I left you, my dear reader, as I left the terrace here at El Sol de San Telmo to prepare for a night of dancing at Club Gricel. This was to be only my second visit to Gricel, the first being back in 2007 when Anna and her Danish companions invited me to join them for an evening of indulgent tango. You will recall, on that occasion, my steps at Gricel were somewhat faltering, but were later improved by champagne whilst dancing until sunrise on the roof of Anna's downtown hotel.
I decided that I would walk off the effects of my glorious pizza from Moderna at the corner of Chacabuco y Humberto Primo by taking the straight route from Chacabuco to La Rioja. For those who do not like walking, first, do not come to Buenos Aires, and second, do not attempt this journey. But for me it was an adventure to skirt the barios of Monserrat, San Cristobal and the dangerous Constiucion. Proceeding west on San Juan, one leaves the comfort of familiar streets to pass along the principal Avendia that separates the coping from the poor. To the north is a recognisable Buenos Aires, to the south is the area that Portenos tend to shun and tourists never see.
As I pass along the Avendia, local families are sitting on the steps to their homes, drinking in the night air despite the passing traffic. Outside the caged shop fronts, I smell a whiff of cannabis and to my right see the local youths have taken over the garage forecourt as a makeshift football pitch. Gradually, the full parillas give way to cafes, and the crisp linen table cloths gives way to shiny plastic. The walk is a brisk 35 minutes when La Rioja appears as if from nowhere and presents a left turn to the shabby doors of Club Gricel. It is now 25 pesos to enter the milonga (currently about £4.50). I wait inside the door to be shown to a table. The organiser does this personally after a handshake and brief words of welcome. I am placed at at table with other men, all mature and clearly regular dancers here. Club Gricel does not operate a segregation of men and women, so to my left and right the regular dancers are seated, in order of precedence, the older more venerated, and the exceptional dancers claiming floor-side tables. I settle, having changed my shoes in the entrance way, order still water (8 pesos) from a passing waitress, and examine the dancers. Here the trick is to wait. Do not act in haste. Watch and learn the codigios of the milonga, identify dancers who may be available to your cabeceo, and only then secure a dance.
Behind me is a dancer of considerable experience who returns to her seat. I wait. As the first dance of the tanda starts she has not accepted an invitation. As the next song starts I turn and catch her glance. She nods, I rise, I invite and she accompanies me towards the dance floor where she accepts my embrace. This is the design point for the whole tanda, where dances are made or lost. She settles into my arms and the music does the rest. Dancing with her is an easy delight, unhurried and savoring moments both of movement and of stillness. The floor is crowded so there is no room for bold moves; nor would these be appropriate at Gricel, one of the more traditional milongas. At the conclusion of each song we wait for the next, and the dancers to take up their embraces and start to move. These moments are intended for small talk, which I avoid. I have come to dance and not to question my partners. Again, we settle into the embrace, this time with the familiarity of having completed a first dance, and slip into a stream of dancers who describe little pools of life and connection.
Later, I catch Suzie's eye. She has been dancing with the local milongueros, so I start with trepidation. Our first couple of dances are somewhat stiff, but then, with a breath, we relax into each other's arms and pulse with the energy of dance. It is now evident that we are well matched, she is taller than the average tanguera, and slim, her long legs taking what I lead in her stride. Later, she returns to her milongueros and I have some lovely dances with both local women and tango visitors. Suzie and I come together for a final dance in which we melt into the floor, and after to a passing taxi to be whisked back down San Juan to Chacabuco and El Sol, where I depart, leaving Suzie to complete her journey to Park Lezame.