Wednesday, 15 October 2014


Norma Marin has a YouTube channel, Normarin1, to which she uploads films of Buenos Aires milongas. Most evenings she goes out dancing and takes her little camera with her. Often she records complete tandas. Performances of live music and dance get uploaded too, although mostly she films social dancing, the social dancing of her friends to judge by the number of people who wave and smile at the camera. In the past week alone she has uploaded 30 videos, 30 tangos. The channel has been there since July 2011 so now it's an archive of thousands of tangos.

The milongas she goes to aren't the big beasts of the Buenos Aires tango world, the ones we've seen over and over in clips, Lujos, Cachirulo, Lo de Celia and the like, where the 'old masters' enjoy themselves night after night. The fascinating thing about her films is that the milongas she films seem to be attended by 'ordinary' people, and I get a sense of a cross-section of society from her films. These really are social events people attend to enjoy themselves, meet, chat and dance. The atmosphere seems a lot less formal than the better-known milongas, and I find the milongas she films very likeable, milongas like Aló Lola y La Yumba de Dorita (Sunday nights at El Obelisco), Milonga de Los Gomias, Febril y Amante held in Gricel on Wednesdays, Matiné de Lunes Tango, Rivadavia Club Tango and so on. Likeable to watch, but perhaps not to visit to dance unless you speak good Spanish, as these milongas seem to be social events as much as dance events. Some perhaps more so than others.

I only discovered all this recently and I was instantly hooked. I find it easy to sit and relax and watch a few tandas, as if I was sitting there on the edge of the floor. So many stories! That young couple, perhaps at their first milonga, her shoes borrowed maybe from an older sister. That older guy who dances so smoothly and leads with such easy grace. The couple who've obviously practised their intricate footwork together. Occasionally a couple who look as if they're practicing for the 'campeonato'. Ladies (and guys) whose feet seem to move precisely and neatly, others who are a lot less tidy. The experienced and the inexperienced of all ages. I came across one extraordinary clip in which a woman starts to laugh loudly at the beginning of a tango and dances through it, whoops of audible laughter throughout, and is still laughing at the end! What did he say to her? Unrestrained laughter: you don't often hear it. & nobody seemed bothered: amused perhaps, but not disapproving. It seems to be a very tolerant, relaxed crowd. I get a sense of real society: these are people who know each other, or at least know who the others are. Perhaps not a barrio milonga in the old sense, but a sense of shared identity. A lot more shared identity than you'd expect in London, I think. People who have probably lived through a lot of difficulty together, supported each other through the years of the 'dictadura' and the aftermath, as well as, most likely, the disappearance of their savings in 2002.

I enjoy watching the dancing. It's easy, relaxed, uncomplicated. I've never noticed anyone rushing through the beat in these clips, no stepping early, which is common enough in London. Nothing complicated – but it's generally done well, good basics, which is always a pleasure to watch. A slower dance, perhaps the sensuality is more overt, there's no straining for effect, nothing forced, just people relaxed and enjoying the dancing. The floors are mostly crowded – and the lighting is excellent! It makes leading a lot easier when you can get an idea of who is around you from a quick glance.

As to the variety of people, I remember a friend who's visited many times and stayed for months telling me: you get to dance with all kinds of people in the milongas there. In London it's more limited. You certainly meet interesting people in London milongas, but it's very far from being a cross-section of London society. Up till now, anyway! But then in Buenos Aires everyone shares the background of the music; even if they don't dance they know the music.

Normarin1 has a sort of mission statement on her channel: 'The aim is to show milongas from the inside, to see tango in its full expression, the dancers in the milongas, the professionals, the orquestas, the singers, and much more, and all for free'.

Thank you, Norma Marin!

PS: I suggested rashly that the better-known dancers aren't at these milongas, then opened a very recent clip from the Matiné de Lunes Tango with Roberto Segarra who has just turned 94 in the foreground. (The link is to a birthday vals with Adela Galeazzi.) & there must be others I wouldn't recognise.

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