The Owners of the Music
The most senior of the milongueros move with incredible calmness. Every time I watch Rosa and Pocho (left) or El Chino and Ophelia (below) quietly navigating the crowded floors, I feel tango in a new way. Each of them has been dancing for more than 60 years—which adds up to an amazing 120 years of tango experience per couple!
Last summer our regular table at Celia’s happened to be next to Pocho and Rosa’s table, and I got to be friends with Rosa. We spent time laughing and commenting on the other dancers, complaining about the cigarette smoke, and sneaking the window open next to our table to get fresh air (Celia hated it, because we let out the air conditioning and cost her money). Rosa told me that in the ‘40s when she went to the milongas on Corrientes Street with her sisters, the women would sit around the edges of the room on “bancos” (benches) while the men would stand in the middle of the dance floor and look for dances with eye contact .The line of dance circled the room between the men and the women, but of course no one could dance in the middle where the men stood. She says this custom ended 60 years ago, and now things are a mess because people are always cutting across the middle. She also told me Pocho used to work delivering pizzas when he was young—so one night I told him I was hungry and asked him to jump on his motorbike and bring me a slice of anchovy pizza. She thought it was pretty funny.
Because they are both small, and somewhat frail, I began to feel protective of them. One night it was so crowded that I thought maybe Alejandra and I should stay close to them on the dance floor and run interference to keep them from getting bumped or knocked down. But I found that they moved so smoothly and skillfully through the tight spaces of the crowd that I could barely keep up—and no one ever touched them.
This is the end of the first Picture Series of Chapter Two. In this part, we have tried to demonstrate some of the techniques used by the best dancers in Buenos Aires. In the next half of the chapter we'll attempt something more ambitious. We’ll look for the essence of tango—what it is, and what made it the dance it is today.