On one of the tango lists someone posted a list of how to spot the tourists in the milongas in Buenos Aires. This started a firestorm of email flames. I am surprised the Internet did not explode with all the emotion that was written. I know this person, she is not a mean person or vindictive. She is like many of us, very opinionated about tango. At times her passion is a little intense and she grates on people for it. I do think sometimes she enjoys being the spark that ignites the flame.
Most people saw her post as being mean spirited. There were a few that thought maybe she meant well but did not do the best job of conveying her feelings. I think I have a good idea of what she was trying to say, but it just did not come out the way it should have. Below is the post she sent to the list:
They arrive wearing a backpack.
They change their shoes at the table.
They wear black t-shirts and cargo pants.
They arrive after a class wearing the same clothes and no deodorant.
They are shy about making direct eye contact in order to dance.
They walk across the floor to meet their partner.
They accept verbal invitations at their table.
They ask men to dance.
They don't observe dancers before they dance.
They begin dancing as soon as the music starts.
They expect or try to dance every tanda.
They dance consecutive tandas with the same man.
They add embellishments to excess.
They prefer quantity over quality of partners.
They will suffer through a tanda just to be dancing.
They dance with their eyes closed.
They don't carry a handkerchief to use between dances.
They share the table with their partner and wonder why locals won't look at them.
They attract the worst dancers.
They hire a taxi dancer without knowing if he can dance.
They know they are beginners and believe the milonga is for practicing.
They are hustled for classes by men who can't dance.
They arrive early and leave within a short time if they haven't danced.
They are the only ones doing the 8-step basic.
They don't feel the music or know the orchestras.
They believe they have the right to videotape and photograph dancers in the milongas.
They think that every man in the milongas is a milonguero.
They don't learn or follow the rules of the milonga.
They attend CITA and go to the milongas to show off their new moves.
I have a few comments to make about this list. I think that yes, you could say this about the tourists who come here, but you could say it about any tango community in the world, and you could definitely say it about many Argentines who live and dance here.
For example: They change their shoes at the table.. GUILTY! I am not a tourist, and sigh...I have done this. I guess it is my rebellious side. I usually change them in the bus or subte, but not always.
They dance with their eyes closed...GUILTY! I do this lots of times. Of course if it is the guy dancing with his eyes closed, then that is another issue. I have had many milongueros comment to me on how beautiful and happy I look when I dance with my eyes closed. This cannot be a bad thing, jeesh!
They don't carry a handkerchief to use between dances. I can count on one hand the men who do this, almost no one does this anymore. The milongas are now air conditioned.
They don't feel the music or know the orchestras. This is a gift and almost no one has it. Jorge Nassel told me less than 10% of the Argentines understand the music. (I would probably agree with this) So if they can't understand it why is everyone else supposed to?) Just because you know the orchestra doesn't mean you can dance to them.
They attract the worst dancers. You know, this is not always true. I live here, I dance here, and I still attract some interesting characters.
They believe they have the right to videotape and photograph dancers in the milongas. I never really thought about this one until a month ago. I was dancing at a milonga and this guy in an orange shirt was following me around the dance floor taping me. It was really weird. I confronted him and it turned out he reads my blog and was really excited to see me. Since then it has happened quite a bit. I still feel weird about it. I think I would feel better if they introduced them self first.
All comments aside, the issue is really the tourists. When I lived in San Francisco, we made fun of the tourists. They were the ones who wore shorts in July. The ones who thought the cable cars were for tourists and Rice a Roni commercials. They would descend on Fishermen's Wharf scarfing down walk away shrimp cocktails and buy abalone shells painted with pictures of Coit Tower. Tourists are tourists and they do stupid tourist things where ever they are because..well, they are tourists!
I think here however, the milongas are a microcosm of life. When I came to Buenos AIres the first time in 2000 I had no idea what to expect. I didn't even know how long it took to get here. I thought everyone here danced tango, and they danced it well. It took me several trips to realize that most Argentines do not dance tango, and most of them do not even like it. It took me a couple or years to figure out there were lots of bad dancers here.
I remember when I first came here in 2000 and probably until maybe 2002 there were more men that danced tango than women. Now there are way more women than men. Many men left the country during the crisis, and sad to say lots of them have...expired.
Then the government "discovered" tango. Tango went from being this sort of cult dance to a highly marketed tourist attraction. Overnight there were more festivals, tango shows, shoe stores, and milongas. With the devalued peso Buenos Aires became the place to go. Everyone became a tango teacher.
I remember one night my former partner and I were reading the tango magazines. We would ask each other if we knew the people who were advertising as teachers. We did not know most of them. Anyone who could pay for an ad could advertise as a teacher.
It seemed the face of tango was changing. When I first came here the codigos (codes) were like the words of God. People were very respectful. Men wore suits on the weekends. Women NEVER wore pants to the milongas. If you were learning to dance you went to practicas, you never went to milongas. Then it changed. Not all at once, but slowly.
During the crisis, the dress became more casual. Women started to wear pants, men stopped wearing suits. Yes, there were more tourists. I was one of them. I was a tourist until I came here to live permanently 2.5 years ago. Not all of us were ignorant.
What it did do was create an interesting dichotomy in the community here. You had people who were considered the "milongueros." Within that community you had milongueros who were honored that people from all over the world were coming to learn and enjoy their passion - the tango. Then you had the milongueros who hated (and still do) the foreigners. It did not matter if they danced well or respected the codigos, they were foreign and that was enough.
People who were not really respected here in the tango community started to market to foreigners. They became overnight sensations whether they could dance or teach or not. If they could talk the talk that was good enough for the foreigner coming here to dance. Most had no clue who was good, who was honest. In tango communities across the world, the fact that someone was Argentine was all the credential they needed to be considered "authentic."
I completely understand how the woman felt who posted that list. She hates to see the milongas "destroyed" by ignorant foreigners. She thinks they need to learn what is "right." There are 130 milongas in Buenos Aires. I think that there are milongas for everyone. There are milongas you could not pay me to attend. There are others I love and would not miss.
I think it is very ugly that the hosts of several milongas here will turn away foreigners by telling them there is no room or worse seat them in the absolute worst place. They make them feel unwelcome so they won't come back. That is not only foreigners who come to visit, that is all foreigners. Even those of us who live here. It proves absolutely nothing except that they are jerks.
I rent rooms to people who come here to dance. My life has been enriched by the tourists who come here. I have met some absolutely wonderful people. I have dear friends all over Australia, in New Zealand, Spain, Italy, and England. I don't know what I would do without the tourists who come and bring me Peets coffee, pancake mix, and English muffins. Roxie is swimming in pigs ears. Not because I ask, but because they read about it on my blog.
I find that people either love it here or hate it. Many people come here one or two times and they never come back. They don't like the codigos, they prefer to dance in their own city. Others fall in love with the city and start to learn the codigos and history of tango. There are others who think they can change the Argentines....whatever. But then stereotypes do come from somewhere.