After eleven years living, dancing, teaching tango, and writing in Buenos Aires, I came home to L.A. in 2014, where I'm reconstructing my life.
Saturday, July 21, 2007
Tanguera Tales: The Beauty Part 5
(He) walks in beauty, like the night Of cloudless climes and starry skies, And all that's best of dark and bright Meets in (his) aspect and (his) eyes;
I never trust a man who is too good looking.
Sarah arrived at the Confiteria Ideal with her suitcase direct from the airport, and it was like she had never left. It was always a timeless experience. Certainly the building never changed, including the hole in the dance floor’s pink stone surface near a marble pillar. Many of her favorite partners were there, Maria Esther was waiting at a table for her, both the host and the DJ remembered her warmly, or at least acted like they did. There were the Barbies sitting over in the corner. It felt like home, even though it had been six months since her last trip to Buenos Aires.
But she only had eyes for Santiago. A previous flame was there as well, a milonguero who also made his living from teaching tango to foreign women. They had had a short fling some time ago, but he became too possessive and aggressive, wanting to sit at her table at the milongas, whereby no one else would ask her to dance. He had even called her in Tucson a couple of times. In Buenos Aires he used to take her out to dinner and buy her roses off the street, then the next day ask her for a loan. That got old. So they didn’t dance anymore. Too bad, as he was excellent and fun to dance with, except when he was showing off for his friends at tables around the dance floor, leading moves to exhibit his partner’s derriere. But Sarah had never felt about him like she did now for Santiago.
It’s a tough call: if they want to have sex with you, invite you to “coffee” and you refuse, they no longer will invite you to dance. If you agree to sleep with them, then they no longer invite you to dance after the conquest and it’s over. You can’t win.
Santiago seemed glad to see her. He had streaked his gorgeous black curly hair while in the States and had gained a small panza. "Too many hamburguesas y cappuccinos," he said, patting his tummy. But he was still beautiful.
She thought Santiago liked that she was non-possessive and independent. She felt they had a connection and a natural camaraderie. They fell into the habit of having dinner after the milongas at inexpensive places, primarily El Tenedor, a chain of cheap Chinese-owned buffets. Yes, sure, she paid. And after a while he stopped talking about how badly Doris had wronged him in Atlanta.
Santiago’s only source of income was from teaching. And actually he was an incredible teacher. He had marvelous technique and was able to pass it along. There was no fooling around or flirting when he taught, he was seriously all business. Tango wasn’t fun or a means to an end, it was his life, he said. But he kept instructing Sarah at the milongas. Once he starting teaching her, he couldn’t stop. He would get angry if she slipped on a slippery floor. “Look at me! Do I slide? No, and you must not either!” Her dancing became personal to him, and it wasn’t the same as before. Instead of dancing in the moment and enjoying the music and the connection, she would worry about her little mistakes upsetting him.
He took her to his hotel one night. He had to sneak her into the huge old building of several floors that once, maybe a hundred years ago, had been grand and graceful. Now it was a flop house. The bathroom was down the hall, and there also was a community kitchen of sorts on each floor. His room was tiny, neat and windowless, and full of his two unpacked suitcases from his recent return from Atlanta. They had to be quiet, because he would have had to pay for her to be in there with him, or maybe it even wasn’t allowed. He asked her afterwards if she wanted to sleep there with him, but she couldn’t wait to leave. She was afraid she would have to use the bathroom, and she didn’t want to even see it.
He helped her to find a taxi when the sun started coming up, but not before saying, “You know, it’s silly for you to pay for a room and for me to pay for this one, which as you can see, isn’t nice at all. Why don’t we stay together someplace?”
So they moved, he and Sarah, to the Casa de Tango in Almagro. They had a nice room, with a bathroom right next door. There was a kitchen downstairs, and best of all, a studio where he could teach and they could practice. The manager thought that Santiago was a visiting tango professor and Sarah was his girlfriend. Otherwise there might be problems about a local milonguero and a tourist staying together.
Santiago had said he was a good cook and enjoyed it, so they invited Maria Esther for dinner, and he prepared a marvelous, simple meal while Sarah just watched. She felt like his girlfriend, and it was a good feeling.
They stayed there for two weeks. Some nights Santiago was out watching football with his friends as he said, or doing whatever, it didn’t bother Sarah. They were getting along well and she was happy. When they ate together, she bought the food, but it was inexpensive and didn’t add up to much. She paid her own way into the milongas, and he got in for free.
Several of the milonga organizers paid him, and other popular milongueros to come and dance with the women who didn’t dance a lot, similar to the policy of cruise ships. So he and Sarah couldn’t dance too much together, but that was fine because she enjoyed dancing with many men, although he was her favorite. Of course there was the chemistry, but also his high level of skill. Despite her not enjoying his picking apart her dancing, she was improving.
When the two weeks were over, he drove her to the airport in his car, his pride and joy, the only thing he owned besides his dancing shoes.
His handsome face was sad when they said goodbye. “Email me,” he said, “not everyday, but maybe three times a week, OK?”
Sarah had decided long ago that you had to choose between a handsome man who was nice and a good person, a good dancer who was handsome, and a nice man who danced well: you couldn't have it all. But maybe there was an exception?
...to be continued.