Tango on Virgin Redwood

By Camille Cusumano

In the eight years of my tango addiction, I have tangoed on many types of floors and surfaces, indoors and outdoors, from Paris to Prague, New York to San Francisco, Buenos Aires to Montevideo. But I have never danced on virgin redwood. Such was the case this past weekend at the lovely 124-year-old Weller House Inn (1886) in Fort Bragg (Mendocino), California. The dance salon is on the third and top floor of the inn with a high, sloping attic ceiling—also of virgin redwood!— that made the acoustic so pure, so dreamy, I kept looking around for the live acoustic performers. Every milonga has its magic, wherever two or more are gathered in its name. (I am fond of paraphrasing the Bible.) But this floor has to be one of the most superlative. I had no idea, although inkeeper and tanguera, Vivien LaMothe, has been staging events at the inn for several years now.

What drew me up to Mendocino, hallowed ground with which I’ve had an intimate relationship since 1982, was Facundo Posadas and Christy Cote‘s workshops. I am working on my lead now (heaven help you all). And no one teaches body mechanics and technique more clearly, more generously, more patiently than Christy. And Facundo—is there a more charmingly disarming milonguero from Argentina? I have thought not, since the days when I still lived in Buenos Aires and got lucky at  Sunday night’s La Milonguita, where Facundo invited me to dance.

Since about 2005, when I discovered the small tightknit tango community up north, I have been enamored of every single one of its dancers. There’s a tip for those of you who feel intimidated by our big, crowded milongas in the Bay Area. Mendocino milongueros will embrace you in more ways than one, no matter your level. When local teachers Howard & Irene moved to Santa Fe last year, they handed off the teaching to Walter & Raquel, wonderful—buenisimos—dancers, both of them. And why not stay at the Weller House Inn while up there? (see info below). Vivien has a stellar lineup of tango events each month (check her calendar).

Come the Saturday night milonga, I got lucky again, when Facundo invited me to dance to Pugliese—on that floaty virgin redwood. It was awesome and as usual very relaxing. A dancer of his stature could easily make you feel on edge. Not so with Facundo. There is something humble and earthy about him. We didn’t finish the tanda though, but for good reason. Vivien brought up a tray of her homemade flan. So we dove for the ramekins. I can report that caramelized sugar is an excellent enhancement of tango.

Had I not gotten to dance with Facundo, luck was all around for me that evening anyway. I danced with every leader (some twice and thrice) in the room before the night was over. For me, greedy tango glutton, that alone is the mark of a successful milonga.  I went to bed that evening sated, with my usual tango “facelift.”

During breaks between classes, I had a chance to chat with Ching-Ping Peng, Facundo’s partner since 2007. Facundo’s longtime previous partner, Kelly, succumbed to breast cancer a few years back. I was lucky to catch Facundo & Kelly dancing in 2005, during my first visit to Buenos Aires. Like Facundo, Ching-Ping, from Taipei, is down to earth and warm. She told me how she has lived in New York, upper West Side, for 20 years. She had been a member of Cloud Gate Dance Theater, an acclaimed modern dance troupe, when in 2007 she “suddenly fell in love with Argentine tango—and in a flash abandoned a five-continent career in Chinese dance.” Sound familiar? Read more about Facundo and Ching-Ping here.

You’ll learn that Carlos Facundo Posadas (his full name) had a maternal grandfather born in the U.S. who came to Argentina as the chauffeur of a wealthy Mendoza vintner. And that Facundo is the grandson/nephew of Don Carlos Posadas, author of more than forty tangos.

Come Sunday night, it was time to head back to San Francisco. I should have been satisfied, not just with all of the above, but with the blood-oxygenating walks at Glass Beach and MacKerricher State Park. But no. There was the Sunday night milonga in Elk, just three miles off Hwy 128 on my way home. So I hit it and again danced with every leader there, including Raquel, who is among the best. Each time I tried to leave, the DJ (irascible Walter) put on Biaggi or some music that made me turn around and stay until the end. I got on the dark road after 10 pm, but the scent of tango and the redwoods and the will to live for my next tanda saw me safely home by 1:30 am.

THE WELLER HOUSE INN – You must try a Tango Getaway. Ask Vivien about Dancer’s Dorms, for ladies and gents, $50/person if 4 per room, $65/person if 3 per room

Otherwise, weekend room rates range from $160-$210 for two, including classic hot breakfast. All guest rooms have private bath and/or shower.The added inducement about the Weller House is its location on a quiet rural street in Fort Bragg, about ten miles north of the more touristy town of Mendocino (a lovely village packed with  jaw-dropping gorgeous old Queen Annes, Victorians, and other gingerbready architecture, the legacy of the 19th-to-early-20th-century lumber barons). The Weller House is rife with romance—near the Skunk Depot (a train that goes through redwoods to Willits) and it has a room in the Water Tower with an ocean view. Just as breathtaking is the inn’s decor—from Mediterranean to French, British to Asian inspired. There are fireplaces, pressed-tin walls, stained glass windows looking out to the Victorian gardens and fountain, a Jacuzzi in one room. Contact Vivien LaMothe for reservations and information: 707-964-4415; viv@whi-tango.com; wellerhouse.com.