My house guest Jen has been going to the milongas I go to. I have been telling her, she should go check out Canning, Niño Bien, El Beso, and all the rest of the milongas. I have been too busy to go with her. She doesn't want to go alone. On the nights I am not in the milongas with my clothes, we go to the barrio milongas I love to dance at. I bring her with me. Her view of the Buenos Aires milongas is very different than those of the average tourist who comes here to dance. She is seeing milongas with almost all Argentines and in most cases, no tourists.
Earlier this week we went to a tango show. It was not a tango show in the sense of the word, where a horse come galloping in, or the dancers are ballet or contemporary dance dancers. It was not a show where the dancers have no clue what tango is or isn't and that it is just another job. It was a tango show where all the dancers dance in the milonga. A tango show produced and put on by milongueros.
I was invited by some of the dancers to come and to bring Jen. The show was Milonguisimo III in the Confiteria Ideal. I had been invited to the other productions, Milonguisimo I and II, by friends who had danced in those productions, but I never seemed to have made it there. This time I went.
This show is not a slick production. It is a nice show danced by people who dance in the milongas here in Buenos AIres. It is priced so people in Buenos Aires, Argentines, can come to it. You can have dinner or just a drink. It is intimate so you can actually see the footwork of the dancers. There is no live music. One of my most favorite people, Michael Angel Balbi (affectionately known as Pepino) sings in the show, and that is worth a 1,000 tangos alone.
The hotels in the area recommend the show to tourists. I have no idea how they feel seeing a show that has no acrobatics, sleezy, sleek costumes, or young people who have never been to a milonga and would never know the difference between DiSarli or Pugliese. What they get is dancers from late 20s to 60s who love their tango and dance in the local milongas. I knew everyone in the cast. (Except for 1 couple)
How was the dancing? Just like in the milonga, we have our favorites, the same carried into the show. Everyone danced their own style, which was not a bad thing at all. The audience got to see milonguero tango, no cookie cutter clone tango.
When Marta Fama came on to dance I told Jen to watch her feet. I have always liked the way Marta danced. That night was no exception. The same with Oscar Hector and his sister Haydee. Whatever they dance is great to watch. It was fun to see my friends from the milonga dance. The only exception was the robot Ken doll and his partner. They were a little scary.
After the show I asked Jen if she wanted to go to a milonga. I told her it was time for her to see the other side of the road. I gave her a choice of milongas. She chose one. Off we went. It had maybe been a year since I had been to this place, and I had never been to this milonga.
The organizer greeted me and in we went. We had a front table. I knew most of the men and almost none of the women. The women were almost all foreign. Probably 95% of them. The men were probably 80% Argentine. I knew I was not going to dance here. I actually didn't care.
Jen looks at me. "It feels creepy here." she says to me. I ask her why. "I don't know, it just does." she says. I tell her that almost all the women are foreign. She looks around. Most of the men were probably invited by the organizer to dance with them. I won't be dancing. Not that I really care that much.
She watches the floor. "Everyone here dances the same." She comments. I am bored to death. The same men who always ask when I will dance with them at other milongas ignore me here. Here there are opportunities. I am not one of them. I do not care because the reason I don't dance with them at the other milongas is they don't dance well enough for me.
A man comes to the table, stands directly in front of me and asks me to dance. I tell him no thank you. He is surprised I am sure. He goes off to ask someone else. The men begin to leave. There are many more women here than men. There is a heavy air of competition. I wonder if women will begin to tear off their clothes in order to get a dance. Jen laughs when I mention this.
We stay a little longer. Jen is asked to dance. After we decide to leave. There are probably 30 women to 5 men. Neither of us are interested in staying. Jen has had her fill of the place. We change our shoes and walk to the bus.
There is a man at the bus stop who was in the milonga. He is European. He recognizes us from inside. He greets us. "You don't dance?" He asks me. It is almost laughable. "Yes I dance." I say to him. "But you were not dancing tonight." "Because," I tell him, "I live here, and I am not an opportunity." Jen laughs. Of course he doesn't get it.
He follows us on to the bus blabbering the whole time. He is here for 9 months to dance tango. He talks about all the people he is meeting; this one from San Francisco, that one from Dublin, another from Italy. "You don't find it strange that you are in Buenos Aires and you are not meeting anyone from Argentina?" He thinks about it for a moment, "Well there are not many women from Argentina in the milongas I go to." He says. He rattles off the names of the milongas he goes to. All the tourist milongas. He says they are great places he loves to dance there.
He looks at me. "How long have you been dancing?" I tell him 12 years. He tells me he has never seen me anywhere. "We dance in different places. I don't go to the same milongas as you. He asks me where I go and I politely avoid answering him.
He chatters on and says how he came in 2006 and how he could take taxis all the time. "Now Buenos Aires is more expensive than Europe. I have to really watch what I spend." He chatters about how difficult it is to spend 9 months here and how he takes the bus. I want to slap him. "I live in pesos," I tell him. "You have euros. Can you imagine how it is to live here when you are paid in pesos?" He doesn't get it. So I bring it down to his level.
A programer here might make 50,000 pesos a year. A teacher might make 25,000 pesos a year. Now divide that by 5. That is what people live on here. Now he gets it. "How do they do it?" he asks. "Not very easily. They don't quit their jobs to dance tango for 9 months. Finally he gets to his stop and says good bye to us.
"What a night." Jen says to me. I laugh. "I can't believe how different that milonga was from the ones we have been going to. The ones we go to are more sociable. I don't feel any competition. People seem so nice. This one tonight was so weird. I felt like the men were there just to dance with me because I was foreign. People were not talking to each other." "It was all those things" I say to her. "For me, it is like the milongas in the US. It is not like the milongas in Buenos Aires. Sometimes I have to go to those milongas on the other side of the road, to remind me why I don't.