At night, tango and love.
TANGO - This verse is one of the most important, perhaps essential in the entire poem. It is here that Lenzi tells us specifically what type of establishment our Corrientes 348 is: a tango-club. And it is this denomination that effectively differentiates it from similar house that advertised regularly dancing to live or recorded music. Corrientes 348 was not a dance-club, it was a tango-dance-club where patrons dance solely to tango music.
Various styles of the dance have evolved over the years and, as with anything else, some have become more accepted than others. Here are some examples of widely accepted styles:
Tango canyengue : This style of tango was danced until the 1920s. The long tight fashion in dresses of the era restricted the follower's movements. Consequently, the style involves short steps. The dancers tend to move with knees slightly bent, the partners slightly offset, and in a closed embrace. The style tends to be danced to a 2/4 time signature.
Tango orillero : Tango orillero refers to the style of dance that developed away from the town centers, in the outskirts and suburbs where there was more freedom due to more available space on the dance floor. The style is danced in an upright position and uses various embellishments including rapid foot moves, kicks, and even some acrobatics, though this is a later development.
Salon Tango : Salon Tango was the most popular style of tango danced up through the Golden Era of the dance (1950's) when milongas (tango parties) were held in large dance venues and full tango orchestras performed. Later, when the Argentine youth started dancing rock & roll and the tango's popularity declined, the milongas moved to the smaller confiterias in the center of the city, resulting in the birth of the "milonguero" style.
Salon Tango is characterized by slow, measured, and smoothly executed moves. It includes all of the basic tango steps and figures (cunita, media luna, parada, etc.) plus new ones such as the sacadas, barridas, and boleos. The emphasis is on precision, smoothness, and musicality. The couple embraces closely but the embrace is flexible, opening slightly to make room for various figures and closing again for support and poise. The caminadas (walk) is the most important element and up to three quarters of the dance.
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LOVE - The affection I hold towards our Corrientes 348 makes me wish I could write only about the sentimental and romantic aspects of the relationship. Regrettably, in such a club, with the decadence, the cocktails, the promised confidentiality, and later on, the availablility of narcotics, I am certain that romanticism and sentimentality was not what our Lenzi had in mind. So, let us explore the "other" type and see what Buenos Aires had to offer in the first two decades of the 20th century.
During the last two decades of the 1800s, the number of immigrants - mainly men - to Argentina, and particularly to Buenos Aires and the other larger cities, increased dramatically and at one point the population ratio was about 50 men for every woman. Men, tempted by the idea of a better life and by legends of streets paved with gold, came in their thousands only to be met with great disappointment. Instead of streets of gold they found a squalid place with muddy streets and poor housing. Often they never even made to the centre of the city but were forced to live on the outskirts and struggle to survive from one day to the next.
Under these circumstances, the one trade that flourished above all others was prostitution. A reflection of the hardships endured by the people, a way of survival for some, and a desperate means of earning income for others. It is unlikely the working girls saw much of the money. For many men, owning a woman who earned good money working in a brothel, became a status symbol.
I must be very careful in choosing my words to describe the women one would find at establishments such as our 348. I keep turning to Garcia Márquez for linguistic backup because he found, as only he could, a sentimental way of differentiating between the words putas and prostitutas which I am not sure I can get away with between whores and prostitutes. But I shall try:
Historical notes of the early twentieth century indicate that many of them came from lands far distant from Buenos Aires or Argentina for that matter: Russia, Poland, France, etc. These women of foreign origin probably never were regarded as whores (as affectionately described by García Márquez) but forever remained recognized as prostitutes or as is more fashionable to say these days sex workers -- employees doing a job.
There were several reasons why these ladies never developed sentimental relations among the patrons of 348, the main being linguistic difficulty. A further reason was that due to their "foreignness" they were never shown other than derogatory consideration by the porteño class.
And why were they mostly foreign? Because, it would appear, that "white" women were preferred by the descendants of the original European settlers who inhabited the towns and villages along the Rio de la Plata coastline. Furthermore, the local white women, descendants of European families with long-standing roots in Buenos Aires, could not risk their reputation by being linked with prostitution as this would, if nothing else, deprive them of any possibility of concluding a good marriage within porteño society. Women of meztizo or criole origin, on the other hand, would hardly have found employment in such establishments because they were fun-loving, unreliable and irresponsible, thereby very seldom lasting long in any job.
It is here in the brothels and bordellos on the back streets of Buenos Aires, that the Tango really came to life. These illegal brothels, most became known as Academias de Baile were the massage parlours of their day. The dance had to be simple, so if the police -- the few that were not bribed -- raided the establishment there would appear to be "dancing instruction" going on. It was the rise of the compadritos and the compadres who really launched such places. Compadritos - the street man, sometimes but not always, small time villains, petty criminals and pimps. Compadres - the local men of some means, sometimes shady dealings, slightly better off than the compadritos who tried to emulate them.
Towards the second decade of the 20th century, it became a custom in Buenos Aires for compadritos and compadres "to escort a lady friend" to the tango-clubs. These ladies were not wives or girlfriends, they were simply women in the trade who were there for everyone's entertainment not solely for the ones who brought them.
Tango-clubs, such as our Corrientes 348 would have special rooms reserved for the entertainment provided by these ladies - discreet, dimly-lit, perfumed, with comfortable surroundings and furniture probably furnished by Maple & Co. In the higher class establishments arrangements were made to avoid the vulgarity of money actually being seen changing hands.