Some scattered observations and generalisations. A big one to start with: Buenos Aires milongas seem to be a lot cooler than the (few) London milongas I get to, but at the same time the dancing is a lot more emotionally intense. Isn't it true that in London – and probably in Europe – we go at milongas like there's no tomorrow? It's party time! Dance till you drop! We – or at any rate a lot of dancers; it's as if we want to dance every dance and then some more. The festivals give us the chance to dance practically non-stop all weekend. Our enthusiasm is marvellous.
Buenos Aires milongas feel more like places where people hang out, sit around with a drink, whether a glass of red wine or a shared bottle of champagne, maybe have supper with partners or friends, greet friends and chat, watch the dancing, dance for a while. I've seen Pedro, for instance, dance nearly every tanda for several hours, but on another evening he'll sit at the back, watch, chat with friends, dance maybe just one or two tandas. Milongas tend to last around six hours, some a bit longer, a few are shorter: six until midnight, ten until four am, and so on. People drop by for a few hours, maybe more, and there's an hour or two later on when everyone's on the floor. Milongas really feel like a way of life, a part of ordinary life rather than climactic weekly events, perhaps because they go on for a relatively long time and because there are a lot of them. I wonder if we'll start to use milongas like this in London in the years to come, as sort of a facility that's always around, rather than unique, striking events that you've got to make the most of while they last. It's an agreeably relaxed approach which I find I'm very comfortable with. So you sit and watch for a few hours, see a few friends and enjoy some dances. If you didn't get the dances you wanted, well, there's always tomorrow or next week.
At the same time the quality of dance can be really intense. The embrace can look (and feel) incredibly warm, affectionate, tender, even between total strangers. The strict form of the cabeceo probably helps here: for a lady, there's no way the guy you danced it with can follow you back to your table and try to chat you up. (However, cards with email addresses are passed around, and are really useful.) I think that emotional quality is quite rare in London dance, and I wonder if it's a consequence of the strict form of cabeceo. I can't help noticing that almost all the very intense dances I've had have been with partners who are from Buenos Aires, and I suspect that this is how they like, and expect, to dance with local guys. (You might dance a good part of a tanda before you find where your partner is from, so it's not just imagination.) Dances I've had with other visitors tend to feel slightly more casual, impersonal, by comparison.
I've never been really certain what they mean when they say 'Tango is a feeling' but I imagine it might well be a feeling of an intense tenderness. Perhaps it's 'entrega', the feeling of losing yourself in another person, as if the sense of ego vanishes into the music, the movement, the partner, the floor.