Monday, 25 February 2013

Milongas of Buenos Aires: Club Gricel

This is going to be the last blog about Buenos Aires milongas (at least for now). It's time we got back to the whole 'historical novels' thing.
We went to Club Gricel last time we were in Buenos Aires and it was very quiet. I vaguely remember going there before, many years ago, and wondering then what the fuss was about. This time we found out.

An important thing to remember about milongas in Buenos Aires is that the same place can be very different on different nights. Fashions change too: a place that is wildly popular one year can be deserted the next. Well in 2012, it seems that Thursday nights are the time to turn up at Club Gricel.

We get there about 10.30, which we thought would be on the early side, but the place was already heaving. It's a great barn with a bar at one end and tables packed around a floor probably rather less than half the size of the main London clubs.

We'd been at an incredibly crowded place in the afternoon and admired the way that the dancers moved like a shoal of fish, each one pursuing their own agenda but merging harmoniously, so that the crowd swirled like a single organism. Not so at Club Gricel. If the dancers were better than in London, any technical advantage was offset by the density of the crowd. Leaders here are out to have a good time and impress the women with their exciting pivots and turns. Never mind that there's barely room for a small forward step, macho blokes in naff suits carve a space with their elbows. In fairness, all the pushing and shoving is done with the upper body. There's no insane boleros or wild sacadas. I am not kicked or trodden on once and people are good tempered, even apologising if their enthusiastic lane changes cut you up too blatantly. But anyone who really believes that the famous Buenos Aires tango venues are packed with elegant tangueros leading their partners smoothly through the steps of a classic dance need only spend an hour at Gricel to discover that this is far from always the case.

So why do people go? It's crowded, the architecture lacks any distinction at all, the music is much the same as anywhere else and the dancing is no better than you'd expect in the crush. The answer is that I have absolutely no idea yet, tired as we were, we were still there at 1.00am, fighting for our half a square metre on the dance floor and (god help us) even attempting a milonga (a fiendishly quick dance that most people like a bit of space for). We said 'hello' to two people we knew and recognised others we don't know yet. We drank our coffee and strutted our stuff and staggered out to walk half an hour home and collapse into bed (we had been dancing all afternoon) tired but happy. And still not quite sure why.

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