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Requiem for a Niño Bien   4 comments

Requiem for a Niño Bien

Like the mythical milongueros of the golden years, who went to the milongas for the sole purpose of taking a girl out for coffee afterwards, but went home alone till the day they died, there are people who believe that some dance organizers get “rich” with tango. We don’t know anyone who got rich but over the years we’ve known plenty who have faced hardships because of their love affair with the tango. If you pay attention, there are always signs that the demise of a milonga is probably underway. At the local level it begins when organizers begin to plead with their patrons to “buy a drink, tip the waitress,” or both. It is very difficult to find businesses that show an interest in tango beyond the amount of drinks they pour or the number of menu items they serve. On a much larger scale, many well established milongas in Buenos Aires that take place at social institutions find the executive committees not interested in the good of the tango, but in the money they make without investing a peso on the infrastructure.  According to Marina Gambier, who blogs for daily La Nacion, Tangocool, a nine year old milonga at Club Villa Malcom, created as a challenging alternative at the time for many young people who were looking for a more relaxed tango with less behavior and dress codes, held a farewell party, with tears and some anger on Friday, March 22, 2013. In this case the signs were evident long before the outcome. Villa Malcolm‘s bathrooms were notorious for their filth. They were never cleaned on the days when there was dancing, and sometimes during summer classes, the air conditioning was not turned on.

On, Thursday, April 4, 2013, milonga Niño Bien became another casualty on the downward slope of the current forty year cycle of the tango. Organizer Luis Calvo opened the milonga in 1998 at the legendary Centro Region Leonesa hall on Humberto Primo 1462. By early 2000 the Niño Bien milonga had replaced the legendary Club Almagro as the place where the old and young dancing elite gathered to excel in front of a growing foreign audience. It was the place to be, to see and to be seen on Thursday nights. And during low tourist season the locals were able to enjoy the magnificent salon with a polished wooden floor during low tourist season. The milonga organizers were getting hit on several fronts: the high cost of rent and taxes, tourists who came with fewer tangodollars, and locals who were broke because of inflation and a bad economy. It’s not known how teachers are faring. Today, with more and more Europeans “teaching” and people learning to dance from You Tube, there are worse dancers than ever on the floor. This discourages the locals even more from going out dancing. The only ones who seem to be doing well are the tango for export dinner/show venues which are raking in up to 50% of the 1.5 billion tourist tango pesos, .

We first visited Niño Bien in 1999 while escorting two ladies from Hawaii as part of a guided tango tour of Buenos Aires. The hall was a lot bigger than Almagro. It was rectangular instead of square, and negotiating the dance floor was quite an eye opener for the traveling ladies. We returned six years later during our Katrina exile tour, and we became part of a group with a reserved table on Thursday nights. At the time we didn’t know whether we’d ever be able to return home to New Orleans, nor where we’d end up hanging up our shoes for the evening. To this day we crack  a smile when we talk to our friends about fancy dancing on a crowded floor. “If people could see us now,” sometimes we whispered in between songs, “actually doing all the footwork we try to teach them in those cavernous American halls.” But today, a Facebook post read,  “I can’t believe it. Maipu 444, Villa Malcolm and now Niño Bien,” and we gasped, looking at each other as if trying to hold on to a memory that wanted to escape like the last breath of air that precedes death.

Click anywhere on the picture above to play, or HERE to watch on You Tube

We are very grateful for our time on this earth when we could set foot in Club Almagro, Akarense, and Niño Bien. We hope to have enough relevance left to be able to tell those who want to know, what it was like to be alive and dancing during those glorious years at the turn of the century.

A special thanks to you Valorie for being the inspiration to be myself.

This is how the Centro Region Leonesa salon looked like on the last night of the milonga Niño bien

Photo courtesy of Gerard Roche, a.k.a. Gerrysan

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Posted April 4, 2013 by Alberto & Valorie in PEOPLE

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The Kely we knew, in loving memory   9 comments

The Kely we knew, in loving memory

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Kely Posadas turned 69 on December 24, 2008. She passed away after losing her battle with lung cancer on April 27, 2009. The news made its way slowly through various Internet groups, and as it seems characteristic of the narcissist tendencies of many people involved in the business of tango, the two things that were most mentioned in context with the news of Kely‘s passing were “I shared the stage with Kely,” and Kely’s “one show dress being her modest and limited wardrobe,” preceded by a ‘no disrespect meant‘ by the disrespectful offender. Banality, vanity and selfishness could very well be a cover for the inability for some humans to behave in a human way.

The Kely we knew was born Clara Raquel Lamdam in 1939, just as the Golden years of the tango got underway. Just before the Thanksgiving holidays in 1952, Bill Haley‘s band had changed their name and their image for the last time. Off had come the cowboy boots and the white Stetsons. With some regrets and more than a little apprehension, the four young musicians, had turned their backs on their beloved country/ western music and had bravely faced an unknown future as “Bill Haley and his Comets“. Shortly after, Kely became a teenager as the wave of rock and roll captured the imagination of sons and daughters of the upper, middle, and lower class families. With Bill Haley and his Comets came Little Richard and Elvis Presley leading the way with their rambunctious music into a craze that lasted way into the mid sixties.

It was around 1958 that she met Facundo Posadas and they both became an item taking the dance floors by storm with their unique brand of rocanrol. Eventually they parted ways and for almost thirty years they lived different lives until they run into each at the after hours dance at Michelangelo. They both had been married and they were now divorced hanging out at the dance halls with other aging rock and rollers who were discovering the fascination of foreigners with the tango. As the renewed enthusiasm for the tango grew, Facundo and Kely became part of the flora and fauna of the traditional milongas in Buenos Aires, being affectionately known as the “roqueros.”

Jorge Firpo, Facundo Posadas, Alberto Paz, Kely Posadas and Valorie Hart at Club Akarense

Jorge Firpo, Facundo Posadas, Alberto Paz, Kely Posadas and Valorie Hart at Club Akarense in 1997
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We met them during our first trip to Buenos Aires on April, 1997. Our popular and prestigious magazine El Firulete was a powerful calling card. We received an invitation to their upscale apartment in Barrio Norte, as guests of one of their classes for white collar professionals. We were surprised when a few days later they joined Mingo and Esther Pugliese, Pupi Castello and Graciela Gonzalez at La Galeria del Tango for a special exhibition at a surprise birthday party for Alberto given by Graciela Gonzalez.

Mingo and Esther Pugliese, Pupy Castello and Graciela Gonzalez and Facundo and Kely Posadas, dance for Alberto Paz on his birthday party in 1997
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During our memorable stay in Buenos Aires, we witnessed Kely enjoying life on the dance floor, first at Club Akarense, a legendary milonga in Villa Urquiza run by Rodolfo and Maria Cieri, then at another legendary Tuesday hang out, Club Almagro, and finally, on the night they announced their engagement to be married at Club Sunderland.

Los Angeles, CA

In the dead heat of the 1997 Southern California summer, we had been planning a major event for a Japanese dancing company, Tango Libertad. Actually it was a birthday party with a tango theme for one of the leading dancers of the troupe, Shizue Endoh. She invited her teacher, Tahei Kobayasi and his partner Yuko Eguchi to stage a show and hired us to plan, organize the event be part of the show as well. Just about that time we received a message from Facundo informing us of their pending arrival in Los Angeles, on their way to a “fabulous tour of the USA” managed by an “undisclosed personality of the tango.” Considering it a natural gesture of professional courtesy on our part we squeezed the budget for the party and included Facundo and Kely in the show for Tango Libertad. Watch their first ever USA performance HERE.

While waiting for the mysterious tango personality to materialize, we took Facundo and Kely under our wings and spent an extra week in Los Angeles. Here is Facundo first experience with an American steak and french fries.
A visit to the Universal Studios in Hollywood, CA is something that a foreign visitor can appreciate, especially when they have seen many of the products coming out of this studio on local television. Here is Kely posing for posterity under the famous sign.
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Kely in a a couple of poses in and around Universal Studios. Twelve years before Michelle Obama, Kely was already making a fashion statement claiming her right to bare arms on a summer day.
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The Hollywood hills are a magnificent place to spot the smog covered city of the Angels from a vantage point. The Apollo 13 capsule was a hit with Facundo and Kely, and here is proof they were there and then.
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A candid camera moment capturing Kely’s stroll through the Universal Studio food court.
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A life size bronze statue of Charlie Chaplin at the historic Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard, steps away across the street from the Chinese Theater. The temptation to join Chaplin for a rest was too hard to resist.
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On the left, they stand outside the Roosevelt Hotel with the Hollywood Boulevard street sign in the background. On the right, in the lobby of the hotel in front of a giant poster of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
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At the Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, Kely leaving her hand prints
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The sense of friendship and camaraderie is something a photo can only begin to suggest.
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One last pose at the magnificent and imposing gallery of the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood.
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A surprise encounter with Michael Walker and Luren Bellucci at a Los Angeless milonga
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A week had gone by and still no news from the mysterious tango personality Facundo still refused to identify, so we had one final look at the Los Angeles skyline before we headed home to Sunnyvale in the Bay Area, with our newly adopted guests in tow.
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Northern California

Back in our neighborhood we were very happy to open our home to Facundo and Kely, and decided to contribute to their cause by showing them around at the various milongas, organizing a series of workshops (that’s when we first coined the term “milonga candombera” to add some exotic touch at the promotional blur). We finally ended up turning over to them the proceeds from our monthly milonga at the Dance Spetrum Studio in Campbell, CA. At the same time we enjoyed showing them around the beautiful sights of the San Francisco Bay Area.

The Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, CA
Kely at the steering wheel
Sweeping the leaves from the porch
Out for a stroll
Grocery shopping
In the kitchen
In the living room

A whole month went by. Facundo was becoming very uptight about the lack of news from his mystery tango personality, although the writing in the wall was so obvious that we had already figured that he was talking about Carlos Gavito. For reasons only they knew, Gavito was missing in action, perhaps not aware that the promises he might have made on a night of excesses in Buenos Aires, had been taken seriously by a pair of 57 year old kids.

In the meantime our first Labor Day Weekend Tango Getaway in Reno, Nevada was in full swing of preparation. We had gotten the commitment of Daniela Arcuri and Armando Orzuza to join us, and we now were trying to figure out what to do with Facundo and Kely, still stranded without a plan of action and hanging around the house.

Reno, NV

Finally, we decided to forgo our own share of the proceeds (making money for everybody else, including hotels, airlines and self appointed tango legends seemed to have been our motus operandi at a time when we were driven by the purity and innocence of what the Argentine tango and its ambassadors symbolized) and add Facundo and Kely to the roster, making the festival a three couple event. Little did we know about some past feud between Facundo and Daniela involving a taxi ride in Europe, but at the Johnny Rocket‘s hamburger join inside the majestic Reno Hilton, Facundo went ballistic at the suggestion that we were going to get together with the other couple to plan a course of action for the following three days of the festival. That was perhaps the first time that he was reminded who was the boss and who was the paid help. This is worth mentioning because in over a month and a half of  having them living with us, Kely had been a grand lady and the big momma catering to every whim of a spoiled overgrown  “teenager,” from the choice of what to eat to what souvenirs and mementos to collect.

Reno, NV is indeed a little city with a feeling of grandeur. It is definitely a gambling city but nothing to do with the hype and hustle of Las Vegas.
We had been lucky that the Reno Hilton seemed to be idle during the Labor Day weekend, and we got to use their facilities at a very reasonable cost. Not only that, but its location just a skip and a hop away from the airport and far removed from the strip, gives it a unique resort like quality. The charm of the city soon calmed the egos, and we actually proceeded to have a good time.
On the left, Daniela Arcuri, Valorie Hart and Kely Posadas taking stroll on the main strip of Reno. On the right, Facundo and Kely look proud and pleased with their first promotional festival poster in the USA
Somehow treating these people with class and quality,  like using a limousine to and from the airport plus to drive around the city seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Perhaps it was that understanding that the more one gives the more likely one is to receive as time goes by. Armando Orzuza, Daniela Arcuri ,Valorie Hart and Kely in the luxury comfort of a stretched limo. We do know how to treat tango people with class, don’t we?
In the lobby of a Reno casino waiting to go see the musical show Smokey Joe’s Cafe
An impromptu chorus line on the lobby of a casino denotes happy times and a certainty that nobody can take away what we danced.
At the theater, waiting to see a great musical show, the last photo of Kely with Valorie

Shortly after we returned to Sunnyvale, we realized that we would have to intervene and do something to help Facundo and Kely get on with their journey. We called on our newly created network of good friends, the ones we had set up and put on business organizing workshops for Carlos Gavito during the first triumphal tour of Forever Tango in 1996. By the way Gavito was still AWOL.

In a matter of days, we put together a tour for Facundo and Kely that would take them to Chicago, New York and Montreal. Bob Dronksi in Chicago volunteered to buy their airline tickets and Danel in NYC agreed to host them, house them and eventually send them to Montreal.  Then it was time to leave. Things didn’t go very well, we kept hearing, so we flew to New York to offer support and rescue them from a far away place where they have been housed. We called upon another friend, and this time Facundo and Kely stayed in Manhattan for the rest of the week.

This would be the last time we would look back at this month and a half experience as the beginning of a great relationship. By the time they arrived in Montreal, Facundo blew another gasket because he confused having to pay back Bob Dronski for his generosity in buying their tickets with his own money, with us shortchanging him of the money he felt entitled to regardless of what it cost to put him on the road to stardom. In a matter of days, we had gone from being these great hosts with the open ended generosity to a couple of crooks stealing Facundo‘s God given right to pocket everything in sight regardless.  He has forgotten who took take care of them while stranded for a month and a half, and he has never given us credit for all we did to launch his career in the USA at age 57. This need to be said because not only he has forgotten, but has made up a story that never happened the way he tells it.

Years passed and we witnessed from the sidelines the rise in popularity of Facundo and Kely. We read the accolades from newly acquired hosts and promoters, and we heard about the growing tales about their accomplishments. Then, on the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, after spending four months on the road, we set anchors in Buenos Aires. It was on a Sunday evening in the month of December, 2005 when Kely walked across the crowded floor of the Circulo Trovador in Vicente Lopez to  greet us, to welcome us and to tell us how concerned she had been about our well being when the news of the flooding of New Orleans reached her in Buenos Aires. It was like time had never passed.

We saw her one more time at Niño Bien and then, months later we learned about her illness. She stopped traveling on advice from her doctor after her last US appearance sometime in 2007. News from her and the condition of her health were less and less forthcoming until the dreadful subject line of a message on April 28, read, Kely passes away in Buenos Aires.

Suddenly the realization of that ray of hope that one day we would resume the wonderful friendship we cultivated in the summer of 1997, took an irreversible turn for the worst as the reality that this time she had left forever set on.

We didn’t realize at the time that this would be the final good bye to Kely, the friend, and we now sadly say it again this time with our prayers for the eternal rest of her soul. Rest in peace Kely.