CHATTIN' UP...Hector of Cachirulo on Milonga Seating Strategy
444 Maipu. Saturday night at Cachirulo, one of the best nights of tango in Buenos Aires. The tables are about 3/4 empty when we arrive at 6:30 p.m., our usual time, and there are a few couples taking advantage of the free space on the dance floor. The red curtain opens and closes, regulars and tourists, couples and singles come through and wait as Norma, the benevolent "anfitriona" (female host) exchanges the entrance ticket for a raffle ticket. Up for grabs in a few hours is the usual bottle of champagne. We don't stick around for that, as 9:00 p.m. is dinnertime for both of us (and goddess help the person that comes between me and my hungry stomach). Still, we manage to pack in our tangos, milongas, and valses with our usual clientele in a short amount of time. We're efficient that way.
Hector, always elegant in a suit and tie, his few strands of gray hair in place, greets us with arms outstretched, and he tells my partner to sit in his usual seat in the primera fila. Then he takes me by the hand and leads me to my seat in the primera fila, a few seats to the left of center. I had a seat right smack in the middle of the row for a long while, but, because the smoke from my neighbor was killing me, I requested a seat next to the non-smoking ladies a little farther down the row. Thankfully, it hasn't affected my dancing at all, as I'm still sought out. Now that the non-smoking ban is in effect, a move back to my original seat could be in the works, but then I would miss talking to my neighbors, which is part of the fun, so I may just stay where I am. Whichever spot I choose, though, that spot will be my regular seat. I will be able to count on that seat having my name written all over it even BEFORE I arrive. It's MINE, MY PRECIOUS...
I asked Hector about his organizational strategy, if, indeed, he had a strategy, as the seating arrangement causes a lot of consternation among many dancers, both Argentine and non-Argentine. A few Saturdays ago, I witnessed a tall blond woman, who was obviously not a local or Argentine, tell Hector that she didn't want to sit in the back. She wanted a seat in the primera fila, anywhere up front where she could be seen. Another woman I know would not pay the entrance fee unless she knew where she was going to be seated first. What gives, Hectorcito? Give a lady a good seat, will ya?
Oh, if it were only that simple, dear grasshopper...
Listen, he said, the primeras filas are reserved for A) those local regulars, who keep the food on the table YEAR-ROUND, and not for tourists who come in for a few weeks or months at a time; and B) those local regulars and regular foreign visitors who dance well. Those who fall in the second category include two fabulous Italian women who come here for 2-3 month dance stints, who come faithfully every Saturday during their stays, and who are very popular with the gentlemen.
He admits that that there are local regulars in these coveted seats who don't dance as well as some of the tourists, but they are at his milonga every Saturday night, don't cause any fuss, and are also popular with the milongueros. Then he pointed out another regular visitor from Italy, fresh off the plane and sitting one row back from the front row of seats. He said, "That woman dances very well, but I had to put her there because the women who usually sit in the front row will get angry and not come back if I give away their chairs." When those who have permanent seats leave, like my partner and I, Hector has them already reserved for those who come in with the second wave of dancers between 9:30-10:30-ish.
But what about the extranjeros/as who live here and who are STILL given crappy "ubicaciones" (locations, or, in this context, seats)? Well, that has more to do with the quality of their dancing than anything else. Frankly, they may just not make the grade. I use myself as an example. I used to get so frustrated with the seating politics. I was an OK dancer, AND I was young and pretty cute, for chrissake. That had to count for something. However, I found that I had to earn my spot by working on my dance, which was humbling. And they watched me improve, and with that improvement came my seat.
And they are probably watching you, too. I see Norma watching people's feet all the time at Cachirulo. It's sort of unnerving when you catch her doing it, but I understand now why she does it. Hector goes to El Beso on Thursday nights, not only for the ambiance, but also to watch the dancers, many of whom will be going to his milonga.
As I said in one of my first messages, it's about the bottom line. Popular male and female dancers draw more male and female dancers which, therefore, brings home the bacon. Mmmm...I love to hear that bacon sizzlin' myself, so one can hardly blame him.
The worst thing a woman can do when she is given a seat that's not to her liking is to get pissed off. At the very least, ask calmly and and respectfully, if there is any way the host would consider giving you a better seat. If he or she will not relent, then accept what is given to you, or leave (This second option will probably do more harm than good, by the way.) If you accept what is given to you week after week, month after month, and you take classes to improve your technique, and, still, the dancing gods do not bestow upon you the place which you feel you deserve and/or a night filled with wonderful tandas, then perhaps you should consider that this particular milonga is not for you. Perhaps the level of dancing is just too high for you at the moment, and you need to reconsider other milongas where the dance level will allow you to dance and have a good time...which is the whole point of coming here in the first place, right? Why be miserable?
Think about Darwin's survival of the fittest. The baddest-ass animal is going to get the first and the biggest bite. Cachirulo is a place where good dancers from all over the world, who care about the dance and not just steps, go to dance with good dancers who care about the same thing. This milonga is VERY difficult to break into for the average-to-below-than-average dancer who comes into town once a year and who is relatively unknown. It is even more difficult for the aforementioned dancer to break in if he or she is unattractive. BUT it would be a VERY good opportunity for a dancer to sit and watch the dancers, which is an education and a pleasure in itself. I learned a lot this way: feet placement, abrazo (embrace) styles, embellishments.
Please keep in mind that the seating arrangement you see at Cachirulo will probably be different from the arrangement at Canning, or El Beso, or La Viruta (Thanks, Elizabeth.). Each dueno (pronounced duenyo...can't figure out how to get the little doohickie that goes over "n") has his or her own criteria. So, as the Good Book says, the first will be last, the last will be first depending upon the milonga.
And that, my friends, is the law of a jungle called Cachirulo.