I have abandoned my attempts at formal Spanish lessons,
I have however, purchased a grammar book. I also try to pick up new vocabulary and expressions as much as possible.
I have a foggy notion about continued study back in Dublin. Classes at the Instituto Cervantes maybe? Perhaps an intercambio?
My attitude to Tango is entirely different. I am detirmined to improve. I am prepared for any time, expense and humiliation involved.
Whatever it costs, I must learn and must become a half-decent dancer.
This Wednesday evening, I head for the biggest and probably the best school in the city, at the J.L. Borges Cultural Centre on Calle Viamonte.
This is in Microcentre, near the famous Avenida Corrinetes.
Classes begin at 11.30 and last 90 minutes, when the next begins. The last session is at half-eight.
It’s nearly 20 past now so time is tight. I jump in a cab.
At the counter of the Culture Centre’s school, the girl behind the desk tells me there are no more classes for beginners tonight.
I point at the relevent entry for this class, in my up-to-date Guia de Tango. The part that say P. for “Principante”- meaning “Beginer”.
She tells me bluntly my Guide is wrong.
I stand there, not knowing quite what to do.
Briefly, I contemplate an indignant letter to “The Irish Times”.
Then I catch a stroke of good fortune. Somebody comes out of the practice classroom and has a quiet word with the girl behind the desk.
I am admited because, as I now see, class is quiet.
There are only four other students here, and only one is a man.
This seems like good news and a great stoke of fortune to me. The classes at La Catidral, although great fun, are so full one can barely move and or hear much of the teachers.
The other male student is a nice guy. He is also a giant, nearly 2 metres tall.
His dancing is marginally better than mine, but not brilliant.
The three women, two Germans and a Japanesse, are all far better, at an entirely different level.
The two teachers, Marchella and Eugene are- it goes without saying- superb dancers.
But, far, far more imporantly to me, it soon emerges they are also wonderful teachers, patient, clear, kind and encouraging.
I learn a lot.
At the end I am still a rank beginner, making dozens of awful and elementary mistakes. But I have at least learnt a couple of sequences of steps.
I need this. I must have something, anything, to work on, if only so that it can be taken apart and improved again later.
How can I practice, if I can not dance a single step?
I feel so euphoric I suggest we go to a nearby Millonga, so we can practice.
The tall man and the Japanese lady have other plans, but the two German ladies agree.
We ask our teachers for advice. They tell us to make for the famous Confeteria Ideal, only six blocks away, on calle Suipacha, just the other side of Corrinetes.
We find it readily enough.
Outside the dance hall is a beautiful frieze, of polished pale-green terrazzo. As you know, Terrazo is that lovely material from the 1930-50s, still seen in old hospitals and cinemas from that era.
It is made from deeply coloured marbles or alabaster, ground up into a mix of chips and dust, so it can be poured as a hard cement, then polished smooth again. I love terrazzo. It is probably my favourite building material of the twenieth century.
This particular, pale-green frieze illustrates one of the most basic, best known eight-step tango sequences.
By wonderful serendipity, these are the very pasos I have just learnt in class!
Within the pale-green background the man’s steps are in black terrazo, the woman’s in a deep, dark red.
Just time for one more practice then.
Myself and one of the Germans- Stephanie- hop on the terrazzo and practice our moves.
I make one of my “when I am rich..” resolutions.
When I am rich… I am going to have a terrazo tango frieze in my house.
Or maybe just outseide the house, if I live (even part-time) in Spain or Italy, Argentina or the South of France.
WE go inside and see the famous Confeteria Ideal, a famous an institution among Milongas.
Most Milonga were built for the ordinary folk. But Confeteria Ideal was built for high society. It is one of the few remaining classic 19th or early 20th century ballrooms of Buenos Aires. It is elegance incarnate.
Downstairs is an enormous dining room or tea rooms, surrounded with huge ornate column and hung with chandeliers.
Upstairs is the ballroom itself, with its old eliptical dome of etched stain-glass.
The Germans tell me they both dance tango back home. Both have come to Argentina to continue their practice. With ruthless, single-minded efficiency, they have booked classes everyday and plan to attend a milonga every evening.
Both politely excuse themselves. When they return they have changed out of their trousers and into nice frocks.
We settle again at our table. We order a bottle of Argentine Malbec, from the back bow-tied and waist-coated waiter.
The room is filling up now, a mix of mostly-older Argentines, sprinkled with a few tourists. Some of the tourists, like us, are here to dance, others merely to watch the dancing, and see this famous building.
The younger of my two companions- Stephanie- is asked to dance. She immediately gets up to accept.
I am happily chatting to my other companion. Then she tells me- not rudely but as a simple matter of fact- that she has to make eye contact or she will not be asked to dance.
She puts on her glasses and looks around the room.
It works. She is immediately asked to dance.
I watch her. She is certainly not an unatractive woman, far from it. But it is striking how she is transformed when she dances. How she becomes for that time, beautiuful, doing the thing she loves.
Back home in Nunremberg, she sells glass fibre insulation cladding.
On the dancefloor she comes alive. For that time, she glows.
Such are the joys of tango. I dance myself with both my new companions and one other very understanding lady. We drink a lot of champagne.
All is right with the world.