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The Milonga Chronicles....

The Marketing of Tango

What is going on with Tango here?  How did it change so much?  Those of us who have danced in other countries or are from other countries and now live here, maybe understand what has happened, then again, maybe not.

When I first came to Buenos Aires in 2000, the tango was very different.  Many of the milongueros were still alive.  This term now a days is used quite flippantly.  A milonguero was a man who lived only for his tango.  A milonguera - the woman, as well.  What did this mean?  It means they spent all of their time in the milonga listening to the music.  They only danced when there was a tanda they really loved AND there was someone to share this passion of the tanda.  The ability to transmit your passion and have the other person receive it and transmit it back was nothing words could describe.

There were more men in the milongas than women.  I remember being intimidated by the number of men.  It seemed that there were so few women.  The few milongueros that actually worked always went to the afternoon milongas and then on to the night milongas if they could.  A milonguero was rarely ever married, and if he was he never talked about his wife or even dared to bring her to a milonga. In the life of a milonguero, there was only one love - his tango.  Nothing else would come before his tango.  Maybe a lonely life, but the life they chose.

Today, many people think a milonguero can be anyone who dances tango and is crazy about it.  No.  That is a tanguero.  A milonguero is a special type of person.  How do I explain this? Just because you love computers and sit in front of one whenever you can, does not make you a hacker or a geek.  You are simply a person who loves computers.  Hackers (do not confuse with crackers please) and geeks are very special people.   

In 2000 when I came here and the following years, there were not 400 teachers.  There were not 200 stores to buy shoes at.  (OK I am exaggerating..a little.)  There were not extended weekend seminars with the "stars."  There were only 2 magazines - BA Tango and Tanguata.  Now there are many magazines.  There seems to be a new one every week.  BA Tango and Tanguata along with the newbie La Milonga are slick glossy rags full of advertising.

There are tango hotels where they bring in the teachers, calculate your every move, kind of like Club Med for Tango dancers.  There is yoga for tango dancers, pilates called Tangolates, and many other businesses now designed to get the money of those who dance tango. 

I can assure you these businesses along with the shoes, clothes, and CDs are not for the people who live here.  They can't really afford it.  Tango shoes are now 240 pesos or more for a pair of women's shoes. You can buy a pair of nice leather shoes for 130 pesos in most of the shoe stores.  Most of the Argentines do not go out and buy 6 pair of shoes to dance tango in.  Many of my friends have 1 pair of shoes, maybe two.  They fix them until they can no longer be fixed. One of my guests noted that many of the men who dance tango here do not even wear tango shoes.  They wear street shoes.  The same with many of the women, as noted above.

The biggest change is in the dancing itself.  There are fewer and fewer good dancers.  Why?  Because there are fewer and fewer good teachers.  Who wants to learn to walk when someone else can teach them to do something flashier?  Sadly just like in the U.S. and in Europe many teachers here are teaching patterns?  Why?  Hmmmm...greed.

I referred a friend to Mimi's class.  He agreed she was a good teacher, but boring.  "She only teaches how to walk and turn."  he said to me.  At the other classes he goes to he is learning all these "great steps."  Only he can't do them with anyone outside his class because he does not know how to lead them.

He tried to show me one of them.  I winced as I watched him move through the pattern, head down, arms closed to close, and knees bent.  "Isn't this cool?" he asked me.  I didn't comment. Then he took me to dance it with him.  Only I could not.  There was no lead.  None whatsoever.  His looking down was a pull on my balance.  "You need to come to this class with me."  He insisted.  "Then you could dance this step."  Ahhhh, so this is my fault.  I don't accept this.  "You need to learn to lead."  I tell him.  "I don't need a class to learn any steps, I only need someone to lead me."  This is not a concept he understands. An Argentine who lives here.

The government "discovered" tango in 2003.  It was a way to bring in the tourists.  They began a marketing campaign.  They backed dancers to put on seminars.  Tango Week used to be a small celebration.  Now it is a huge celebration spread out all over the city.  It brings in those foreign dollars that stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, buy tango shoes, CDs, clothes, leather and maybe travel to other parts of Argentina.

Now the government runs seminars for the tango business owners to teach them how to maximize their marketing.  Brainstorming sessions on how to make more money, how to capture more people.  Tango is big business boys and girls.  Everyone wants your money.

I remember Pocho telling me to feel the music, to let the music take me away.  To let how I feel control my feet, my body.  This is not to be confused to what people rag about as musicality.  Feeling the music is completely different.  Who talks about feeling, unless it is feeling down because you are out of money and can't buy more shoes or stay longer? 

People on Tango-L and other tango sites think they have the right to dance however they want and to call it Argentine tango.  Money talks.  Now, the tango once danced in Argentina is fading away.  Replaced by another tango.  No regard for a culture, the codigos, the music.  It has moved from a dance of the heart to a dance of the pocketbook.

Comments

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Trendy Palermo Viejo

Hi Deby, how are you doing? You appeared on Clarín's magazine today! Cool! Saludos.

Carlos

I don't suppose it ever occurred to you that you are part of the problem. You and the other people like you who spend your days at the computer screen broadcasting to anyone who will listen what a great, glamorous life it is. On your blogs and on Tango-L. Maybe you all need the attention. Maybe it's money thing. Who knows. But I assure you, sweetie, you are part of the problem. They say we always kill the things we love, and all of you bloggers seem determined to prove it.

Tanya

While I'm sure that you are right about the decline in quality of social dancing, I believe tango, as in any art form, must constantly change in order to avoid becoming static, a quaint relic from the past. Some of these changes will be for the worse, temporarily, but I can't help but think that tango's new worldwide popularity, the fact that dancers can make a living from tango, can only be a positive for the future of the dance we all love.

Thanks, as always, for the thoughtful and heartfelt commentary.

Colin

Nice post and interesting to read through and learn so much more as I know so little about that Tango....this has opened my eyes, Thank you.

Marvin J.

Hola Deby, It has been a year since I was in BAires, but I returned from that first trip with some appreciation for what "Good Tango" required from the leader and an idea of what I needed to do to improve my dance. I think there are milongueros, about our age, evolving who focus on quality of lead rather than quantity of steps. But I mostly took lessons from dancers who didn't speak English so my experience may have been atypical. Back home I have worked with teachers who can help me develop the skills which will, hopefully, make me a better dancer and they have the patience to persevere as long as I am willing to do my part. It is slow going at times working to develop a solid lead and overcome habits which detract from clearly conveying one's intention to the follower.
So I think there are milongueros developing now but they may be obscured by those who are clamoring for the tourista's dollar and maybe they have found milongas to attend which cost less. Anyway I hope to return in the not too distant future and share good times with Horacio at "No Me Olvides" and get some shoes from Jorge at Bottier and I promise not to complain about the prices. Take care, Hope you feel better soon. MJ

Tina

I agree with you when you say that the word "milonguero" gets tossed around so flippantly. Up here people think they are "milongueros" just because they dance close embrace. It's all Mi Amor and I can do not to roll our eyes. Sure there is a style to it but there is SO much more to it than just that.

I've decided that I feel a lttle more optimistic about social Tango.

I don't think the true spirit of Tango can ever die... but the dance is definitely going through a "blip."

caroline

I'm not of the same dim and grim viewpoint. Tango is far more popular now than it was even only 10 years ago. On one hand, this does change the landscape of social tango but I don't see this as being permanent but instead as a ripple in time. Once the fervor settles down, then it will be back more or less to normal. History tells me that tango has gone through this many times in the past and yet it persevered rather dogmatically. Optimistically, we may just have to ride out the wave till the worldwide craze calms down. Like Cherie said, once the new generation gets older, they will change from follies of youth to wisdom of age. What I find curious though is that I hear about old milongueros and young flashy tangueros and neotangueros, what about the generation in between? Who are they? Or is there an actual gap?

Cherie

Excellent post, Deby!

I'm really glad you pointed out these things to foreign readers who have no idea.

I'm a little more optimistic in that I see social tango changing but not dying. The hordes of young people who now fill dance halls all over the world bring energy and new blood to our favorite dance. They will be old one day and yearn for the tango embrace and connection; for now they invigorate it and keep it alive.

If tango didn't die during the horrible period of government suppression and (no relation) the overwhelming influence of rock 'n roll, it never will.

Pieter

I know nothing about Tango.But I can feel your genuine sadness and melancholy. As if you have lost someone you loved very much.I find that beautiful. You must be an amazing Milonguera. How I wish I could just watch you dance.
Pieter

Janis Kenyon

I agree that the biggest change I've seen during eight years in BsAs has been in the level of dancing. It's going downhill and fast. There is no respect for others on the floor or the codes. Everyone does as they please. Tango is turning into big business for teachers and others who are connected to the tourist market. I see a dim future for tango as a social dance.

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