The Milonga Chronicles: Monkeys in the zoo
Another day in paradise..

It's another style..stupid

On Tuesday I left the milonga early.  There was an abundance of foreign women kicking up a storm. Literally.  How proud they were to be dancing in a Buenos Aires milonga. Boleos, ganchos. The sandwich and the over the leg brush now raised high and outward.  A new innovation since my days in the U.S.

I danced with my friend Angel.  The couple behind us kept kicking him.  He kept turning so I would never be in front of them.  He danced to the side and away from them.  Somehow they were always there. He said in one tanda the woman kicked him 7 times.  "Why don't you say something?" I said to him.  He shrugged his shoulders and answered me, "What for?  It is how they learned to dance."

I told him how once in Gricel Adriana had made a plea for the women to please leave their feet on the floor.  The problem was she asked in Spanish.  "It needs to be made in English, French, German, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, to get the message across.  He says to me.  I glare at the couple behind us every chance I get.

I see one of my friends and her partner.  Her skirt is wet.  "What happened?"  I ask her.  She tells me that when a couple of foreigners were dancing by, the woman kicked their table so hard it knocked over the bottles of water.  My friend got hit by one of the water bottles.  She said they stopped for a second and then continued to dance.  "I couldn't believe it." She said.  "They didn't do anything, not even offer to buy another bottle of water for us."

I saw this same scene on Friday at Luis' milonga.  A couple banged into the table of a group of women, spilled their drinks, broke some glasses, looked at them, and continued dancing. No apology.  I would feel so bad if I did this.  I never have, but I know I would feel terrible and would at the least want to buy the drinks for them.

I decide to leave and try to make the subte home rather than the bus.  It is the ongoing problem of the monedas.  I have a subte card.  I try not to spend my monedas if possible.  I can't wait until the buses take cards.  Finally the government made a good decision about something.

I go to the gym. In December I noticed a group of young people practicing some dancing.  I couldn´t decide if they were dancing tango or salsa.  I couldn't hear the music.  I watched them for awhile.  They were wearing dance sneakers.  I watched their routine.  Salsa, tango, hmmm, tango, salsa.  In the end I decided they were dancing salsa.  They were not elegant and most of what they were doing had little relationship to tango including the embrace.

 One of the trainers comes to say hi. Somehow we get on the subject of tango.  I tell him I dance.  He asks me if I ever saw the group that practices here. "They are dancing tango?"  I say to him, "Que disastre, I thought they were practicing salsa."  He responds, "It is another style."  I hate this.  I really hate when Argentines defend bad tango or really when anyone defends bad tango by saying it is another style.

"Yes," I tell him, "A bad style."  "No," he says to me, "Just different from your style."  I hate this too, when an Argentine who knows nothing about tango assumes that I as an American know less.  "What style is that?"  I ask him.  "Well you know, you are American." he says to me.  "I see,"  I say to him. "I learned to dance here, on the floors of the milongas, from the milongueros. Yo soy una nena de la pista.  Bailo salon milonguero."

He isn't daunted.  After all he is an Argentine man.  "Well they dance show tango."  I laugh.  I really do not want to challenge him, but these young people are not dancing tango.  "Amor,"  I say to him. (Calling an Argentine man amor makes it OK to chop their head off...)"no bailan por el escenario."  Then comes the worst "Well they are young."  he says.  I don't want to argue.  He tells me how they want to make a video and go to Europe or the US.  Just like everyone else.

I hang out with a group of young women in their late 20s and 30s.  They think of me as their big sister. I am flattered.  I adore them.  We power walk, we go to dinner.  They are all smart, interesting, beautiful women.  Some of them go to dance in San Telmo on Thursdays.  They keep inviting me to go.  I constantly decline. "It's not my thing."  I tell them.  "I don't usually go out on Thursdays."

Finally I decide to come outside my comfort zone.  I mean what the hell.  I can always leave.  So I go. We enter while the lesson is being given. I watch.  I decide I am not going to put my shoes on.  This is not my kind of place.  I am trying to be open minded.

I watch one of our friends in the lesson.  She is in love with the tango.  She is Argentine.  She really wanted me to come tonight.  She has not had good teachers, but I can see if she had some good lessons and corrected her posture and some other things, she would be much better than she is.

When the class is over she comes to the table.  We are a fairly large group. The DJ starts to play music.  I realize he is not playing tandas.  He has just put on a CD of Di Sarli and is letting it play. He does the same with Troilo. How weird.

My friend asks me what I thought of the class.  I hate this.  I hate when people who really like their classes ask me this stuff.  I tell her it was interesting.  Then she tells me "It is another style."  This pisses me off.  "What style is that?"  I ask her.   "Different from your style." she says to me.  She has seen me dance.  "True."  I tell her.  "But what style is this?"  Because to me there was no style.  It was two bad dancers teaching people how to dance.  There was no teaching of the lead because they were teaching steps.  Bad steps.  Figuras as they are called here.  The movements were executed poorly. Whatever.  I don't want to discuss it.

She starts to lecture me about the tango danced here.  The place has great "onda" and the people come to have a great time.  That all kinds of professionals come to this milonga.  "You will see."  she says to me. "All these really great teachers come here."  I think I can wait.  My shoes are still in my purse.

I tell her "Do you know that there are 4 really well attended milongas tonight?"  she looks at me. On Thursday, it is difficult to know where to dance, there is El Beso, Canning, Niño Bien, and Gricel.  Do you know those milongas?"  She tells me "I went to El Beso once and Canning too.  They did not have good "onda."  "It depends,"  I tell her.  "What day you went.  Every day is different at those places."

She looks at me "I have been dancing tango 3 years.  I know about all those places.  I like places with good "onda" like here and Villa Malcom."  I wince at Villa Malcom.  I change the topic.  "Do you like this orchestra?"  I ask her.  "Do you know who it is?"  She says nothing.  She doesn't know.  It is Troilo with Fiorentino.

One of my other friends asks me "Do you ever listen to tango when you are not dancing?"  I tell her "Yes, all the time.  I love the music.  It is the music that is my passion.  The words to the songs.  They are so passionate and so deep about the life here in Buenos Aires.  The music drives my dance. I love my tango.  I could never give up the music."  My Argentine friend looks away.

We are soon joined by a couple my friend waxes poetic over "They are teachers and professionals."  I can tell how by they walk, they cannot dance well."  I tell this to my other friend.  "When I taught, I would tell my students you bring to your dance the posture you have."  They get up to dance.

The young man is hunched over looking at his feet.  I tell my friend that is because he is not leading and he has no idea where the feet of the girl are so he has to look for them.  He looks terrible hunched over like that.  The girl is dancing with her knees bent because her heels are too high and she doesn't have enough training to carry off the steps she wants to do. She kicks out her leg and does this little thing with her foot. "What was that?" My friend asks.  I driely respond "The flipper move."  Our other friend is not amused.  "It is another style." she again insists.

I look around the room.  Besides the bad dancing we are treated to mediocre music from a guitar trio and singers.  You cannot dance to them.  It would be impossible.  I understand that there is live music all night.  I don't know if that is good or bad.

One of my friends wants to leave.  I am happy.  So we say good bye.  When we exit there are lots of people drinking and talking.  She says to me "This place seems more like a bar than a milonga."  I laugh.  When we get to the street three American girls are getting out of a taxi "Well I hope the guys are better looking here than the other night."  I wonder if I should save them the trouble.  I didn't really see anyone that hot up there.

It was a mix of people.  Badly dressed.  Called a milonga, but not really.  Tango music was played.  There were forms of tango danced.  But my young 26 year old friend was right.  It was more like a bar than a milonga.  She does not dance tango but has come with me several times to just watch.

My friend wonders why her other friend bothers with that place.  "Because she is overweight.  She thinks all tango dancers are anorexic.  She thinks no one will dance with her."  I say.  "It is not true. There are big women in the milongas and they dance because they dance well."  I continue "She is star struck.  By these guys who cannot dance. Because they are teachers. Professionals."

What is it about tango that people make so many excuses for it?  When badly danced, they say it is another style.  When danced to other music, they say we are improving it.  I can think of no other dance this happens with.

If you dance ballet, modern dance poorly, then you dance it poorly, it is not another style.  If salsa or ballroom is danced poorly it is danced poorly.  It is not another style.  I danced salsa for years before learning to dance tango.  If someone did not dance salsa well they were a bad dancer.  They were not dancing "another style."  You dance salsa to salsa music.  I don't remember anyone saying "Hey, let's dance salsa to Glenn Miller or to Arrowsmith."  Yet North Americans and Europeans think it is cool to dance Argentine tango to whatever they want and call it tango.

Traditional tango is danced between a man and a woman.  In Europe and North America there are woman and men who change roles.  There is almost a religious fervor to accompany their reasons why. Equality, lack of one gender or the other.  Yet here in Argentina with milongas flooded with women, the Argentine women do not feel the need to lead each other around the floor.  Even in this somewhat alternative milonga with "other styles" it appeared that only foreign women who were leading, not Argentine.

The issue is the majority of these "other style" dancers have never listened to nor understand the letras (lyrics) of tango to know what they are dancing to.  The two times I went to the Gay milonga here I was asked to dance by Gay Argentine men.  Each time they told me, that although they were gay, they felt tango should be danced with a woman.  Maybe it was the men I danced with.  Maybe it was the nights I went.  Many of my Gay friends here have told me the same.  They would learn with their partners, but they want to dance with women. "Why?"  I asked.  "Because, it is tango."


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Hi Deby,

Well said! Totally agree with you that "bad" tango is not a style. I have often wanted to voice the same opinions but always ended up with the same dilemma: how not to sound dogmatic or narrow-minded to the people (usually my friends, as in your case) I am trying to convince?


Once again your words of wisdom and whit have blessed my day. I have seen this even in Seattle, WA. OK I have not experienced the true Buenos Aires tango, However I can tell you this from all of the dance background I have. (I'm talking numerous years) You name it I have done it, Bad Ballet = bad ballet, same with all other types of dance. The true tango I fell in love with, is really the only great tango from the golden era. SO unless you have truly fallen in love with a dance/music etc you really have not lived. When I see this I just tell them, when you really want to learn how to dance come see me and I will point you in the right direction of some great teachers from America and Buenos Aires. Thanks for the great post I love to read about your life.
Best Always Keno


Oh Deby,
I am sorry to say, 'Welcome to my world.' It shouldn't be like this.
I may not know all the words of the Tango songs (my Spanish is not that good), but I know that the music speaks to me and how it makes me feel.
I have danced with a couple of women, but only in open embrace. I prefer dancing with a man and will never learn how to lead. It is the only time I let a man take control!
I hope things improve for you in the Milongas.

Melanie A.

How disappointing to hear that tango charlatanism can reach even greater heights! I'm feeling discouraged from revisiting Bs. As., at least in the next year or so. But I thank you for your trustworthy assessment of the scene.

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