Last July, after many adventures, I finally found myself sitting at Los Consagrados, my very first milonga in Buenos Aires. It was early in the evening, I think, and not very crowded. I was there with my teachers, sharing their table. Sr. had a plan, to dance with me early on to show that I could handle myself on the floor, but just then he was dancing with Sra. I had not yet set foot onto the floor.
I was watching the dancers and trying to control the butterflies in my stomach--not sure whether I was more scared or excited to be there. A man across the way was whistling along with the music. He was older but didn't look ancient; maybe in his sixties. Grizzled hair and beard, strong-looking build. He looked taller than a lot of the other men.
I wasn't sure what I thought of his whistling. It tends to annoy me in American milongas, but I don't think it was carrying across the room there, and as I thought about it more, I realized it did mean he knew the music.
He caught my eye and raised his eyebrows. Was ... was he cabeceoing me?
What might annoy me in an American partner, his whistling, encouraged me to accept his cabeceo. I held his gaze and gave a slight nod and a smile, and in a moment, he was at my table, holding out a hand to escort me onto the floor.
My gamble on his whistling paid off; it was a beautiful dance. His lead was strong and clear but gentle and subtle--and above all, beautifully musical. Everything that I could have hoped for and more. When the song ended, he stepped back and smiled and remarked "Brava, mujer." I am sure I blushed.
Between songs, I stretched my feeble Spanish to make small talk. He told me that he was a taxi driver, that (in answer to my question) yes, he was a porteño. I tried to tell him about where I was from, and I think he told me that when he was younger, a boxer, he had once traveled in America to the big city nearest where I live.
I could not have asked for a lovelier first dance in Buenos Aires. I'm sure I had that tango glow as he escorted me back to my seat, nearly light-headed with pleasure. He gallantly bowed and pressed my hand. I introduced him to my teachers, who were beaming.
At every milonga I went to after that, I watched for him--and he seemed to remember me; he would smile when he spotted me, and before too long, we'd have a tanda together. He was unfailingly polite, and several more times I blushed with pleasure when he told me "Brava, mujer!" I hope he knew how grateful I was. Indeed, I still am.
They say (usually about other things) that you never forget your first time--and I will never forget him. And now I've made doubly sure of that.
Mario Hector Camartino - October 10, 1928 — They say that age is only a number, and that’s certainly true in Mario’s case. He’s full of energy and joy. He knows all the lyrics, a...
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