A notification on Facebook indicates the upcoming opening of Barba Azul, with no confirmed date yet. More than fifty opinions full of emotion and enthusiasm proliferate in the comments. After two years of pandemic, I miss those moments when my body dripped sweat from dancing for hours. Nostalgia for that place where a tiny, but enough, part of the city congregates to fill the cabaret that gives identity to the Obrera neighborhood. I long for the crowds that gather to dance, the smell of rum, and the sound of the breaths of a live band. That is why I take out my notebook where I have notes of the nights in which I participated as a “fichero” –someone who is hired to dance in ballrooms- and I decide to finish the text that I had started a few years ago, trying to get closer through memories to those nights of dancing and alcohol.
Cabaret love that is not sincere
Cabaret love that is paid with money
Cabaret love that little by little kills me
however I want
Is Thursday. It’s almost dark. The softness of the red velvet curtain at the entrance doesn’t calm my nervousness. I wander back and forth before taking a seat next to the participants. Cold beer slides down the throat. Hands sweat. Anxiety arrives while I wait prostrate next to the table. I don’t work here. But most of the girls sitting in the red chairs work almost every day. I imagine that their anguish for money is more urgent than my interests placed for this day. I drink the third beer all at once and it seems that this does not appease the impetus of wanting to know how the night will end.
I am not handsome. Handsome, I’m not, I’m not, I’m not, handsome, no, no.
The musical group announces us and they take us to the front of the stage. It’s official: the track is open for the girls to choose their favored “ficheros”. We are six dancers, divided into two tables, ready to perform all night. Among us, we began to call Lucy the “madrota” or the “mamá”. She is in charge of selling the chips and offering the merchandise. People who want to tap dance with us, because men have also requested the service to dance with men, must pay 20 pesos for a ticket that is exchanged for a few minutes of a song. Lucy, la mamá, who has been in this business for more than twenty years, takes my hand and leads me to a table where there are three girls. She introduces me. The women look at me out of the corner of their eyes with spare, indifferent faces. I make an inordinate effort to be as friendly as possible to claim the first clients. Instead, they are only happy when the bottle of tequila arrives, accompanied by some tacos. This snub brings to mind the words of Gabriela Wiener: “Here, as in the real world, only those who are beautiful and sensual succeed, those who go to the gym and get plastic surgery…”
People who want to tap dance with us, because men have also requested the service to dance with men, must pay 20 pesos for a ticket that is exchanged for a few minutes of a song.
Some “ficheros” bring their followers and are the first to open the floor. I have two guests, but they prefer to meet others than to support me in the first dance: We are not going to waste our chips, we always dance with you. As a man, one of the rules is not to ask girls to dance, you must be patient and wait for their decision. The opposite is the case with the female “ficheras”, they have to know how to sell themselves to get more dances and therefore more money. However, one of our guys is oblivious about the code, or perhaps he doesn’t care, and goes for a woman. Because one of the interesting elements of this practice is to maintain the posture, like an object, to wait for the girls to feel confident in choosing who to dance with, either because he dances well, smells good or is physically attracted to him. All of that it is part of the ritual.
Even before the dance began, he was more nervous than me, with a competitive attitude, as if it were a matter of proving who has a bigger dick, instead of worrying about letting the clientele well-danced (“bien bailada”).
This is the eighth night of “ficheros” organized by the Cabaret Barba Azul, a training initiative implemented by Carlos Baez since 2013 to change gender roles and try to understand the context of the “ficheras” that work in these places. But also, to give the cabaret an economic break, because it was about to disappear. On account of this, a few years ago the nightclub took a more cultural turn, without trying to abandon the cabaret atmosphere that prevailed in the Distrito Federal of the last century.
If he left without a goodbye, let him go, let him go.
The first few times I landed here it was because of my drunken state. One of my closests friends at the time, a wrestler who calls himself El sublime (The Sublime), and I practiced the sport of drinking during the week. We did so because we were single, independent, with a few years left before reaching the fourth floor, and we wanted to forget some love or the bullshit we did in our time of romance. If the invitation to this nightclub had been made in a state of sobriety, I would have staunchly rejected it, since my cultural training would immediately dismiss it. That was so because my self-training was to live like a “roquerillo”, playing in rock, noise and punk bands, and grumbling about the inalienable sounds of my neighborhood along with all its popular context. However, the dances that my mother forced me to participate in during primary and secondary school unconsciously left me with the feeling of movement, that is: el uno y el dos of the rhythm to be able to thrive in any tropical environment.
I am also poor and I am poor like you. I have my mother, my wife, and my children.
In those first visits the atmosphere was almost the same as that which abounds in the Obrera neighborhood. An environment of working class people. Men of the trade: taxi drivers, tinsmiths, mechanics, butchers, carpenters, boxers, wrestlers, and the inevitable suits that come straight from the office. I remember those nights when the main band, Los Del Son, sent messages through the microphone: for example, greetings to those from the “central de abastos” –a gigantic food supply center-. No wonder the place smelled like onions. I also saw a painter with his pants and shoes splattered by paint, majestically shaking a “fichera” on the dance floor. In those days it seemed more important to enjoy a good cumbia, the pleasure of dancing, over appearance.… Testosterone was part of the human warmth that was spread by the dim light that gave anonymity to the gentleman who ran away from his family to come and grope a girl. In those times I encountered the looks of the chachales who think you’re feeling too cocky and try to pick a fight, just not to get bored. Overall, sometimes the place was uncomfortable because of the people who frequented it, for which there was always the possibility of some kind of discord.
In those first visits the atmosphere was almost the same as that which abounds in the Obrera neighborhood. An environment of working class people. Men of the trade: taxi drivers, tinsmiths, mechanics, butchers, carpenters, boxers, wrestlers, and the inevitable suits that come straight from the office.
The historian Jorge Ayala Blanco tells us that decades ago cabarets were considered inhospitable places: “The Cabaret-brothel was from Las Ficheras to Las Perfumadas a closed area, the apparent site of the degraded popular, a pulque kingdom with another façade, the massive prelude to a bedroom populated by silicones, the hunting ground of phallic arrogance, the rendezvous point for all the miseries of Mexican sexuality, and a constellation of mentally impoverished nacas spinning with the salsas of a sonora matancera”. But Barba Azul ceased to be a “closed” environment to survive. That led to opening the place to other people with other statuses, leaving aside that uncomfortable atmosphere, moving away from those scenes that show us that all social classes also know and like to rejoice.
All this has been evaporating due to the new cultural proposal, although some classic cabarets that still survive, such as the Miramar, deny access to the female sex, except when they are accompanied by a man. The Barba Azul modified that rule by betting on plurality. However, that has banished the gentlemen who danced with joy and style in search of consensual adultery.
It was around the year 2013, when Alejandro, one of the investors of the place, approached Carlos and asked him if it was possible that more of his friends would frequent the place. Years later, new generations arrived who had economic strength. All the people who worked at Barba Azul found out about this change and called them “the visitors”: those new residents full of tattoos, European haircuts and extreme dyes generated a strong shift in the atmosphere of the place.
The main problem is that most of these new generations arrive without understanding the context of the “ficheras”: you pay for a dance, you pay for a drink, you pay for a kiss, you pay for a groping, or you pay for sex. Yes, in these places you have to pay for everything. Pay for love or alcohol.
I remember that one time a group of women came who only interacted among themselves. They refused the men who asked them to dance. They got so drunk that they went up on stage, hugged the musicians, and the music stopped. They broke the rhythm of the night, precisely because they did not understand the context of the “fichereada”.
All the people who worked at Barba Azul found out about this change and called them “the visitors”: those new residents full of tattoos, European haircuts and extreme dyes generated a strong shift in the atmosphere of the place.
This is a problem that had already been noticed since the last century. Sergio Gónzalez Rodriguez summarizes the chronicle of Gonzalo Celorio “With his music elsewhere” where he anticipated the result of the interference of another urban species: “Celorio narrates the arrival of the ‘intellectuals’ around 1975 under the slogan ‘rumba is culture’, that would have marked the intrusion of other audiences that created a trend and popularized the Bar León; they unleashed their television coverage and the eviction of their old native or spontaneous clients”.
CIUDAD DE MÉXICO 1980. Licenciado en Creación Literaria por la Universidad Autónoma de la Ciudad de México, UACM. Escribe crónicas y reportajes. Ejerce el fotoperiodismo desde el 2008. Ha obtenido varios reconocimientos en certámenes fotográficos y literarios. En el 2017 obtuvo la beca PRENDE de la Universidad Ibero. Obtuvo mención honorifica en la Bienal de Puebla de los Ángeles. Ha publicado en revistas de España, Austria, Estados Unidos y México.