A milonga transplanted: “Sundays at El Beso” in its new home

The entrance does honour to its name. Club Fulgor, the resplendent, glows in an inviting festive lipstick red and holly-leaf green, with the familiar shiny white capitals above the door. I arrive to find a small group of well-known El Beso habitués standing with shoe bags slung over shoulders in the mild autumn evening air outside our beloved milonga’s new home — its temporary new home, I sincerely hope, here among the quiet residential streets of Villa Crespo. I weave among the waiting dancers, air-kissing right cheekbones so as to avoid leaving greasy pink lip gloss stains on their skin, but lightly touching left forearms so as not to seem overly formal or standoffish as I purse my mouth against the empty air. And I learn that we are waiting for the previous milonga to end. Officially, I’m told, at 10.30pm the Club Fulgor matinée dance should be over, but the regulars are reluctant to leave,  to surrender the place to us. Ten minutes later, the door is opened and we enter in a thin stream, awkwardly toting bags and superfluous warm jackets meant for a more severe chill, shuffling around, changing seats as tables are vacated by their owners, left scattered with highball glasses, grease-printed tissue-paper serviettes and wine glasses rimmed with the remnants of vermillion kisses.

The atmosphere is awkward. Susanna, the organiser, has the wide eyes and puckered mouth of an anxious hostess trying to seat guests at a dinner party full of feuding relatives and prickly, distrustful acquaintances. “You can’t sit here”, I am told by an older woman in thick spiky mascara and a tiny shiny sheath dress encasing her ample curves with sausage-casing snugness. Gathering up my things in my arms, I shuffle awkwardly down a few seats to be told I can’t sit there either. “What if these seats aren’t free? I think they’re not free. The couple who were sitting here are probably out on the dance floor,” I am told by a woman in her fifties with stiffly-lacquered hair and a sequined top glinting in the half light. “I think they’ve just left”, I say, signalling to the couple in question, who are standing nearby, shrugging on coats and squishing on hats; and indicating the table with its pool of melted water and golden-yellow dregs in a dimpled whisky glass and a crumpled two-peso note tucked under a saucer. “You obviously don’t speak Spanish”, she says, loudly and sternly, taking hold of my arm roughly with her long-fingernailed hand. “Go away; this table is taken.” An El Beso regular leaps to my defence, telling her, in a speech laden with sarcastic repeated darlings, sweethearts and my loves that the couple have already left and in any case their milonga is over. It’s our turn now.

Out on the floor, my eye picks out two of our couples immediately. The dance floor holds a thin scattering of middle-aged couples, with their slightly hunched postures, the women wobbling on their spindly heels, the men’s left hands clenched tightly around their partners’, the muscles of back and left arm tense and visibly cramped. But among them, two elegant pairs of dancers take long effortless strides around in the floor, embracing with visible softness. A slender blonde circles her partner with long, confident steps while his free foot sweeps around in the graceful semi-circles of repeated lápicesThe older couples came here to flirt, to socialise, to give their glad rags an outing, to sip their red wine and to simply embrace and move to the music, to enjoy a healthy pastime (or, at least, that’s how I see them, though it may be simply projection or unwarranted imagination and stereotyping on my part, I know). We, on the other hand, are the earnest students of tango: group classes are our labs, the interviews with dancers at Luna Llena our lectures, solo ochos our homework, Club de Tango our library, iTunes our Wikipedia, performances our examinations. We are the undergraduates of the tango world. And, gradually, but ineluctably, over the next few tandas, gown replaces town on the floor.

It is not easy to use cabeceo here, in the relative gloom. As usual, at the two short ends of the room, the men are clustered. My heart is thumping just a beat or two faster than normal and, between beats, my blood pressure must surely read a few mmHg higher than normal. It is frustrating to be able to see many of my favourite leaders there, sitting in the dim light, and not to be able to read their facial expressions or the directions of their eyes with any clarity. I squint, I stare, I scrutinise. I try to imagine my rods and will them to absorb more light, to try to feel the rhodopsin molecules shape-shifting deep in my retina. In the gloom, everyone seems further away. I want to dance with them; I think they want to dance with me. But the ocular communication on which this transaction depends is photon dependent. I feel my lips pout, my jaw tense, my hands grip the table. See me, damn it, see me! And, at last, it comes: a tentative cocked head, a nod in my direction at which I nod back with flamboyant vigour. Or is it in my direction? I am uncertain until the last moment when my friend is standing in front of my chair.

After the silken wood of El Beso, the floor feels gritty underfoot (later, Susanna will discreetly dust a thin layer of talc over the grime). The music — a lovely tanda of Di Sarli ballads, piquantly spiced up with a single, less familiar track — sounds tinny and hollow. The air is chilly and I keep my cardigan wrapped around me until the end of the first track. “But the important thing is”, my partner tells me between songs, “that we are here, putting a brave face on it. It’s important”, he says, “to remain loyal. To stick with it, in the good times and the bad times. It’s not ideal. But it’s still our milonga.”

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About terpsichoral

A foreigner struggling to improve her tango in Buenos Aires.
This entry was posted in Cabeceo, El Beso, Frustrations. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to A milonga transplanted: “Sundays at El Beso” in its new home

  1. Dm says:

    “To stick with it, in the good times and the bad times” – en el buena y en el mala? Yes. Y jamás un mal recuerdo tendrás …That’s a guy’s ideal. Reminds me of Nazym Hikmet’s poetic wisdom of the Veteran of All the Balkan Wars.
    Separate thanks for the Britishisms, never heard of “ineluctable” things before, and “glad rags” I thought were a brand of menstrual care pads or wipes or something :)

  2. tangobob says:

    The Official finishing time of Fulgor on a Sunday is One o’clock. True It rarely lasts much after 11:30 but that is the time. That is why the locals would not surrender their tables to you. On our last night there 29th May we did not leave until midnight see http://tangogales.wordpress.com/2012/05/06/hasta-la-proxima-fulgor/
    In the words of Little Britain “This is a local club for local people” I hope in my heart it stays that way.

    • terpsichoral says:

      Thanks, Tangogales. I didn’t know that and was told otherwise, but you clearly know the Club Fulgor milonga — and I was unaware of its existence until two weeks’ ago. Thank you for correcting my information. It certainly is a “local club for local people” and the ideal solution would indeed be for it to stay that way and for Susanna’s milonga to find its own, alternative home, in a brighter-lit place more suitable for our milonga which relies so heavily on cabeceo (preferably also with a softer, nicer floor).

  3. tangobob says:

    I am a relative beginner at Fulgor, my wife and I have been going there since 2007. Most of the regulars have been going for the sixteen years it has been running. It is true that they are very much an older crowd, but without doubt, they will soon make you one of their own if you take the effort.
    My only fear is that this club will go the way of so many and just cease because they can make more money from a younger set.
    I fully realise that the responsibility for this is not yours, but I also take Jantangos point that the original article showed little respect for these old stagers who have kept a relatively small club going for so long.
    Please bear this in mind next time you visit. Hopefully you will find a venue that better suits and Club Fulgor will still be my local when I can next get to Buenos Aires.

    • terpsichoral says:

      Tangogales, I share your sentiments. But I wasn´t trying in the article to either show respect or the opposite. I´m a writer; I describe things and I try to describe them fairly. The El Beso set, incidentally, is quite a mixture of different ages. My initial — albeit superficial — impressions were that the Club Fulgor crowd were older on average because they lacked younger dancers. Some of the El Beso crowd are certainly the same age or older as some of those at Club Fulgor. I have no idea how much the Club Fulgor charges for their milonga. But matinees do tend to be cheaper than night-time milongas, so there may be financial considerations at stake in the use of the venue, but I´m not privy to any of those transactions. I don´t know what you mean when you say “please bear this in mind next time you visit”. Are you implying you find it unethical to go to Susanna´s milonga? Or that I shouldn´t dance when I am there? I´m not certain what ´bearing it in mind´ would concretely imply. But if it implies writing a more flattering and mendacious account of things, I am not willing to do that. But my blog is not, as I always make very clear, a review site. I don´t review milongas. I write about specific experiences on specific nights which are by their nature subjective and may be untypical. But I do find it important to try to be frank and honest to the best of my ability.

      Having said that, I support local milongas, especially those with a long tradition. Since I am mourning the loss of El Beso after having attended for around five years, I can well understand the attachment people must feel for their local milonga after having attended for sixteen years. It cannot be pleasant for them to have their well-established turf invaded. The tensions and slight degree of hostility I experienced are understandable in the circumstances, if these are as you depict them (which I have no reason to doubt). And what you both tell me about the ending time of the Club Fulgor milonga also places things in a very different light and differs from what I understood to be the case. I hope we can either find a better coexistence or, preferably, a better venue for Susanna´s milonga. I do have faith, however, that Susanna is doing the best she can in this situation and I would like to go on supporting my own beloved milonga — preferably while not spoiling things for others. And new places can often have teething troubles, which I hope may be resolved in time.

      You might find it interesting to compare this blog entry, http://tangoaddiction.wordpress.com/2011/04/03/pot-luck/

  4. Anna says:

    It seems to me that the biggest issue here is that the two milongas overlap. How is this even possible? Many venues run separate matinee and evening milongas but I’ve never seen nor heard of an overlap – it’s a recipe for disaster! And the blame must lie with the organisers – perhaps the organiser of Club Fulgor rushed too quickly into this arrangement for whatever reason, I suspect not entirely altruistic. If either milonga suffers, the organisers must take the lion share of the blame. It’s not the fault of the milonga goers who pay their entradas that things are so messed up and why should they just grin & bear it? This applies to both sides.

    • terpsichoral says:

      I completely agree, Anna. Though I can´t comment on any of the details of the arrangement because I simply don´t know them. And I´m waiting to see how things work out over the longer term. I wasn´t at all surprised that there were some tensions in the air — in fact, perhaps there were surprisingly few given the situation.

  5. jantango says:

    No more Club Fulgor for the El Beso crowd. It was announced on July 26 that El Beso is reopening in August. No date mentioned, but that could be next week. You can return to your favorite place, that is, if you’re in town.

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