post - from 2010, but worth revisiting
Pizza at midnight left us with an appetite to dance. Liana, Miles, Charlotte and I sat round the table and agreed. It had to be La Viruta. Our tango master Fabrizio informed us that the real dancers arrive after 3 am, so we should stay the night; and that is precisely what we did.
We are buzzing on Pizza Moderna's 'Especia' and limonada. Liana and Charlotte talk shoes which they exchange and in which they turn to each other for the next affirming comment. Miles and I are of little assistance here; we love them all as they lift curvacious calves and bring acute prettiness to their feet. For our part, we throw our only pair of dance shoes into a small rucksack and then set off to hail a cab. Within 30 minutes we are in Palermo, riding the storm culverts which slow the sensible motorist to almost walking pace, whilst the reckless or unwary grind their axles on the concrete sills. And here, as we turn into Armenia, is La Viruta. The milonga is held in the building known as Association Armenia. This is Armenia and here are all the Armeninans, from all parts of the globe including Armenia. Before we exit his cab, our driver tells us about the Armenian alphabet and plays Armenian tango. But at the top of a wide, descending staircase, the last connection with Armenia drifts away as we go down into Club La Viruta.
The room is large, the ceiling is low, the music is loud, the floor is heaving with dancers, and almost all of the tables around the floor are taken. Somehow we manage to source a table against the long wall; other dancers have just left leaving a vacuum to be filled. We are now equipped with our dance shoes and sparkling water. We are ready to dance. This is a maiden voyage for Liana who is new to tango, but she is in good hands. Before leaving El Sol de San Telmo she has received all the tips a tanguera would need. "Try this, avoid that, listen to the music, if in doubt, don't do anything". Charlotte has provided the finishing touches suggesting some decorations which transform movement into dance. And we dance. Liana insists that the floor is full before she will take the plunge. She need not have worried; she is a dancer and her movement starts to flow as we disappear into the crowd, as if swallowed up by a single pulsating organism with hundreds of waving tentacles.
La Viruta is very distinctive in its appeal. This is not a formal milonga, although the wise tangueros will use the 'cabeceo' to secure their dance, a remote contract across some space that allows the follower to decline or fail to accept. Occasionally this convention is broken and there will be a frosty refusal to those who do not follow the code. The age group is diverse; there are older dancers, but the majority are young, just like us as I assimilate the youth of my companions. This is a hip venue, not totally overrun by tourists, still retaining credibility with local dancers.
I cabeceo a young tanguera. She nods and rises on my approach. I take her to the floor and only then realise the extent of her beauty, her long blonde hair flowing down her back. She leans into me, places her temple against the side of my face and invites me to take her on a journey, which we do. Parting at the end of the tanda is tentative, our fingers release, she kisses me, I lead her to her seat. It is like a minute love affair, the objects being beauty, imagination and tango, all secured through an embrace. Later we will dance Salsa and rock, in tandas of different dances that add to the distinction of La Viruta.
My female companions observe the most striking of dancers tonight. She has a beauty that calls for comment, both in her appearance and in her dance. She is one of the Russian tangueras who are now stealing hearts and imaginations. She is in demand, rarely resting between tandas, but she accepts my cabeceo. Here is the most supreme challenge. Her skill separates her from all around her and when we dance it is as if silk has been brushed across my lips. Her movement is astonishingly light, but present, her balance is perfection, her expression sublime. We are to dance a full tanda, and then extend the exquisite moments as the band strikes up and takes me further to the ecstacy of tango. I feel her softness through the embrace, I catch for the fraction of a second that I can spare, the longing looks of other dancers. I now have another definition of heaven. Now the moment of parting is almost a bereavement as I release her to dance with other milongueros, who too will enjoy moments of bliss.
It is now after 3 am. Somehow the tourists have vanished without me noticing, but I do notice those who replace them. The salon is still packed, but now with real dancers such as Jose Carlos Romero Vedia who organises the street dancers of Lavalle/Florida; those who teach, those who perform and those whose passion is so great that they will dance into the early hours of the morning. Now, we do not dance but watch. This is the world's best caberet of tango.
6 am, the music fades and the lights rise. Morning coffee and medialunas beckon as we exit into Armenia and daylight. A row of taxis await and anesthetised by dance we slip back to San Telmo with windows down to admit the fresh scent of late summer blossom.