We are crossing Avenida 9 de Julio, heading for Carlos Calvo 950 - the home of Mariposita de San Telmo. It is now a regular journey for us, easily undertaken by instinct, especially for Stephanie who attends the fabulous ‘Ladies Technique’ classes there.
Mariposita is a tango hotel and tango dance school. Sitting modestly next door to a towering green glass block, there is no outward sign of either hotel, or tango, simply an unmarked grey door with an adjacent caged bell, which we press. A voice answers. We hear footsteps on the long corridor and the sound of the latch. The door is opened by graceful Lettie, mother to the proprietor, Carolina Bonaventura. Behind her is Simon, a terrier of unknown breed, clearly the master of the house.
Towards the end of the corridor we turn right, entering a grand dance salon. No simple studio here - this is a large, elegant space with high ceiling, running the depth of the building. The floor is polished wood. It is mirrored along it’s full length.
Centre stage is Patrick Arellano, supported by Giannina Roncagliolo who teach here under Carolina’s direction. Tonight there is a class of twelve dancers, distinctive in the ‘Mariposita style’ - a gentle V embrace designed to give perfect freedom to the follower. Whilst the student’s dance levels differ, Patrick appears to tune seamlessly to their experience, offering empowering advice to each. This is the most respectful and focused method of teaching.
Leti returns to the counter to one side at the head of the salon. Behind her is a small kitchen containing a glass-fronted refrigerator full of cold drinks. Beyond double doors are steps to a large terrace garden running down the rest of half a block to a huge subterranean dance studio. The hotel room balconies overlook the terrace.
An easy Calo marks the end of the earlier class as students circle the floor practicing what they have learned. Patrick teaches technique, then translates this into a simple, accessible pattern to ‘nail’ the technique into the subconscious mind. Those looking for ‘flight-of-fancy’ steps will be disappointed: discerning students seeking a true tanguero style will be totally delighted.
Our session is for improvers, although again the range of the students’ experience varies in the class. This poses no problems - for the change of partners is optional - Stephanie and I ensuring that we understand the technique before we switch. Patrick and Giannina demonstrate with an amazing clarity, speaking in both Spanish and English, then direct their attention to individual couples as they assimilate Patrick’s teaching. Here, Patrick assists with modest and energizing corrections, gently given with humour and warmth. His teaching is like an embrace - telling us that we are safe with him, and valued. His is a great gift.
Two hours (we chose a double class) pass in a trice. We finish with a short practica in which Stephanie and I dance with our favorite fellow students. We pause to correct our giro; to replace a step; to feel a different embrace. We dance until the music stops, sensing that Patrick and Giannina may be exhausted by their own generosity. We part with a hug. Carolina Bonaventura has arrived back from a tour, so we share a special moment with her, then Lettie leads us through the passage to the street.
For tangueros of any standard, Mariposita proves to be a delight. Carolina provides a safe haven in which her community of students thrive. Stephanie speaks of her technique classes as ‘an inspiration’. For once - at group classes here in Buenos Aires - I sense that I too may achieve something special.