The girl staying with me asks me why I don't go to certain milongas. I tell her I can't be bothered. "I go to dance." I tell her. "Nothing more. The tourist milongas? No thanks. Those milongas are to conduct business." She gives me a strange look. "Everyone there is looking to make a buck," I stop and smile at her, "A peso" I correct myself, "off of someone. I don't need that. You have the people trying to make money off the foreigners and then you have all the people trying to make money off of each other. It is just too crazy. It is more like a Chamber of Commerce meeting than a milonga."
"Well there are all the teachers." she says to me. "It is not just the teachers," I tell her, "It is everyone. A bunch of vividores." She doesn't know what that means. "Vividores," I explain to her "are people who live off of other people." "But teachers give lessons, that is how they make a living." she says to me.
"How many of those people who say they are teachers can actually dance?" I say to her. "Would you want to take lessons from them?" She laughs, "No, not now. Maybe when I first came here. I didn't know any better." I continue, "Then you have the ones selling shoes, renting apartments, selling clothes, CDs, beauty treatments, and anything else you can think of."
"For me it is a disaster. Within 10 minutes of walking in the door someone is at my side wanting to give me a commission to get at my guests. They know foreigners stay with me." I say to her. "Hola Deby, que preciosa sos, que divina. Tanto tiempo." I imitate for her. "Tengo mis clases, si mandes la gente, te pago 30 pesos cada uno." I roll my eyes, "and so it goes, no thank you. I just want to dance."
At least no one pitches me their services directly. That is for the tourists in these milongas. One guest in my apartment told me that after a night at one of the local milongas, she was asked if she wanted taxi dancing services by 3 men, classes by several others. She received offers for shoes, tours of the city, and spa services.
It's like being on the subte at rush hour. First there is the guy who is selling pens and notepads, then the guy who has his kid in his arms and a plastic bag of medicine bottles with a sad tale of how he needs money to buy medicine and feed his family. After him comes the juggler, then the blind man, the children with the stickers. The difference is I need to take the subte.
I remember when I first came here to dance, the tourist milongas were not so commercialized. You had a few teachers here and there. You actually had to approach some of the older milongueros if you wanted them to escort you to a milonga, and even then, they were hesitant. Omar Vega would sell his CDs and maybe there would be 1 shoe vendor, and that was it. You never felt hustled.
The other day in El Beso on Sunday, one of my friends remarked to me "Our milongas are really changing." On Thursday when I was dancing it was pretty funny, the gentleman I was dancing with looked up and then exclaimed "Oh my God, that whole side is all foreign women! There are so many of them." He was really shocked. I said to him that he seemed so surprised. He said that he was. So I teased him and said "They want you." He is a really nice man. He just shook his head. I don't think it was that there were foreign women, it was just that the inbalance shook him. (I am sure for them too.)
I think what the locals fear is that our milongas will become tourist milongas. Not so much that there will be foreigners at them, is that the organizers will allow it to become like a chamber of commerce meeting more than a milonga. When we locals refer to various milongas as tourist milongas immediately the foreigners will defend them and say "Well Argentines go there too." So in their mind it is not at tourist milonga if Argentines are there. The difference is in the milongas of the locals you do not find people selling themselves, selling services,apartments, or anything else. They come to dance. This is after all, what a milonga is for.