The milonga that changed my life. You might say that. It was Lo de Celia in Buenos Aires. The owner was Celia Blanco. She died last night. Another candle snuffed out. One by one, the people who most influenced me are going, to dance at that great milonga in the sky. A new wave of dancers will never know who they were. Sad.
The first time I went to Lo de Celia was in 2001. I went to an afternoon milonga on a Wednesday. I think,but I am not sure, that Enrique and Reuben had the milonga. If not it was Luis, and Reuben and Enrique were on Tuesday. All three of them are dancing in the sky now, and I am sure that they as well as many other milongueros, were happy to receive Celia. Until this time my matinee milongas were El Arranque, Canning, and Ideal. Lo de Celia was another galaxy.
In California I was considered an intermediate dancer,in Lo de Celia, they saw me as a beginner. I was happy to sit and watch. In those days this milonga had amazing dancers. In the other milongas I was invited to dance, in Lo de Celia no. It was not until 2002, that I was invited to dance in the matinee milongas. I went to the one on Wednesdays and Saturdays. On one Saturday I saw Muma dance with Ricardo Vidort. I was mesmerized. No one, and I mean no one danced like them. It lit a fire in me. I wanted to be able to dance like that. They were so elegant.
There used to be strong codes in the milongas. Lo de Celia was a milonga for the milongueros and there all of the codes were in action. In the evening milongas there was a dress code. If a man came to the door without a sport coat he was turned away. Women were expected to dress nicely. No pants. Dance shoes for everyone. Probably one of the things that most impressed me was the organizers would ask people who could not dance to leave the floor. They would tap them on the shoulder and ask them to sit down.
I remember I came to this milonga in the evening every night in 2002 for over a month. I would just watch. My favorite time was when Celia Blanco would come out and welcome people to the milonga. She would sit at her table smoking. (In those days you could ugh, smoke in the milongas.) People would come to greet her. She was regal. She was the queen of her own milonga. I loved it when she would get up at midnight, microphone in hand and make announcements. She always wore an evening gown. She was the Lauren Bacall of tango. She was gracious and welcoming.
Lo de Celia was where I cemented my friendship with Mimi Santapa. She told me that night, that she knew we would be friends. The grand milonguera Amanda Lucero thought I fell out of the sky when Celia asked if I could sit at her table one Saturday. Probably more than anyone, Amanda taught me the ways of the milongueros/as. Years later, Amanda adopted me as one would a daughter. She wasn't old enough to be my mother, but she felt that she needed to look after me. Between Mimi and Amanda and a few others, I was lucky to meet incredible dancers.
Most foreigners take lots of lessons. Private and group classes. There is this idolization of their teachers. I never went this route. I learned the way the Argentines learned. I learned by practice, patience, and by watching. I didn't have that many lessons. The milongueros/as were my teachers. I think in those days before I moved here, I was like a pet. I spoke horrible Spanish, but I was respectful. I wanted to learn. There were not many tourists in those days, and so I stuck out.
Patricio and Adriana had the milonga on Monday nights. Lucia and Oscar (Lujos) on Thursdays before Nino Bien. Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays were Celia. I was there, all of those nights. Lo de Celia was like my second home. I never missed a night when I was in town.
In December 2004 with the fire in Cromañón everything changed, including Lo de Celia. At first all public places where there were gatherings were shut down. Most started to open in a week or so. Lo de Celia stayed closed for months. The milongas that were held at night during the week moved. They had no choice. When Celia finally opened it was only on Wednesday for a matinee, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. She had been reclassified as a Category C dancehall which was ridiculous. Category C are the large nightclubs. Lo de Celia would hold no more than 120 people. She had to install a metal detector, have security, a trap door, and many other things the other milongas did not need to do. Rumor had it that she refused to pay bribes to the inspectors, so they retaliated by making her a Class C dance hall.
Although Celia's remained a place for the milongueros, it never regained the popularity it had before December, 2004. During the time she was closed, people found other places to dance. I would still go. Then not so much. Until I stopped altogether. A couple of weeks ago I took my guest there on a Wednesday. I cannot even remember when was the last time I was there.
As we approached the door, there were no longer the milongueros outside smoking that last cigarette. There was no security at the door. We ascended the stairs as I had so many times in the past. The music of Dany Borelli wafting down to the street. There is no other DJ like Dany. The same old man was taking the money as he had been doing for the 15 years I had been coming to Lo de Celia. He slapped my hand playfully when I paid. "Where have you been?" he asked, as though I had only been gone a few weeks.
The salon was still the same. There were some of the same people. Everyone older. It was no longer filled. There were maybe 50 people. Unlike most milongas, of the 50 people there, 40 danced well. I felt sad. This was where I learned to dance. I could see the ghosts of the milongueros/as I used to know. Their faces. I had many very happy nights here. Good night Celia Blanco. Thank you for everything.
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