Thursday, 11 June 2009

Organising traditional milongas

Thanks, Simba, for that marvellous photo of Humberto Primo 1462, where the Nino Bien milonga is held. It says it all, really, the neat formality of it, the tables lined up with a pathway behind them, the neatly arranged table cloths. Those table cloths might well be threadbare, even worn out, but they will be clean and freshly ironed. If the management knows you, you will be shown to one of the front-row tables, on the left of the photo if you are female, on the right for males: if you are a stranger you'll be in the second row. This formality is like a background: once the place fills up and people are dancing, eating and drinking it doesn't feel particularly formal. Then the cortina starts, the floor clears completely, and everyone awaits the next tanda, wondering what will play and whose eye they can catch, and you become aware again how formal it is. The smaller clubs feel less formal, but that formal structure is still there beneath the surface. This is confirmed by the host greeting you at the door: this isn't just an event you pay to enter.

& thanks for all the experience and advice on starting a milonga, which read like a love poem to the milongas of Buenos Aires, nostalgic because of the distance. I suspect that any milonga here will have to be a compromise, although perhaps the situation is beginning to change, with more people interested in tango. Perhaps it's becoming possible to host a more traditional milonga that covers its costs. But I think that one factor, table service of hot snacks, drink and coffee, which makes people happy to stay all night, is always going to be hard to manage here. Too bad. One day, I hope!


Simba said...

Thank you. Love poem, I like that :-)

It's actually not my photo, but I am planning on writing an apropos to the photo used in that post, whenever I find time to look up the right one of my own photos.

David Bailey said...

I liked Simba's comment (here: that "several Argentines... assert that there exist no milongas outside of Argentina, only practicas"

Now, I turned that on its head, with this article:
- where I assert that there are no practicas in London.

But it's actually the same thing. If there are no "proper" milongas, then there are no "proper" practicas either. You can't have one without the other.

I'd still like to attend a traditional Milonga though. In London.

Tango commuter said...

Glad to hear the Negracha toilets are good for something! Interesting inspiration, but I'm not sure things are always quite so clear cut.

First, the idea that men, and men only, do the inviting isn't altogether true. Eyes search out eyes, and when they meet there's an agreement... so who's actually doing the asking? Women are seeking out men's eyes too. On the other hand, women can refuse an invitation without having to go into detail about the condition of their feet – simply by not accepting a look.

And there are milongas where the best dancers meet, old friends, very courteous people who've known each other for much of their lives. But there are also milongas that are much more open. In particular, at a milonga with a class beforehand there will be dancers with less experience trying to get the feel of dancing at a milonga. Between milonga and practica is more of a gradation than a dividing line, which isn't a problem as there's generally a respect for the floor as a whole. There are places for stage-type dancers, who need space to dance, and there are milongas for more traditional dancers, and the two tend to keep apart. Segregation!

In London most teaching is stage-type moves, often without warning that these aren't suitable for milongas. Because to issue such a warning would be to say that what you are being taught may be fun but it's quite useless!

If you look at El Tangauta, the main Buenos Aires listings, you'll find six or seven practicas listed daily, and I know for a fact that some of those are actually classes that include dancing hoping to attract a bit more custom. Then there are around ten milongas a night listed, and more than 30 classes most days. But given that tiles are ubiqitous as flooring in the city, it's likely that a lot of practica activity is done at home, in the kitchen or on the terrace.