Saturday, 12 December 2009

Some milongas: El Arranque

El Arranque, held at La Argentina, is an afternoon milonga that starts while most people are still at work. Later it fills up, then people begin to leave to go home. It's one of the biggest floors I've come across in this city of stiff breezes, almost as big, I'd guess, as the floor at Carablanca in London.

The thing I like about it is that it's the milonga of ordinary people who dance tango. No one here is dressed up, the shoes are nondescript. The dance varies from the OK to the fairly basic. But why be critical? These are just ordinary people who like dancing, and I think that's great. It's a good place to go with a partner as you can practice all afternoon: I've never seen it really crowded. If you go alone it might be more difficult. Two women together will certainly get dances. It's harder for guys: as elsewhere, if you aren't known you have to work your way up. The women will be well aware that you are looking at them for a dance, and if they choose not to look back, you get nowhere. They want to dance with their friends and acquaintances, so it might take a while, but it isn't impossible. & my partner attracted dances with a couple of other leads, who brought her back to the table at the end of the tanda, gave me a slight bow and said what a good dancer she is. (She is.) Compare that with London, where I might be in a close conversation with a good friend when someone walks up, leans over her, ignoring me, demanding a dance, and then dumps her in the middle of the floor when the tanda ends. So just who is treating her as a human being?

It's also interesting to compare it to a London milonga in the pauses between tangos, because the spacing of couples is very regular. There might have been 50 or 60 couples on that floor, and there was no bunching, no vacant space. There seems in general an instinctive practice to give everyone else one step of space. You don't dance within one step of each other. You might take a chance on using that space for a quick moment, but be aware that someone else might be relying on it being there. This means that dancing in a crowd is relatively easy, because you have space. Of course the definition of 'a step' depends on how crowded the floor is, but it seems to be a fairly regular courtesy. It goes without saying that all the dancers here were dancing in close or fairly close embrace, and that none of them used wild, sudden or exaggerated moves. It's a modest, social dance.

As to the line of dance, this tends to be crowded and slow moving. Dancing in the line of dance is fairly restricted. 'A step' here seems to be much smaller than elsewhere on the floor. Consequently every now and again, dancers break away from the line if space opens up inside the floor, as there you have a much more varied and changing space: the apparently random moves of dancers might open up a space for a bit of a walk, which can be useful and enjoyable if you've been rather confined. Of course things do go wrong occasionally, but in general you can dance without being bumped, pushed or kicked even when it's crowded. It's nice.

As to a 'second lane' I've never been aware of it. One night I thought I was dancing in a second lane, and discovered abruptly that it was just a random opening.


msHedgehog said...

To be fair, you can't take a lady back to her seat if she hasn't got one, and most of the time at London milongas there isn't enough seating for everyone to sit down, and certainly not in the same place all the time.

It also made a lot more sense to me as a beginner to part politely in some convenient spot at the edge of the dance floor and the end of the dance, than to be escorted (or, as it felt like, followed) back to some random table or chair, at which I might or might not have any reason to sit, as though he wanted to continue a conversation, and then abandoned, which I used to find rather creepy and bizarre: it sends such mixed and mysterious messages. But if it were really a convention, it would be fine. It should be the edge of the floor, though, not in the middle. And I'm totally with you on the leaning over.

Tangocommuter said...

Ha ha ha! Good point. There's definitely a shortage of chairs in London! But in the places I'm thinking of you have a chair, and you never expect to find someone else sitting in it. & in general men do escort their partners back to the edge of the floor in the right direction and thank her as they leave her. It just so happened that at El Arranque our table was at the edge of the floor.
Perhaps El Arranque is a little more old-fashioned than other milongas, and my friend's partners felt they needed to acknowledge my presence too. It just seemed a friendly gesture.

The social conventions tend to be courteous in a slightly old-fashioned way. Not to say that no one ever misbehaves, but I can imagine that most of the older (male) dancers grew up knowing they'd thrown out of the milonga with a clip on the ear if they weren't polite to the ladies. (& quite right too!)

I've never felt any social convention must be followed just because it's done somewhere else. It's courtesy rather than convention that really matters.

msHedgehog said...

I totally agree. The thing that matters is to be courteous and kind.