There are fringe milongas; and there are posh ones. Salon Canning (or just Canning to its regulars) is definitely one of the posh ones.
Canning is less favoured by this vernacular tanguero; yet there are times when it is fun to dress up, hail a cab, arrive in style and dance until the early hours with the glitterati, the polished Canning crowd. Tonight is one of those nights.
It is 11pm, and we have just finished celebrating another milestone at our dance school, when our dance professor insists that we join him for a night out at Canning. We are already dressed and equipped with our best dance shoes, so the invitation is timely. Moreover, Orquesta Romantica Milonguera is to perform there at 1am, after which there will be two dance performances. So moments later we collect in 9 de Julio, flag down two cabs, and race towards Av Cordoba and the journey to Scalabrini Ortiz.
Canning is one of those iconic milongas that seems to have been there always. Its history is a little cloaked - its name does not register in the list of famous milongas of the Golden Age - but every self-respecting tanguero (and those that aren’t) ensure that they dance here.
Spilling from the taxi, we join a short queue to obtain our 150 pesos entrance ticket. Around us magnificent milongueros hug their friends, as well-heeled milongueras disappear into the banos to change into their dance shoes. On entering, the room is packed. It is hard to discern a single seat, let alone a free table, but Patrick has used his influence to pre-book the last remaining place, right in the corner of the salon.
Those arriving at Canning are inspected as they process to their tables. Milongueras in tight fitted dresses slashed to the thigh look disdainfully, whilst the old milongueros, too busy with each other’s egos, hardly notice our arrival. If you are somebody in tango, Canning is a definitely place to be seen; a smart club of mixed age group that tolerates the groups of foreigners that flock to dance here.
Settled, with sparkling water, Stephanie accepts my cabeceo and we wind our way to the dance floor. Along the route we teeter between close packed tables against which innumerable chairs are crammed, each overflowing with an occupant. We angle our bodies and tip-toe through to the pista. There, the line of dancers seems never ending, but a thoughtful tanguero nods to invite our entry, and we are sucked into the outside lane.
Late last year, Francesca reported the demise of Canning’s ceiling. During a sudden downpour, water and plaster rained onto the floor and tangueros scattered. Tonight, all is restored, with new lighting and bright white walls to replace the yellowing paint. At the head of the room is the iconic mural, a photo-montage depicting the notables that have frequented this place. Elsewhere, bright coloured pictures grace high walls above the sea of tables.
Busy Friday nights at Canning require the art of producing a joyful dance for one’s partner - whilst moving defensively to avoid inadvertent collision. The floor is so tightly packed that all movement is confined to immediate personal space, and even this is under constant threat from those behind or in an adjacent lane of dance.
The first song over, we have advance but four metres. Ochos, ocho cortados, and giros become the staple diet of the Canning floor. Walking, which was the mainstay of Golden Age tango, is almost impossible here. Our tango world has shrunk from that of Mariposita to a micro world where every movement is condensed, shortened, tightened and to my taste, restricted. I intercept my giro as I sense the closeness of the dancers behind.
It is now evident why tonight Canning is so densely populated, for we pass an area, usually filled by tables, that has been cleared for the orchestra. Pink blouses and black suits identify the performers who have gathered to one side for photographs. Orquesta Romantica Milonguera is currently the darling of the milongas, having taken Buenos Aires by storm in 2017.
Sometime after 1.30 am the orchestra performs, and the floor floods with tangueros and others. Buscandote, Oigo tu voz, Solamente Ella ring out like bells across the floor. Tomas Regolo leads from the piano, Roberta Meagli, nursing her bandoneon, looks up and smiles; Roberto Minondi and Marisol Martinez arrive simultaneously at the microphone to sing.
Whilst Orquesta Romantica Milonguera’s sound is distinctive, it is Marisol that seduces the audience. As in the Golden Age, where the vocalist would not appear until half-way through the song - it is said, because to do otherwise would result in the women standing to look at the handsome singer - Marisol will often make a late appearance. When she appears, the floor before the orquestra congests with desire as both men and women watch longingly.
Later, as two professional couples give back-to-back performances, we struggle to watch through the press of standing dancers. It is time to leave. With our dance shoes tucked away in dance bags we nod to Andreea, and step out together into warm night air. Somewhere distant, a clock chimes 3 am. A taxi pulls up and we board. Now racing along the calles and avenidas, slowing only for the storm drains, we head back to San Telmo. Andreea is humming Fueron tres anos; dawn light appears just above the horizon. We all picture Marisol and re-define our tango love.
Orquesta Romantica Milonguera
Lucas furno: Violin
Luli Christe: Violin
Sara Ryan: Violin
Oscar Yemah: Bandoneon
Ricardo Badaracco: Bandoneón
Roberta Maegli: Bandoneón
Juan Miguens: Contrabajo
Tomás Regolo: Piano
Marisol Martinez: Voz
Roberto Minondi: Voz