On Facebook (Where else..) a friend visiting Buenos Aires commented to another friend that he was only dancing in the tourist milongas. The friend was confused since he commented back that there were Argentines there. This provoked a lively banter between commenters. Another person commented he goes where there are "Old and local" Argentines who dance. I couldn't help but comment "just because they are old and and Argentine doesn't mean they know how to dance. It just means they are old and Argentine.
Last week and elderly Argentine friend of mine called to chat. She asked if I had been doing anything special and about my clothing line. I told her how I was now in the milongas of La Nacional on Mondays and Wednesday selling my clothes. I told her I was dancing mostly on Fridays and Sundays.
She hesitated. "For me, the tango is dead." This was powerful coming from a woman who has been dancing since she is 4 years old. She continued. "I went last week to an afternoon milonga. They were too old for me. No milongueros. The ones that used to go were all dead." There are others I wanted to tell her, but she was on a roll. "Later that night I went to another milonga. I met up with some friends. People do not know how to dance. The tourists killed our tango. The foreigners killed our tango. They took it and killed it. I watch those old fools on the floor. They don't even dance with you anymore. They go after these young girls who can't even walk in their shoes let alone dance in them. Before, they would never even look at a woman if she couldn't dance. The tango is dead. At least for me."
Finally I stop her. I tell her. "Los Argentinos vendan su patrimonio." The government led the way. They followed. They did it to themselves. What are you talking about? These guys were common street theives most of them. Less than an 8th grade education. Here came the foreigners throwing pesos at them and the government showed them how to grab for the gusto. The Campeonato Mundial? Government organized and fixed to bring tourism. Who participates here? The shoe stores? They multiply everyday like cockroaches. The same with studios, teachers, and now the theme is luxerious places to stay. The milongas are full of people who want your money. It becomes more like a chamber of commerce mixer than a milonga.
I understand how she feels. In Mar del Plata the milonga to I went had me depressed enough to make me want to quit tango. The people were wonderful, very sweet. They had no sense of tango. None. None of the music. They all danced alike. Tango, milonga, vals. No lead. Big clomping steps. The same pattern. The excuse? We have the same teacher. Their wow about Chicho? He makes 5,000 euros for a performance. Don't make me throw up. The defense about open embrace, children want to learn. Tell that to Olga Besio who has been teaching for years. Tell that to the thousands of people who learned tango before open embrace became an issue for intimacy phobic North Americans and Europeans.
In his interview in the magazine La Milonga Claudio Segovia the man who made Tango Argentino reality says "Tango can be done with a 1000 figures, but the pure beauty, is tango danced smoothly without any figures. It cannot be compared to anything." This is the thing that most foreigners and many new dancers do not understand. They think that show tango is tango. The milongas are a disaster. The worst are the tourist milongas. They draw the worst of the Argentine dancers, the tourists, and everyone who wants to sell to them. Me harto esos milongas.
Additionally you have the added attraction of all the foreigners; men and women who are looking for "companionship" during their vacation. After 10 years in the milongas here, I know all the players. I have seen this theater way too many times. It is no longer amusing. It is boring, and sometimes heart breaking when I know the people involved and I know what is going to happen.
Male taxi dancers and teachers who want to get a visa somewhere out of Argentina hope to find a desperate woman with dreams of teaching in HER country. The hope is that she comes back again and again until she can hook him a visa out. His nightmare is that she will want to move to Buenos Aires. She doesn't know that she is one of many and that is out of the question. The idea is to get out of Argentina, not stay. The women are the same. Only men don't talk about it. The women don't mind staying here, as long as you buy a nice apartment and let them move in, and buy them clothes and foot the bill for everything else.
Where do I go to dance? The truth is I cannot give up my tango. I go to milongas that are on the edges of Buenos Aires. Mostly with Argentines. Some have no tourists and rarely ever will. They remind me of the milongas when I came in 2000. They were not all that welcoming to tourists. These milongas I go to are the same. In these milongas the music is different. Not cookie cutter. People know how to dance to the different orchestras and they all have their own style. When I dance here, I know that the tango is not dead, and will not die.
I tell my friend "El tango cambio mucho." This is for sure. I am not happy about it. The alternative is to not dance at all. For me, this is not an alternative. Este milonguera no puede siempre amo mi tango. Siempre bailo.