On Thursday my phone rings. "Hola preciosa, como estas? The voice on the other end is Amanda Lucero. She is one of the last of the milongueras. I am delighted to hear from her. She tells me that she and Beto Ayala will be dancing in an exhibition in Salon Canning on Friday night and she is inviting me to come. "Te invito." she says to me. "Bring those foreigners with you too, they need to learn what tango is." I promise Amanda that I will come to support her and try to bring some friends with me.
I know that Sandra, Marta, and the rest of my Argentine friends will not go to Canning. They would rather die. Sandra calls me later that night. "¿Que hacemos en viernes?" she asks me. (What are we going to do on Friday.) I tell her that Amanda is dancing with Beto at Canning and I am going to support her. Before I finish, Sandra tells me she will not go. She tells me to reserve my table at Gricel and that she and the rest of them will meet me there.
I first met Amanda at Lo de Celia. I came there one evening to dance. I remember being seated next to her. It was probably 8 years ago. I explain to Snow, that I never took loads of expensive private lessons, I learned from the milongueros and from women like Amanda, like Margarita la Negrita, and others like her. Women who lived for their tango.
I will never forget that day. As I sat myself down she turned to me and looked at me. In those days almost no foreigners came to Lo de Celia. Amanda is a tiny woman, but very intimidating. She reminded me of Miss Christiansen my 3rd grade homeroom teacher of whom I was terrified. "We dance tango here." she said starring at me. "Do you dance tango?" I could barely nod my head.
I remember getting up to dance. When I came back Amanda was looking at me like I had just flunked my spelling quiz. As she got up to dance, she snapped at me "Watch my feet." and I did. When she came back to the table, she looked at me and said "Y ?" (and?) I told her I watched. That was not the answer she wanted. I was afraid she was going to take out a ruler and smack my hands.
That was how my tango education began. Women like Amanda. They would tell me what to watch for when they went to dance. "Watch my feet." "Look at my embrace" "See how I turn." Then when they would come back to the table they would quiz me to see what I learned. God help me if I didn't learn the right thing. Miss Christensen rising from the grave.
They would ask various men to dance with me and when they would bring me back to the table, they would have a mini-conference as to the state of my dance. I would hang on every word. Sometimes the women would not be there. Then Pocho, Ricardo, Tito, and some of the men would take me under their wing.
When I would go to Club Español to dance Amanda sold clothes in the bathroom. It was like the continuing education of my tango education. "Who is out there?" She would ask. "Don't dance with HIM." she would tell me. "Your feet, your feet." she would tell me. "You are a woman, do not forget that."
At 10:30 pm on Friday night Snow and I go to Canning. The young man who takes the money at the door gets the award for being one of the most sour people I have ever known to front a milonga. I don't get it. I tell him I am a guest of Amanda. He tells me that he knows no one named Amanda. I ask if I can go find her and he graciously says "OK."
She is in the bathroom applying her makeup. When she sees me she throws her arms around me. She is thrilled that I could come. I am honored to be invited. I tell her how my name was not at the door. She gathers up her things and grabs my hand and goes charging off to the front door.
Only this tiny little woman could strike fear in the face of that nasty young man and she does it so well. Miss Christensen all over again. She is only missing her ruler to smack him on the hand. Somewhere in his life he has a grandmother just like Amanda who probably also talked to him that same way. He sullenly looks at me and apologizes. Amanda made him.
Amanda grabs my hand. I introduce her to Snow. "Baila tango?" she asks me. I tell her yes. She rolls her eyes. She takes us to a front table. "I had them reserve this for you. She sits down with us. I ask her how she is. I know that life is not easy for her right now. She looks a little sad.
Every little while she gets up to greet friends. Pocho and Nellie come in. I go to greet them as well. Beto is here. I am less than enthused about the dancing. This is not my crowd. I dance with several men that I know. Amanda has her hawk eyes on my feet. I wonder if I will be getting a report card.
She comes to sit down with us again. She asks me "Do you remember when we first met?" I tell her yes. "You asked me if I could dance. I will never forget your face." I did an imitation of her. This set her off laughing. Then I imitated her telling me to watch her feet. I thought that she was going to die. The best was when I mimicked her going "Y ?" We threw our arms around each other laughing.
"Well," she says to me. "Did you learn anything?" "What do you think?" I say to her. She laughs and goes for my hand. "Now a days they don't want to learn. They just want to film us and walk away. They can't learn that way." She looks sad for a moment.
"What have you learned?" she asks Snow. I am translating. She tells Snow how important it is to be feminine. "Soy mujer." She tells Snow how too many women think they should dance like a man. "How can you dance like a man and think like a woman? she says. "You cannot. You must make up your mind. If you want to dance like a man, then you will not dance like a woman. What a shame."
We talk about our friends from the milongas. She tells me that if it were not for her "family" in the milonga she never would have been able to make it through these last few months. I squeeze her hand. "What about your boy from Lanus?" she asks. I cannot believe she is asking me this. I am not sure what to say.
"No es mi muchacho de Lanus. Me trato mal." She doesn't say anything. Tienes piel con este muchacho, en el piso, en la cama. El contigo." I shake my head. Finally she says to me "Find someone to take care of you. Someone to love you. Don't be alone. The tango is not enough."
She gives me a hug. I am reminded again how small she is. She gets up. "I have to go dance. Beto is waiting for me."Amanda and Beto teach still teach tango in private lessons. If you are coming to Buenos Aires, please contact me for more information.