Sunday, 31 October 2010

Buenos Aires milongas – life as a single.

Our recent stay in Buenos Aires led me to reflect much more on the milonga experience, particularly to compare the “singles” and “couples/groups” milongas.

When a couple enters a predominantly ‘singles’ milonga in Buenos Aires, they are usually placed in a back corner and become invisible. Tango in BsAs for me is, despite visiting with my partner, largely about dancing as a single – then the full essence of tango has a chance of being experienced.

It’s not about the figures and the display on the dance-floor; it’s about people and about tango music, and how they can achieve a connection. It’s about social communion and an expression of the temporary relationship with our partner through the music & dance.

The milonga is a unique socio-cultural experience that begins with entering the salon. As a foreigner, it’s more difficult to be accepted, but you need to enter believing that you belong there, and it needs so show – it’s confidence, not presumptuousness or arrogance. I always accept that I am a guest in their milongas and I am going to respect that by adhering strictly to their codes.

It helps to get to know the organizers – more easily done by regularly attending the same milongas each week (rather than a trying to sample too many) and expressing thanks for the efforts which the organisers put into staging each milonga – and it is a huge effort & increasingly expensive to stage. Developing a relationship with the organisers does help in being seated favourably in the milonga – which means having good visual access to potential partners.

The use of the cabeceo is non-negotiable in reputable milongas. For someone new to a milonga, it can be hard work – particularly getting that first dance. However, once others have seen the quality of your dancing & musicality - and your observation of the codes - it becomes a little easier (for leaders, good line-of-dance is essential; for both leaders & followers, dancing in the considerate and understated style of the locals is admired). Getting a dance with the best & most popular dancers in the milonga takes persistence, and may require several visits to that milonga to achieve. But that’s part of the challenge of dancing as a single – the unknown.

A defining moment always comes when taking up the embrace. It tells your partner a lot about your technique, your confidence, your physical connection …. and that creates a mentality that can underpin the whole tanda; the very first step is also significant in communicating who you are and how you will relate to your partner– it needs to exude certainty ….. and for a leader, masculinity, …… for the follower, responsiveness.

During the dance, the music permeates the body and the bodies communicate constantly. We are dancing for each other, not putting on a show for those watching. This suggests that while we should make an effort to be well groomed for our partners, the concept of beautiful/handsome is irrelevant.

It follows that we become different dancers with different partners – different interpretations of the music (by both leader & follower), different emotions expressed to our partners through the dance, quite apart from the variations in embrace, timing, and technique that we feel.

The attraction of returning to the same milonga includes the anticipation of dancing with some of the same partners, knowing what to expect on the next encounter, knowing what to build on to further enhance the connection …. with that person and with the music. It’s a creative and personal pursuit.

The greatest compliment for a foreigner at a milonga is for an old milonguero or milonguera to say, “you dance like one of us”. The glow lasts well past that evening!

Have you experienced “singles” milongas in Buenos Aires? What was it like for you?

Bob

2 comments:

Constantino said...

Along the last ten years I experienced single milongas in Buenos Aires with my partner (in tango & life). Although. sometimes, we atend the milonga with some friends, normaly we go to the singles milongas. We sit separated and have the agreement not to dance together except when our eyes meet in a standart "cabeceo" and, as the years passed and we returned each one to the same milongas and dance almost with the same people, especially with "the good ones", I have the feeling to belong to a big family. By now, both of us have heard the compliment you describe so well in the last lines of the post, and so, I understand very well your feelings.
I suscribe every word of yor comment.

Tangocommuter said...

Glad you like the video of Adela and Santiago. Their dance doesn't go back to the golden age, but they continue the tradition. It's still a living tradition.

And thanks for this post on the milongas. I've visited twice on my own, and have been confronted by that line of women who may or may not be looking for dances, and by floors that are crowded beyond belief by London standards. & it was wonderful, after a few visits, to be welcomed by the organisers, and to be able to get on the floor and feel confident and dance comfortably there. It's a long journey to get that far. Thanks: your post brought it all back very vividly.

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