Monday, 9 January 2012

Milonga watching 1

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.


Tango Salon Adelaide said...

"I think that emotional quality is quite rare in ...., and I wonder if it's a consequence of the strict form of cabeceo."

I tend to agree with you, Tango commuter. The cabeceo permits choice in the dance. We're unlikely to really lose ourselves in the dance with just anyone or any music. And because this entrega is the norm in BsAs traditional milongas, it may be easier to let go there than elsewhere.


Cinderella said...

'Isn't it true that in London – and probably in Europe – we go at milongas like there's no tomorrow?'
I'm convinced that there are increasingly more places in Europe, too, where it is different. I've just been to a weekend of dancing with friends in Germany, a kind of small encuentro milonguero in the countryside. People spent the time dancing, but also hanging out, sitting around, drinking and eating, meeting and chating with old friends and making new ones.
'It's party time! Dance till you drop!'
That might be due to us being tango commuters, TC. Of course, we try to dance as much as possible at the milongas, when we get there only once a week. But it really improves the dancing if one is more 'choosy' concerning the partners, the amount of dancing and the music. And such weekend encuentros also help, because there's just more time for everything.

Anonymous said...

Milongas in the world cater to consumers of tango. Most have never experienced tango in Buenos Aires and don't know there is a difference. They approach tango as exercise, so of course the focus is on getting dances and avoid sitting out.

When dancers open their hearts, they'll feel what tango is.

Tangocommuter said...

Thanks, Patricia.

Cinderella, I said I find the relaxed atmosphere of milongas in Buenos Aires preferable to the comparatively frenetic London milongas. But I'm not sure I got across the serious formality of those Buenos Aires events. You mention 'people hanging out' at your weekends but, at the Buenos Aires milongas it's men sitting with men, and women with women, a row of men facing a row of women (except for partners sitting together) and there's very little casual meeting outside this. I think this relaxed social 'coolness' is related to the intensity of dance. We can recreate the cabeceo, which makes it easier to choose parners, but I'm not sure we'll ever re-create that intensity of the dance because it arises (perhaps) from that formal separation, which I think most Europeans find socially unpalatable. & of course that separation also allows a concentration on the dance itself: you put everything into it. I like dancing in London and I like the dances I get there, but I really look forward to dancing in the formal milongas in Buenos Aires because I know the quality of dance I'll get there every once in a while... (& I'm not talking of a technical quality.)

Chris, please get the name of that other commenter right, and I'll publish your comments.

Cinderella said...

You yourself used the expression 'hanging out' for what happens at the BsAS milongas, TC. But perhaps we misunderstood each other.
What I wanted to say was that I'm sure there are places in Europe, too, where people dance with great intensity and open hearts. They don't dance freneticly. They sit, watch, chat, eat and drink, they listen to the music. And if they dance, they use cabeceo and mirada first. And it feels as if they dance for the love of it and put everything into it. I don't know whether we can recreate the intensity of dancing in BsAs, but I know that I've had very intense dances in Europe, too.

tangocherie said...

I always know when a couple starts to dance with the first note of the song that they are not local. They rush to get in all the dancing they can--and for many not only is it the pattern they have at home, but if they are on vacation in Buenos Aires, they know their time is limited and they try to dance "as fast as they can," like "there's no tomorrow."

Here there's all the time in the world for tango. In the milonga the only important thing is the tango--and yet, everyone takes their time.

It's the appreciation of quality over quantity. And as you pointed out, TC, there is more emotional investment, more emotional risk taking here, so the payback is greater. And because there is no rush, there is less desperation.

Yes, there are many milongas every night of the week to choose from, but most people go to the same ones every week--where they like the organizers, the DJs, and the habitués. And once at the milonga, they are in no rush to dance.

Because there is all the time in the world for tango.

Tangocommuter said...

Cinderella, thanks for the assurance that tango can be that good in Europe: apart from Paris, my experience of it is limited. The Buenos Aires milongas have made me think, and it would be great if there's anything there that could make other people think too, even if they decide that tango in Europe is in excellent health!

& many thanks, Cherie, for saying in a few clear sentences what I took a page to stumble around. You made a very beautiful statement, but of course you've been watching those milongas for a long time! (& many thanks, again, for a beautiful Pugliese tanda not so many weeks ago, especially since you and Ruben had been teaching all day. & greetings to Ruben too.)

Chris said...

Janis, you hit the nail on the head, as usual. BA etiquette serves a majority who can really dance - London etiquette serves a majority who can't.

And TC, I agree with your point about duration. I well remember my early experiences of DJing at London's first milonga. Dancing lasted 2hrs 15mins... increased by 15mins if there was no show, decreased to 1hr 15mins if you did two of the evening's three (!) classes.

You'd might think that nearly ten years later, this would have grown up. Well, last time I DJed there (it's now called Carablanca), the milonga (not counting the show) lasted 2hr 55mins. The organiser ought to call it a mishorta.

Some newer central London milongas are longer. But at the last I visited I swear I saw not even one couple doing anything I'd call dancing Argentine tango. All were racing around doing the barely recognisable open-hold English version taught in the classes beforehand.

The best UK milonga I've been to recently was members-only and not advertised to the public. I'm sad that such seem to be becoming necessary, but perhaps these are the shoots from which something nearer BA-style milongas will grow.

Wallflower said...

Also, I think anticipation is part of the experience. If you eat all the chocolates as soon as you open the box, then you're missing part of the experience.

I'm guilty of stuffing my face with chocolates, but at least I've started to figure out that I'm missing something.