by Rebecca T on April 08, 2014
Photo copyright Rebecca Travaglia
It was one of those rare afternoons that we were actually awake for. Usually filled with café, medialunas and a siesta, afternoons were a bit of a no-man's-land for my tanguera friend and I as we recovered from the previous night's milonga or dilly dallied over whether to brave an evening class. This day however, we found ourselves underneath the mid afternoon sun navigating the treacherously thin footpaths of central city Buenos Aires on our way to a matinee milonga.
Whilst the word 'milonga' is synonymous with late nights under the watchful glow of orange street lamps, La Confiteria Ideal is one of the few matinee milongas (afternoon milongas) that offer something different to tango dancers and tourists alike. Located at Suipacha 380, the hidden gem started its life as a pastry and tea shop in 1912. The milonga itself wasn't established until the 1990s and the salon was declared a historical monument in 2003. It is one of the Cafe Notables of the city of Buenos Aires with the gorgeous French Fleur de Lys as its emblem.
The art deco style ballroom's faded grandure is alive with the ghosts of memories past - the untold stories and lives of those who have passed over the marble floor for over a century. Making our way past the old cafe (complete with old glass display cabinets) and up the staircase, we found ourselves in a ballroom straight out of an old-time movie - with long dark columns lit up by French chandeliers and elaborate ceiling decorations. We busied ourselves with the comforting routine of ordering coffee and choosing a table - a process that took less than 2 minutes as we were part of only a sprinkling of patrons that had made it out this early. Drinking in the elegance of the place, I found myself reluctant to initially engage in the 'cabaceo', preferring instead to soak in the decor and atmosphere.
It turns out that the afternoon milongas can offer more comradeship and friendliness than the darker modern tango salons as the diffused afternoon sun means there is no hiding in the shadows. Small conversations erupted between the little tables, over the small white cups of hot black coffee and laughter could be heard amongst the murmur of exchanging pleasantries. My final dance that afternoon was with a very persistent (yet friendly) gentleman who had been trying for a chance to cabaceo me for nigh on an hour. As we made our way onto the dance floor, he warned me that he did not dance in the traditional way. "I move fast and dance quick. Preparate (prepare yourself)." Already a nervous dancer, this did little to settle the voice in my head that usually gives a nervous running commentary as I try my best to follow the leads of the person I dance with.
His lead was indeed quicker and more energetic than a more traditional approach - learning to read the nuances of this leader's particular style took the first two songs of the tanda (set of songs). He sang along as he "dah dah dah brrrr rump!" ed his way to the music. As the third and final dance of the tanda began, I thought I finally had his lead sorted ... until my tanguera friend decided to yell "ESA!" (that's it!) during a particularly tricky sequence. You'll hear "esa!" expressed as a form of appreciation or encouragement at performers who has just successfully navigated a difficult step. My tanguera friend had preempted my success and dissolved into giggles as, at the sound of her call, I clearly tripped over my foot and fumbled through the last 4 beats of the song with shoes and feet splayed out to keep me upright rather than follow the lead. "Que bueno! Muy bien, muy bien" (Well done! Very good, very good!) my dance partner praised me as we finished together, miraculously not having seen (or even apparently felt) the disastrous footwork I had just executed. Or perhaps he had and was praising me for not falling on my face or twisting my ankle. Either way, he seemed pleased and talked jovially as he escorted me back to my seat, back to my giggling friend and we hightailed it out of there before another cabaceo could be made.
Things You Need To Know:
La Confiteria Ideal is located at Suipacha 380. For more information about milongas or classes, head along to