A quick note: I'm simply trying to describe as accurately as I can my impressions of BsAs milongas. I don't intend any of this as a criticism of London or any other milongas. & perhaps the best way to describe the (few) Buenos Aires milongas I've enjoyed is to say that they are socially laid-back and slightly formal. The dancing, and the brief conversations between tangos, are the focus. I guess that public dances always used to be a bit formal, and something of that spirit persists.
When you first arrive at (say) El Beso and start watching the dance, the quality of it seems overwhelming. It's excellent; these are all people who've danced a lot. But after watching for a while the eye begins to filter out the dancers. Not all the older tangueros are marvellous, some of them could be relative beginners, but those whose tango ancestry goes back to childhood begin to stand out. They are both energetic and relaxed, easy and sure of themselves, they have nothing to prove. They are all different, of course. Pedro keeps his feet busy without doing anything that looks particularly complicated, although he's totally assured, but he expresses the music with his upper body: partners who've danced with him tell me that there's a constant flow of emotion from his upper body. Another older guy dances with a smile: perhaps there's an element of wit in his dance as his partners laugh for no apparent reason other than that his feet might have led them somewhere unexpected. Another leads effortlessly a range of movement that always looks fresh and new. Alberto Dassieu leads a dance with a lot of style, and uses pauses and changes of speed, as well as a lot of upper-body movement. & so on, there are others. They are individual. & everyone from that background can effortlessly and comfortably fit plenty of dance into the tightest of spaces as a matter of course, where I'm challenged to keep moving at all.
Beyond this handful of giants, you start to notice a younger generation, late twenties onwards I suppose. They are fluent and move well, with good posture, which is initially impressive, but then perhaps you start to notice they repeat much the same dance in the same way, tanda after tanda, to different orquestas, and perhaps it's a bit breathless, a bit tense. I start to get the impression that many of the younger dancers are following patterns of steps they've learned: I start to recognise sequences of steps strung together, the salida, the giro, which I don't notice so much with the older dancers. Perhaps the older dancers think of their dance step by step, rather than in sequences of steps; this may be the secret of keeping moving in a confined space. & the dance of the younger generation is a lot less individual: they look much more alike.
Some younger dancers have mastered whole styles: I do a continuous double-take at 'Los Gavitos'. They do the master's dance really well, left and right hands raised high, the guy's left wrist twisted over, and their dance is very accomplished, but it's on the edge of looking like parody: it's not quite theirs, it doesn't have the instinctive naturalness of the tango of the older generation. Other younger dancers seem too fluent for their own good: the leaders can fit in eight consecutive giros, so they do, whether it seems to suit the music or not (perhaps whether their partner likes it or not). And of course there are a few younger dancers who look just great, and you can't help feeling that their emotional response to the music, excellent posture, relaxed physicality, and easy spontaneous movement will just continue to look better and better.
All that, of course, is how you think when you look at it from the outside. What really sticks, what really matters, is how relaxed, warm and affectionate milongas can feel. I'm probably naïve in finding it utterly entrancing to experience tango like that: perhaps there are layers of competitiveness, aggression and duplicity there that I don't notice, but I'd like to doubt it.
Pina Bausch told her dancers 'Dance for love!' What better reason, what other reason, can there be to dance tango?