Pepito Avellaneda



"Those ‘potranca’ girls, they got you crazy!"

Wed Dec 19, 2001 2:40 am ("Potranca" is castellano for a female racehorse.) Last night we went to Sunderland. First I had a class with Osvaldo Natucci at El Beso, and then the girls were going to pick me up at 11p for the long drive out to the edge of town. I’ve been hanging out with my apartment mates. Malena, the local Porteña was a professional folk dancer, and she teaches Chacarera (an Argentine folk dance) but she doesn’t know tango well. She has given me a Chacarera lesson, and I like it a lot. It’s very passionate and athletic, but it’s not something I can use much back in Tucson. Renee, the other girl, is a cute young surfer/tango instructor from San Diego. Her blonde California looks have the Argentine men falling all over themselves and calling the apartment all the time.

The lesson with Natucci went very well. I have told about my problems, and lack of confidence at times. My tango problems aren’t just psychological. They come from some basic technical problems in my dancing that make me feel self-conscious when I am on the floor with these excellent dancers. I’ve worked very hard down here, practicing the walk on my own every day, and taken classes, as well as dancing a lot socially on the crowded floors. I’ve been in sports most of my life, and I know how much work it can be to learn new ways of moving. Trying to make major fundamental changes has really thrown me off balance. I thought for a time that my bad habits were so ingrained that I couldn’t lose them… and that may still be the case. With that in mind, I’ll risk bragging a little more to tell how it has started to come together.

The cat-stork-elephant-eagle thing seems to work, and I have begun to feel more comfortable in the walk. In addition, through sheer will power, I guess, I have been forcing myself to maintain proper posture. The result was that it finally all came together, at least for a couple of hours, in the class. At the start, Natucci put on Pugliese, and put me on the floor with the senior "potranca" sister, who is his dancing and instructing partner. I’ve told how easy she is to dance with. The system is that Natucci watches us dance, the two confer, and then corrections are made and instruction given. No new steps are ever demonstrated, or practiced - at least not yet for me. Often you are stopped after 10 seconds. We began to dance, and it felt right from the beginning. It’s the first time down here when it has really felt right. There were mirrors along the wall, and to me it also looked right. It felt so good that I had no self-consciousness about the people watching, and I was able to get into Pugliese, which I normally never attempt to dance to. If the posture and connection is right, you can feel your partner when Pugliese pulls the rug out from under you, move slowly, and give her time to embellish. When the walk is working, you can lead out with the chest when the elusive Pugliese beat returns. Everything falls into place. We did two dances with Natucci stalking around us watching like a referee at a prizefight. At the end, the beautiful sister gave me a big smile and exclaimed, "Que porteño!” To me it was a great compliment, and I thanked her and hugged her. There was rapid-fire question and answer with Natucci, and she kept shaking her head, "No, no, bien, bien. Aprende bien." One of the other women in the club I dance with came up smiling and hugged me. I must have passed a test, because later the younger "potranca" came up to me and said, "He want to see all you steps". "Todos los pasos?" "Si. Todos. Todo coreografia". I didn’t want to tell them I really didn’t know any more. Over the next hour I tried a few things I had picked up from Anna Maria´s classes, and the Tete videos, and he corrected a few things, but it was so draining that I could only dance with the sisters for about 10 minutes at a time, and then sit down and rest. Natucci would smile and give me the time out sign. The girls showed up on time at 11p (amazing!), and I was hoping they would catch me showing off with one of the sisters, but I was just sitting with a tired look on my face when they came to get me. I didn’t dance well with Renee when I first arrived in BA, and she wrote me off long ago to dance with the high-powered locals who are chasing her. Malena, who doesn’t know tango, heard about the advanced class thing at El Beso, so she thought I was good... until we were in a club and she was sitting with one of her friends who dances in the tango shows. [Note: I found out later that her friend is the daughter of the legendary Maria Nieves!] I was pounding away on the floor, and her friend pointed out about 15 things that I was doing wrong. End of respect.

We squeezed into Malena’s car for the trip out to Sunderland . Riding with her is always exciting, with lots of near misses and screaming and yelling and gesturing between the drivers. It seems to be the normal way the locals get around. One night she was sick and I had to drive her across town to the hospital in her beat up old car (which is very difficult to drive), and it was frightening. I just moved carefully along the side of the road and tried to stay out of the way of the trucks and flying taxis and suicidal night clubbers who were weaving all over the place. I’m not kidding - one night in a taxi coming home from Catedral we hit 70mph on one of the city streets. And it didn’t seem that unusual. Malena says the soccer hooligans sometimes take milk in cartons and pour in cheap alcohol and bunches of speed pills, and drink this foul brew at the matches before beating each other senseless. She says that’s what the cab driver was probably on.

We stopped on the way out to pick up Juan Carlos, who is an insider that hangs out with Carlos Cappello and Gavito at the milongas. His status is such that he was the announcer at the Zotto's big performance last week at Niño Bien. He loves Renee, the San Diego girl, and the great thing about going with him is that we don’t have to pay to get into the milongas. He was in his car and we were following, but he kept getting lost. After we passed the same intersection for the third time I asked Malena why he doesn’t just stop and ask directions. "Oh he cannot ask anyone anything, because he is a MILONGUERO!" she said, rolling her eyes the way women do all over the world when describing men. She had given yet another definition to the word milonguero..."Idiot"!

We finally found Sunderland , after wandering around the nice homes in the Belgrano district for a while. It’s an interesting building on a quiet suburban street with a nice café/bar in front, and a hall leading to an old time basketball court in the back. It’s actually quite famous, but basketball played on the slick tile floor must be very treacherous. And it’s a wonderful scene. It seemed very casual, not too crowded, with couples of all ages, but many of them old. There was a tremendous variety of tango, with everything imaginable being done. Tiny old couples tottering around dancing in ways I never new existed. One pair would dance with the man holding out his left hand with his thumb sticking up, and the tiny lady would hang on to his thumb as they bobbed around the floor. It looked like they had been dancing that way for sixty years. The announcer introduced Juan Carlos after we came in and sat down. He kept laughing and pointing out to me the cool things people were doing. It seemed relaxed, and I didn’t get the rush of tango adrenaline I usually get as climb the stairs into one of the crowded downtown milongas. We were sitting at the table while Juan Carlos ate and socialized, and Renee asked me to dance. I was surprised, because we’ve been hanging around together for 3 weeks, and we only danced one time at the beginning. She’s an excellent dancer, and I know her opinion of my dancing isn’t very high. We also have different styles. She’s small, and doesn’t lean in, but the floor wasn’t too crowded, and I was relaxed, so it was okay. She then danced with Juan Carlos, and afterwards she told me something interesting. She’s been dancing with him for weeks all over town, and she said it’s the first time he’s been nervous. He’s a professional milonguero, but he had stage fright! I began to look around, and I realized that I recognized many of the faces from the old Argentine tango documentaries I’ve seen. I had been admiring one of the younger dancers, and realized it was Gustavo Naveira. Juan Carlos began to point out who was present, and it dawned on me that my relaxed casual dances had taken place among some of the living legends of Argentine tango! And twice, I had bumped into people! I began to look at the dancers with a new eye, and suddenly the heart and soul of tango felt very near in this old gymnasium.

The older couples were amazing. I looked at their faces and tried to imagine all of the things they had seen. The men were perfectly dressed in well fitting suits, and fresh haircuts. There was a table of old men next to us that I fell in love with. I wanted to join them. They kept laughing and singing along with the music, and giving each other a hard time. Couples would dance by and they would torment certain ones, tugging the men’s coats, and grabbing at the women. The ladies would pretend to slap them, and then end up kissing them. And then the men would kiss each other. (These Argentine men are always hugging and kissing one another. I actually kissed my barber the other day after the completion of a successful haircut... but that’s another story). Dancing couples would sometimes wave and speak to other dancers, and to people seated at tables. I know people that always put on scowling faces like they are going to war when they dance, and they get upset if anyone tries to talk to them or disturb them, claiming that’s the tradition in Buenos Aires. So much for that myth. It was a wonderful time, and there were performances by the old timers. Of course I forgot the video camera again.

There was tango drama also. The main performance was to be by Gustavo Naveira, and he was stoked to perform for all of the legendary dancers. At the last minute, Javier & Geraldine (the current hot young performers in BsAs) were asked to dance also. They accepted, and their youthful energy brought an enthusiastic applause that Naveira apparently took as an insult. I learned all this after from Juan Carlos, and he said it was a serious breech of tango etiquette for the couple to have accepted the invitation to perform on Naveira´s night. About 4am we decided to go back into town to La Viruta milonga. I was tired, and as I went in to check it out I asked a cab driver to wait for me, because I knew I would leave right away. He said something about Salon Canning, and I said no, no... and gave the apartment address, thinking he meant to take me over to Canning. It turns out he new exactly where I wanted to go already, because what he meant was that he had picked me up the night before at Salon Canning. We went in and it was packed (not paying because of Juan Carlos), but I was tired and I left. With the taxi kidnap danger, it’s nice to know your driver. This was my second ride with him, and believe it or not another driver, who must work the tango scene, has picked me up three times, purely by coincidence! I remember his number - it’s Radio Taxi 449. If you get down here, give him a call. He makes me speak Castellano with him and we have discussed tango, the economy, Malik´s Patagonia adventure (don’t worry ladies, he made it back!), and an inexpensive little all night place Malena took me to, at the corner of Combate de los Pozos and San Juan where a lot of the drivers eat.

That’s all for now.