I have been dancing tango for more than 20 years, 16 of them here in Buenos Aires. How I dance and where I dance has changed over the years. I no longer have tango clothes, 25 pair of shoes, or worry about how well I dance..or not.
When people come to Buenos Aires or they are planning a trip, they always ask me "Where is the best milonga?" Or they ask "What is your favorite milonga?" I cannot answer either of those questions, because it is almost impossible. Buenos Aires has over 150 milongas. There is something for everyone. There is no "best milonga." The "best milonga" is the one you are at, nor do I have a favorite milonga.
How can I not have a favorite milonga? It does not work like that. I know lots of milongas, and I know lots of local people who dance. Where I go can depend on what I am doing that day, if I want to walk there and back, and if the music is good. I know that I will dance unless I do not feel like it.
The other day I went to Canning on a Wednesday. I can walk there. I like the Dj Mario Orlando. There is always 4 or so men I like to dance with. I can dance 8 tandas in the 2 hours I spend in that milonga. It is a nice way to end my work day. I think many people who live here feel the same way. People stop off on their way home, have something to drink, dance a few tandas, and then leave. Until maybe 5 years ago there was no bar scene here with happy hour. There is now, but mostly young people. Old people like me stop for a coffee or I guess they go to a milonga.
Wednesday. I was going to go to Lo de Celia, but the nightmare traffic situation made it impossible. I can walk to Canning. A simple decision. I enter the salon. The waiter sees me. He comes to kiss me and lead me to my table. I have known him for years. He knows where I want to sit. I always sit at the same table. I think most of us do that. There is an unwritten law about the tables.
I always change my shoes in the bathroom. Habit. Besides, who wants to look at ugly feet? I greet the people I know. There are people who still come here every Wednesday and Sunday as they have for years. The salon is mostly empty on Wednesdays now. There was a time, when it was so full you could barely move. Now there are many milongas to choose from on Wednesday. I still prefer the traditional ones, here, Lucy & Dany, and Lo de Celia.
Canning has a large poster (actually a mural) that goes across the back wall. On it, are pictures of people who danced there during the time they constructed the mural. I look at that mural everytime I go to Canning. It was another epoch. The faces dance out at me. I know the names of almost everyone. Sometimes, I feel sad. Tango was very different then.
I go back to my table after changing my shoes. I see my 4 regulars. There are also some tourists. Funny how they are all seated on the same side of the floor near each other. Some things never change. I gaze across the room. One of my favorite dancers is here. I see him eyeing a table of foreign women. This means he is fishing. I doubt he will dance with me today.
When I first met this guy at Maipu 444, he told me he only danced with local women. It took him 2 years to invite me to dance. He explained to me then, that he works all day,and when he comes to the milonga, it is to relax. He only wants to dance with women he knows. He wasn't interested in the tourists. That all changed when he got hooked by a woman from Europe. A star was born.
The woman brought him to Europe and set up a tour. He taught. He never taught in his life, but that didn't matter. She brought him twice and then she was never seen again here in Buenos Aires. "Oh those milongueros.." Once he even told me that he was looking to go to the US. He asked me if I knew anyone there. Right. Now I watch him harpooning this woman. She is a not great dancer, of course she is unduly flattered by his attention. I know that look. We have all been there before.
I watch the floor to see if there is anyone new I might want to dance with. I have never seen the guy next to me. Interesting guy. I watch him dance. He is enthusiastic. The guy behind me, also someone I have never seen before, is busy chewing the ear of a woman. He is trying to impress her. He is complaining and bragging. Not a good sign. I watch him dance. Not for me. Un bruto.
I accept a dance with one of my regulars. He is happy to see me. I then accept a tanda of vals with the man next to me. I can barely understand what he is saying to me. I am not sure where he is from. He is excited that I can do giros, he calls them "vueltas." I don't correct him. He has me turning giros like crazy. I don't mind, but it is almost funny. He keeps gurgling about my "vueltas." (Vuelta means turns too, but more like laps, or return, detour. I suppose you could describe the turns in tango as vueltas, but nobody does.)
It is time for me to go. I am meeting a friend who is visiting for dinner. On my way out I see someone I haven't seen in years. He gives me a big hug and asks where I have been. I don't like telling my life's story. I tell him that I have been working. We chat outside while I wait for my friend. He catches me up on his life, with pictures of his house, his grandchildren, and his "students." Another star is born. It seems everyone is teaching, except me. Been there, done that. I prefer teaching English.
My friend arrives with another friend. They ask me how the milonga was. How do I answer this? I tell them, for me, the milonga is great, but maybe not for everyone. There is no such thing as the best milonga for everyone. The best milonga is the one you are at.