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.