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April 12, 2007


Authentic milonga experience

Continuing along what Royce had commented about “chasing the past” (in reference to her visits to Buenos Aires in order to study Tango at the birthplace of Tango) from the perspective of a student of Tango, and following up on a conversation I had recently about what is a milonga (versus, say, a party where there is background music and occasional dancing), I feel that a large part of what most milonga organizers outside of Buenos Aires are doing is in fact trying to recreate the past – or what they imagined to be the past… In other words, they are trying to present the elusive authentic milonga experience to their local communities. Naturally, this image may or may not tally with the reality.

Putting aside the controversial question of whether or not the attempt is futile or even necessary, given that most of us – including yours truly – have not had the opportunity to visit Buenos Aires, the Mecca of Tango, we may ask ourselves what are some of the elements which are essential for an “authentic milonga”?

Is it the venue or the dress code?

A quick Googling will show that the popular milongas in Buenos Aires are held in such diverse places as a basketball court (Sunderland), a grand ballroom (Confiteria Ideal or Salon Canning) or a cafeteria (Lo De Celia), an open square (Plaza Dorrego or La Calesita), etc. As can be seen from the photos, there are considerable variations in the dress codes.

Judging from the diversity and conditions of dance venues, it’s probably safe to say that the actual venue and decorations do not really define what a milonga is. It may define what type of party one wants to go to – casual, formal, competitive, relaxing, etc. – but certainly the physical hall does not seem to be the defining factor.

The recent article on respecting the floor (see the English translation near the end of the article) plus remarks from a well-respected milonguero Cacho Dante (In transit with Cacho Dante, Brief definition of a milonguero and The Tango and trapeze acts (download pdf) are very illuminating. The emphasis is at the foremost on the people present: people who socialise and follow a few basic codes (see my own summary) to allow them to respect their dance partners and other dancers sharing the same space. This seems to be the essence of a milonga.

In fact, according to what Tom Stermitz (a well-respected teacher and Tango organizer in Denver, USA) had said on Tango-L List, the distinction between practica and milonga may not be as sharp as previously thought, at least in the context of Denver. One key point to take away It is NOT necessarily about the label or name chosen by the organizer, but more to do with the attitudes and expectations of the regular participants.

Finally, you may ask, how do I know if I am getting it – the authentic experience??

Well, to that I can suggest this: when you can see a dance floor full of energy, when you can enjoy the night in the company of friends, when you can relax in good music which will from time to time drive you to the dance floor, that is it!

ps. I may change my mind if I do get the chance to go to Buenos Aires! 😉

Update 1 June: Emily recently wrote on her blog about what Javier and Andrea thought was the essence of a milonga, which, I believe, complements nicely the discussion here.

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