Saturday, 27 December 2014

What does it take to dance in Buenos Aires?

Thinking of visiting the Mecca of tango? 
Are you ready for the challenges which await you? 
Are your expectations realistic?

Here is one person’s opinion – not expert, not comprehensive, but coming from a lot of observation and personal experience.   Visitors to BsAs need as many assets as possible to break into the local milonga scene – and I’m talking about the traditional milongas here, such as La Nacional, El Beso, Plaza Bohemia, Lo de Celia, etc.  So here’s my list: 
  •  Make an effort with your personal hygiene  and  appearance  (for a man, that can include wearing a jacket). 
  •  A good embrace is a must, and the first step you take is a defining moment – make it count. 
  • You need to dance well if you are to be noticed, and then desired as a possible partner
  • And you need to appear interested and confident – look like you belong in the milonga
Now some basic codes that should be respected: 
  •  Using the cabeceo is essential …. and for ladies, that also means remaining in your seats until the man arrives
  • Good navigation skills must be used to avoid embarrassing collisions, or disturbing the dancers around you. This means following a tight line-of-dance and respecting neighbouring dancers’ space.
  • It is important to dance appropriately and conservatively. No big figures, gentlemen. Nor feet off the floor, ladies.  Everyone sees everything in the milonga  - dancing that doesn’t fit in, is quickly condemned in people’s minds  
  • When dancing, there needs to be maximum concentration on your partner – it’s not about you, it’s about them.  Add to this, musicality that reflects familiarity with the music, and how to respond to it.
So will breaking into the scene take a long time?  There are a number of factors to keep an eye on, quite apart from the above list (e.g. don’t sit as a couple if you expect to dance with other partners).  Here are some extra tips: 
  •  Stay for a reasonable period in BsAs (no, two weeks aren’t long enough), attend the same milonga regularly, and return to BsAs as often as you can to re-connect with partners you have met
  • If you get a couple of dances on your first night, and your partners liked what they felt, then they will probably look out for you next time  ..... when you may then find a couple more new partners
  • Have patience, and an understanding of social pressures – local people go to the milongas to see and dance with their friends, so there is an element of wanting to dance together first.  You may have to wait and persist.  And while you may not get many dances in your early visits to the milongas, there is lots to interest the true tango lover, such as listening to the music, and watching the dancers.
These thoughts are the product of 15 years of annual visits to BsAs, when in the early years, lack of competence, ignorance ... and  a reasonable dose of fear, meant that we only danced as a couple.  No-one had told us anything about how to fit in, about the codes, about dancing that was appropriate.  Then there was a period of ‘dipping our toes in the water’, until we had eventually developed our skill, understanding, and confidence enough to fully embrace the ‘singles’ scene at the traditional milongas mentioned at the start, and to look forward to making local tango connections.  Above all, we came to utterly respect and enjoy the codes and customs of the milongas that belong to the people of BsAs.

There’s probably more that could be added to my list. What do you think?
Bob

PS. If you’re thinking of visiting BsAs for the first time to dance tango, and your teachers haven’t prepared you for what awaits, then make sure you talk to people who know.

1 comment:

jantango said...

Bob,
Fifteen years ago, I was a novice in the milonga scene of BsAs. I had one advantage over most foreigners--I moved here and learned the codes and customs direct from the milongueros.

Today dancers can read your blog and others before they travel for the first time. There is no excuse to arrive clueless in BsAs.

Tonight I sat next to a young Argentine and his wife who are learning tango. They changed their shoes at the table and didn't get close in the embrace. I suggested he try embracing his wife and see if she liked it and if he found it easier to lead her. He won't learn about the codes and customs in class.

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