CHATTIN' UP: Oscar y Lucia of Lujos (El Beso)
Enter El Beso on a Thursday night, and you will be greeted with a kiss on the cheek by Lucia, the dark-tressed, and often cat-eyelinered milonguera, who bears a striking resemblance to both Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, and Morticia Addams. Don't let her warmth fool you, though. She has been known to incur the wrath of many women, foreign and local, for her apparent disregard of their comfort and seating preferences at the milonga. Thankfully, I had always felt cared for and respected by her, even as she ushered me to my seat in the "segundo fila" (second row) during my first two trips to BA.
So, last night, our usual tango night, I accosted Lucia for an interview while she was trying to strap on her heels. Catch her off guard, I thought, and she'll give me the goods. With the grace of a fine hostess, though, she obliged and sat me down for our tete-a-tete before she continued with her duties as "anfitriona" (hostess).
I had my usual query prepared: How do you score a good seat at this popular milonga?
Addressing the Tango Goddess by her mortal name, Lucia reminded me of how this milonga began 4-5 years ago in Lo de Celia--before the lamentable Cromagnon discoteca debacle, before foreigners began the mad rush to buy property, before one had to wear protective gear to dance in Salon Canning on Sunday nights. They gained a loyal following in those days, and these people, most of whom are excellent dancers, continued their patronage when they moved to El Beso. Obvio (obvious) that they should keep these people happy by reserving them the better seats. The rest of the good seats are given based on merit, on how you dance.
"I'm always watching," she said.
It may sound ominous, but Oscar, her snow-white coiffed business parter (and maybe ex-lover or present lover?), claimed to do the same. He studies people on the floor--their elegance (or lack thereof), their balance (ditto), the placement of their bodies--and seats the men according to his observations. He declared, "I'm a bailarin (a dancer), not a milonguero. I enjoy the dance. A milonguero is usually "buscando cosas" or "hac[iendo]travesuras" (something like-doing bad things, or being up to no good)." He added in sotto voce, "I like women, of course, but I'm always very respectful." In the end, the dancing is his love; it even gives him "placer" to just sit and watch. "I even got a divorce after more than 40 years of marriage because of the tango."
Lucia remarked that there are women--good dancers--who opt to hide in the back instead of being squished like a sardine in the primer fila with the rest of the women. However, these women don't lose any dance momentum; they dance just as much as the women who are easier to see because they dance well.
She may consider placing a woman she doesn't know in the front if she asks nicely and if there is an available seat, or if she comes recommended by a good dancer. But don't put it past her to take away that privilege if she ends up having two left feet.
If a group of tourists enter with a guide, she will ask the guide if they dance. If the guide is honest and says, "Mas or menos", she will allow the group to enter and to sit, but not dance. She explained, "The place is small, and we don't want this to turn into a place for only tourists."
I cited what happened at Cachirulo last Saturday. A group of friendly Northern Europeans (Germans, perhaps?) had descended upon the milonga, and, the men, in ignorance of or disregard of the codigos, began to invite women to dance "al lado" (literally, on the side or beside; in this case, inviting without using the cabeceo). It flustered Hector so much that that he begged someone make an announcement to them in English to please "cabecear". Asking non-dancers or so-so dancers to just sit and watch prevents all that embarrassment from occurring, she remarked.
Knowing the codes is part of the milonga experience, but, unfortunately, many people aren't familiar with them. It could save a lot of ego beating if people would just ask someone local (or better yet, read my blog!). Lucia, for example, will take away dance privileges if she notices that they don't know how to "manejar la pista" (navigate the floor), or if they look like they are competing for the tango escenario championships with voleos and ganchos, moves which are generally banned from tango milonguero clubs. I have seen Oscar approach people (usually foreigners) to tell them to leave the dance floor during the intermezzo (music between tandas) to remind them to please respect the establishment and the rules.
Snagging a good seat at Lujos, then, is just a simple matter of dancing well and following the rules. It's harder than it sounds, of course, because becoming a better dancer and learning the codigos is a long, frustrating process, but one that improves greatly one's experience of the milonga in the future.
Lujos functions on Thursday nights starting 6:45/7:00-ish p.m. at El Beso, on Riobamba, near Corrientes.