Lying on my mat in yoga class, between women in fashionable leotards bending their limbs in unthinkable directions, I wonder what Tete Rusconi would have thought about a fellow milonguero, doing crunches and scissors. The last decade has seen a number of old milongueros like him die. Quite a few of them ‘before their time’, a fact that is shooting tiny holes in the common belief that tango is a healthy pastime. In December, Danny ‘El Flaco’ passed, a gentle soul who was loved by many and mostly admired for his milonga steps. I didn’t know him personally, but I slept in his bed in Brussels, which makes me feel connected I guess, I am walking in his shoes, metaphorically.
As I get older, contemplating the autumn of my tango life, I am studying those illustrious elderly men for whom the milonga represented a lifestyle. Some of them looked wiry and lean, while others…well, not. Last year, our milonga organised workshops exploring the styles of milongueros such as Petaca, Gerardo Portalea, Antonio Todaro and Tete Rusconi. Our teacher, Lucas Malec, brought them to life and demonstrated how these basically untrained dancers invented signature moves and how they sought longevity in tango, by moving efficiently, magically recycling the energy of their follower. Travelling women return to our milonga with exalted accounts of great tandas, with a ninety-year-old milonguero. Fancy that.
Painfully aware of my own energy-wasting dance style, and my inclination for accelerated vals turns, I followed Lucas’ guidance carefully. I cut down on the rock-steps, but, the morning after a good night of tango I still wake up as if run over by a truck. So maybe the answer is simply dancing less? The YouTube footage of the legendary milongas shows tables filled with food, bottles and old milongueros whose waist lines betray any claim to working out regularly. A couple of years ago, El Something, about my age, visited our milonga. He was overweight, stuffed in his jacket and chain-smoking outside of the milonga every four tandas. He handed out cards, with his mobile phone number jotted on them, to every young woman he met. I quietly discarded him as a possible role model and put a question mark beside that particular milonguero lifestyle.
Can you actually still qualify as an ‘old milonguero’, if you attend yoga Pilates classes and experiment with recipes for vegan omelet? The only contributions to my legacy of ‘old milonguero’ are my unhealthy sleeping habits now that cheese is slowly being removed from my diet. I guess the milongueros, from a certain age onward and like the rest of us, are faced with a choice between ‘quiet desperation’ or a more generative lifestyle. Tete seems to have chosen the latter, making a difference for many in his later years. He slipped away in his sleep after a good night of tango. That’s not so bad. I know I’m going down eventually, but I intend to go down in style. Hello Warrior II pose. Hello Plank! El Loco is coming to yoga class.