Never a Last Tango

Loyal to this music of memories, traditionalists keep the faith at Gaucho's Cafe

"My beloved Buenos Aires/When I see you again/There'll be no more sorrows or forgetting."

Past midnight on a Friday, Quiroga digs into "Mi Buenos Aires Querido" ("My Beloved Buenos Aires"), another Gardel classic. As he sings, he bends at the waist, clutching the microphone closely to his chest. Then he stands up, flinging his arms toward the back of the room, where a photo of Gardel hangs on the wall. Idol is written in Spanish above the singer's image.

Perez maneuvers his favorite Cuban-American student around the floor. She can't help but add some salsa to the dance, shaking her hips a little too much as she does the eight basic steps she has learned. Behind her, an older couple is moving with such grace that it's obvious they've been doing this all of their lives. They float on their feet, moving slowly up and back in an embrace that has none of the theatricality of the less-experienced dancers'.

Then a dark-skinned man in a slim blue suit takes to the floor with a young woman. His remaining strands of hair are glued to his scalp with grease, and his sunken cheeks give his face a dangerous look. The man and woman face each other and start to dance. What the man does has absolutely nothing to do with the strutting and dipping stereotypically associated with tango. He moves slowly, deliberately, leaning toward, then away from, his partner, sometimes stopping for a few beats as though he might reach in his pocket and take out a knife.

"My beloved Buenos Aires/Flowery land where my life will end/Under your shelter there are no disappointments/The years pass and the pain is forgotten."

Quiroga finishes the song and leaves the stage to the musicians. He leans against the bar with a glass of wine, looking on as Barrios and Stefano clear the dance floor one more time. "This is a tango school," the restaurant owner says, struggling to catch his breath. "Here you don't just learn how to dance tango. You learn how to understand it.

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