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October 18, 2017

Thoughts from the Argentine dance floor

The neighborhood that we got off the subway in by far seemed rougher than anywhere in the city that we’ve been to yet. Given, we spend most of our time in a relatively gentrified neighborhood.

It didn’t seem to be anything too dangerous, just a bit rougher and realer.

I found the door that I was looking for; it matched the description perfectly – a non-descript door with a doorbell next to it and a small chalkboard in the window that said, “Milonga esta noche.” I rang the bell, and the door opened up. No one came to greet us.

We walked up an old staircase and found ourselves facing a lady in front of a ledger that was flanked by two candles. It all seemed so gothic and slightly cultish. We paid ten pesos and moved our way through the crumbling mansion, the only colors were on the brightly painted abstract pictures of dancers lining the walls.

We walked down the hallway, following the sound of voices and found ourselves in a  bare looking studio. Rickety wooden chairs sat around cork tables that lined the outer ring of the room. A Spartan bar was on the other side. Two haggard looking men were busy at work setting up some speakers. The ceiling was painted in pastels in some areas, and weeds seemed to be growing out of the skylight.

We were there at 10:40 p.m. I had read online that the night here began at 10:00p.m. Obviously someone hadn’t accounted for Argentine time; the place was empty.

Slowly though, the room started to fill up with people who appeared surprisingly similar to us – eager young people, most from outside the country, looking for something a little more authentic than the glitzy, Vegas-like shoes that attracted most tourists.

Suddenly, one of the haggard looking men with long, gray, straggly hair and a bit of a gut, started dancing with an elegant woman in the center of the dance floor.

Their moves were informed of passion, yet slow, graceful and delicate. It was both a spontaneous and a deeply controlled dance.

Then it was my turn to learn the basics. I was both too spontaneous and too controlled.

Slide to the left, right foot forward; left foot, slide to the right. Don’t walk – slide. Keep the center of the body aligned, but let the rest of the body flow free. Mix things up; go left foot forward first. Pause. Sway. Sway. Let her get the feel of your body movements. Lead. Take the direction. Slide.

I took comfort in the fact that when things didn’t go well; it was because my partner wasn’t letting me lead.

By the end of the hour, I had acquired a basic set of tango moves. I was aware of how to move across the dance floor at least. It did take several one-on-one moments with the haggard looking man, but I’ll just consider that receiving more attention.

We took our seats along the rim of the room as the place started to fill up with more people who knew what they were doing. A man with an Antonio Banderas haircut moved a gracefully aged woman across the dance floor, in and out of the headlights. A couple, who we perceived to be American and who arrived with their children, exhibited great skill.

One man, an older guy with an odd cap, took turns demonstrating moves to the two friends who accompanied me. He made them look like seasoned pros.  At one point, he gave me instruction while I danced with one of my friends. I had an issue with leading with my feet, but in tango, one leads with their chest.

This isn’t a dance where one keeps distance and demonstrates talent through how one can manipulate the dancer away from the body.

It requires for two people to move as one, a single body detecting the slightest change in posture, needing little personal space.

The dancing winded down, and three guitars and an accordionist set up in the middle of the dance floor. As I drifted into the music, I noticed that our “new friend” was getting more interested in the girls. They were good at watching out for themselves.

Another band came up, and I began to feel exhausted, feeling a little guilty that I wasn’t keeping fully alert.

As another band finished up its set, my friends and I collected ourselves, waited for our “private dance teacher” to leave and left.

Mike Fox is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at mgfox@umass.student.edu.

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