Durán Durán

Guest post by Derrick Del Pilar

I’ve been in this ballroom before. After visiting just two or three, you begin to realize that all hotels in the U.S. have the same ballroom with the same portable floor. The pattern on the rugs is slightly different, the lighting fixtures have slightly different shapes, the rented sound systems make slightly different buzzing sounds—but these superficial differences cannot mask the underlying sameness of all these spaces.

I find it comforting. Despite everything that is going on in the world outside, despite tragic bombings, despite horrific manhunts, tango still happens, people still come together and embrace. Not only in the venerable halls of that far-off city where it was born, but all around the world, in countless rented ballrooms like this, we pay (often imperfect but always enthusiastic) homage to the tango gods and pioneers of the past. Without the maestros of the Golden Age, we would have no music and no dance. Without the legends of the latest tango renaissance, resplendent on stage in pressed suits and sparkling dresses, virtually none of us foreigners would have ever seen an Argentine dancing tango.

One of those legends is here tonight. From my perch at the DJ station, hunched over my screen, agonizing over which orchestra to choose next, I didn’t even see her walk in. When I have the music set up one tanda ahead—a rarity for me these days—I look up to catch the eye of a friend from another city, because I simply can’t sit out this Tanturi/Campos set.

As we are dancing in the ronda, I notice the couple ahead of us. Well, I notice the woman dancing ahead of us. The man has good posture and good musicality, but he fades into anonymity while embracing her. The mass of wild curly hair, the arm draped all the way around his shoulders, the swooping line of her leg as she steps—I have seen it all before, in videos of performances from decades past.

Between songs, I whisper to my friend, “Is that…?” “Oh yeah! And she’s such a lovely person, too.” I sometimes forget that my friend has over 20 years experience in tango, and met many of the masters long before some of today’s teachers had even started dancing.

“My goal is to dance with her by the end of the weekend,” I say. “The end of the weekend! Oh, I’m sure she’d dance with you tonight!” We end our delicious Tanturi tanda, and I run back to the DJ station to make sure that the next tanda is just right. The night is almost over, so I’ve selected some slow, dramatic, emotional Di Sarli, with the crooning voice of Jorge Durán.

I look over at the table where my friend is sitting, and she is chatting with the maestra, the legend. As the cortina ends, I take a gulp of water. I’m quite nervous, as I always am when a tiny, perfect figure from a YouTube video suddenly becomes a flesh-and-blood person in front of me. I approach slowly, trying to keep a respectful distance—though here in this cavernous room lit by dim fluorescents, I have no choice but to use the kamikaze cabeceo. When I am about fifteen feet away, she turns, catches my eye, smiles, nods.

In the iconic videos where she’s dancing with her legendary partner, she drapes herself on him, pressing her weight into his chest. He often poses dramatically, dropping into a not-quite-volcada lean, then stalks around the floor with sharp, staccato strides.

When she embraces me, I don’t feel any leaning or weight at all. Rather, she just melts into me, as the long and unctuous melodic lines of Di Sarli’s orchestra and Durán’s voice surround us. After the first song ends, and we break for chamuyo, she says “¡Perfecto!” and now I’m the one melting. I’m tongue-tied, I don’t know what to say. “This music is perfect,” I say, in Spanish, awkwardly repeating her word, “especially for late at night. Durán’s voice, it’s so…romantic, melodic. Perfect!” “And perfect to dance with Durán!” she says, squeezing my hand. Somehow, she has suddenly put me at ease. “That’s why I didn’t pick Podestá, of course!” I say, and we both laugh before returning to the embrace.

The tanda, from my end, really is perfect. It’s like we are taking a ride on an inner tube together, down a calm stream that meanders through a lush green forest, with a few occasional, gentle rapids to send us swirling for just a few seconds before we float on downstream again. I use my simplest step vocabulary: walking, close embrace turning, a slow, low boleo for melodic notes.

I escort her back to her seat, then run back to the DJ table. Though I’ve gone 15 minutes past the allotted time already, the organizer is there, telling me to go an hour over. I put on another tanda, but for me, the milonga may as well be over already—how could anyone top that legendary tanda, danced with a legend? Durán con Durán. 

About terpsichoral

A foreigner struggling to improve her tango in Buenos Aires.
This entry was posted in Beyond Buenos Aires, Di Sarli, Donato, Tango crushes, Tango festivals, Tango through male eyes and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Durán Durán

  1. Dm says:

    Cool Derrick, so that was the reason to add another tanda page to your fave’s blog which has been sitting for a long time w/o updates (but of course I didn’t recognize the pun until now – Durán being so common a name). And you’re right, this tanda (even though it feels fairly de-energized when listened to in isolation) fell just right into the sequence of your DJing. BTW your stint had the most intoxicating and flawlessly alluring music of the entire event IMHO – not that it didn’t help to have the tangueros so warmed up by the wonderfully eccentric conductor Osvaldo (for how else you’d call a DJ who directs the whole floor with his gestures:) ).

    And now I realized that I haven’t seen Marcela dancing socially. It must have been different from her triple performance? … All three made me feel that she was making her partners suffer, as I couldn’t see much but their tense eyes and the arch of her back – it was like being a little child again, under the cupola of a circus, barely seeing the incredible feats of human strength and precision because of the gripping fear that one imprecise move, one slip, and these bones will snap and the flesh will burst out … close, please close your eyes, don’t watch, oh sweet child, don’t you feel being contorted by the pain of your own flesh just because of watching the actors and mentally placing your own body there?

    • terpsichoral says:

      Derrick should be the one to respond to this comment, but I’ll just add that it would be interesting to see video of the performance you mention. Could you find a link for us? Thanks!

      • Dm says:

        Not sure if it’s even OK to post mine … the videos came up kind of darkish and everybody was clad in black in the first place … it doesn’t do her justice. Let’s wait, maybe better captures will float on the Internet in the next few days. But I’m sure that Derrick grasped my feeling and my fear – if not its intensity – because he wrote about her dramatic, near-permanent arched volcada lean – and contrasted it, in the next sentence, with his own experience:
        When she embraces me, I don’t feel any leaning or weight at all. Rather, she just melts into me

    • poesiadegotan says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed my musical selections!
      As for Marcela, she did dance socially at this festival, quite a bit (both Paul and Richard in particular danced a couple of tandas with her). As I allude to in the post, her social dancing feels quite different from how her performance style looks. Though I personally didn’t perceive any suffering, real or imagined, in any of her performances—to me the stage-derived gestures and cues were meant to convey a deep, intense passion.

  2. Dm says:

    Found a clip a few days ago but forgot to add it here.

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