- A milonga in Buenos Aires has certain specific characteristics, consisting of a set of customs regarding the physical and aural environment, and certain codes of behavior which dancers observe.
- The music played for dancing is an essential identifying feature of the milonga.
- At least 70% of the music played consists of the rhythms of tango, milonga, and vals.
- The tango, milonga, and vals music played is almost entirely from tango dance orchestras from the Golden Age (30s, 40s, and 50s), or rarely from more modern orchestras playing in the style of Golden Age orchestras.
- These pieces of music are structured into tandas of 4 songs (tango, usually vals) or 3 songs (almost always milonga, sometimes vals).
- The last song played at a milonga is ‘La cumparsita’.
- There is a short piece of nondanceable music (a cortina) between tandas, that has a duration long enough for dancers to clear the dance floor.
- In addition to this music from the tango family, there may be additional sets of tropical Latin music (typically cumbia), jazz, rock ‘n roll, and Argentine folk music (typically chacarera), not accounting for more than 30% of the music played for dancing.
- At least 70% of the music played consists of the rhythms of tango, milonga, and vals.
- There are several common characteristics of the physical environment:
- There are separate seating sections for men, for women, and for couples. The sections for men only and women only are next to the dance floor and are in full view of one another.
- Lighting is sufficient so that men and women may see each other clearly.
- The most common codes of behavior at a milonga include the following:
- Man and woman do not wear casual clothes (jeans, t-shirts, shorts, sport shoes) to attend a milonga. Men wearing suits and women wearing dresses are common.
- A dancing couple consists of a man as leader and a woman as follower.
- Couples sitting in the couples section dance only with their partner.
- For dancers sitting in the men only or women only sections, the man uses the cabeceo to invite a woman to dance. This is done from the seated position. The cabeceo is initiated after the start of the tanda. The man approaches the woman’s table only after she has met and maintained his eye contact. The woman does not rise to meet the man on the dance floor until he has stopped in front of her table.
- The couple embraces while dancing. The embrace is broken between songs of the tanda. During this brief period (approximately 30-45 seconds), there is conversation before embracing again.
- The partners dance together until the end of the tanda. The man escorts the woman to her table at the end of the tanda.
- Dancers form a counterclockwise circulating ronda (line of dance) on the dance floor. Couples maintain their position relative to one another in the ronda (no passing). Couples move froward when there is space in front of them in the ronda. Forward moving couples do not crowd the couple in front of them.
- Movements made on the dance floor are compact and kept close to the floor and close to the body so as not to make contact with other dancers on the floor.
- Movements that attract attention because they are visually conspicuous (exhibitionism) are frowned upon and may be a cause for ejection from the milonga.
- Teaching on the dance floor is prohibited.
- Additional details on codes and customs of Buenos Aires milongas are provided in this post.
- Tango social dance events advertised as ‘milongas’ in North America often differ from Buenos Aires milongas in the following ways:
- Lighting is insufficient for use of the cabeceo for dance invitation.
- There are no separate seating sections for men, women, and couples.
- Dancers attend the event wearing casual clothes.
- Some music played for dancing may not be tango dance music from the Golden Age. Some may not even be tango music, even broadly defined.
- The most common form of dance invitation is by direct approach to the table.
- Couple formation may deviate from the roles of a man leading and a woman following, including same sex couples.
- Couples do not necessarily maintain their position in the circulating ronda. In some cases, there is poor definition to the ronda.
- Some couples become navigational hazards because they make unpredictable movements or because they consume a large amount of space in their movements.
- Some couples make exhibitionist movements that attract attention and are also navigational hazards.
- Some dancers teach their partners on the dance floor.
- Some couples do not clear the floor during the cortina or dance to the music of the cortina. Some DJs play danceable music for the cortina.
- Few milongas outside Buenos Aires follow all or even the majority of codes and customs of Buenos Aires milongas.
Montevideo in Uruguay and cities outside the province of Buenos Aires will not be considered in this comparison; they deserve separate treatment. The comparison here will be mainly between Buenos Aires and North America, although Europe and East Asia also will be referenced for comparison as needed to contrast with Buenos Aires.
Definition of the Milonga
In its simplest, most inclusive definition, a ‘milonga’ is ‘a place or an event where tango is danced’. (See also ToTango.) Other definitions are more specific in identifying the type of music played. Steven Brown states: ‘A milonga refers to the event where tangos, milongas and waltzes are danced.’
The music played for dancing is central to the identification of a social dance event as a milonga. By law in Buenos Aires (passed in December 2006), to be advertised as a ‘milonga’, certain criteria for music need to be met (Tango-L):
Características específicas. Son parte fundamental de la estructura de las milongas la tanda de tango, milonga o vals, la tanda de otros ritmos, la cortina y la actuación o número vivo.
A efectos de esta ley se entiende por tanda el conjunto de cuatro o cinco piezas bailables del mismo ritmo pertenecientes a una misma orquesta o a varias de similar estilo.
La cortina es el intervalo entre tandas en una milonga. Indica próximo cambio de ritmo o de orquesta y descanso a los bailarines.
La actuación o número vivo puede estar a cargo de un grupo musical u orquesta que ejecutan su repertorio para que el público baile. También puede consistir en la exhibición de una o varias parejas, de ritmos afines con el tango, para lo cual se deja la pista libre.
La oferta musical de cada jornada deberá ser al menos un 70% de ritmos de tango, milonga y vals.
This is translated by tanguero porteño Alberto Gesualdi (with grammatical and syntactical revisions by Tango Voice) as:
Specific characteristics. There are fundamental parts of the structure of the milongas – the tanda of tango, milonga and vals, the tanda of other rhythms, the cortina, and the live performance or live show.
To the extent of this law, it is understood that the tanda is a group of four or five danceable pieces of the same rhythm, belonging to one orchestra, or to different orchestras with similar style.
The cortina is the interval between tandas within a milonga. It indicates a coming change of rhythm or orchestra and a rest for the dancers.
The live performance or show could be made by a musical group or an orchestra that performs its repertoire for people to dance. It also could consist of the exhibition of one or many dancing couples, with rhythms related to tango, for which purpose the dance floor has to be left free.
The musical offering for each night will have to be no less than 70% rhythms of tango, milonga and vals.
Thus, to be advertised as a milonga in Buenos Aires, according to this law, at least 70% of the music must be tango, milonga, and vals. [Note: In practice in Buenos Aires milongas, tandas typically consist of 4 pieces (almost always true for tango) or 3 pieces (usually true for milonga); tandas of vals may have 3 or 4 pieces, with 4 valses being more common.) Almost all tango (milonga and vals) music played for dancing is classic tango music from about 1930 to 1959, with occasional music played from more recent orchestras that play in the traditional style. (Music Played at Milongas / Tango Social Dance Venues)
The Codes and Customs Defining a Milonga (Top 50 List)
Although the music played for dancing is a defining criterion for a milonga in Buenos Aires, it is only one of numerous criteria characterizing a milonga. A milonga in Buenos Aires is recognizable by the adherence to certain codes and the practice of certain customs (Codes and Customs of the Milongas of Buenos Aires: The Basics). A more inclusive list of milonga codes and customs is given below. For more details on milonga codes and customs, consult Tango Chamuyo and this La Nacion article.
A. Physical Environment
1. The dance floor should be rectangular or square (4-sided).
2. Tables used for seating should be rectangular or square (4-sided), so that one side of the table (usually the long side) is placed perpendicular to the floor, to define the edge of the dance floor. Seats at a table are positioned so that dancers face the dance floor.
3. There are separate seating sections for men, women, and couples. The men-only and women-only seating sections are closest to the dance floor and in full view of each other.
4. Dancers who regularly attend a milonga have a place at a table reserved for them. Others who contact the milonga host in advance may reserve a place at a table.
5. Lighting is sufficient so that men and women may clearly see each other across the dance floor.
B. The Business Environment
6. There is an admission charge to the milonga, paid at the entrance.
7. Food and beverages are provided, brought to the table by waiters and waitresses. There is a minimum consumption requirement.
8. The duration of a milonga is between 3.5 hours (‘La Bruja’ Wednesday at El Beso in Congreso) and 8 hours (‘Entre Tango y Tango’ Friday at Centro Region Leonesa in Constitucion; ‘Cachirulo’ Saturday at Club Villa Malcolm in Palermo) (B.A. Tango, September 2011).
C. General Social Etiquette, Personal Hygiene, and Appearance
9. Upon entering a milonga, the attendee is greeted by the host. The verbal greeting may be accompanied by a hug and a kiss on the cheek, without regard to the sex of the host and attendee.
10. Milonga attendees are seated by the milonga host or assistant.
11. A couple in a relationship who attends the same milonga and intends to sit separately should enter the milonga separately.
12. People attending a milonga should have good personal hygiene as one would have from bathing, brushing teeth, and applying deodorant before leaving from home.
13. People attending a milonga should wear clothing suitable for evening wear or a business environment. This includes suits or jackets and dress shirts with a tie and dress pants for men, and dresses or a blouse with a skirt or dress pants for women. Shirts should be tucked into pants, not left hanging loose outside the pants. These clothes should be clean in appearance and smell. Clean, untattered dance appropriate shoes should be worn, with leather soles. Forbidden are jeans, t-shirts, shorts, bulky pants such as cargo pants, hats or other headgear, and sandals or sports shoes.
14. Do not change shoes at the table. Women should change shoes in the washroom. Men wear their dance shoes entering the milonga.
15. Cell phones are turned off or placed into vibrate-only mode at a milonga. If in the latter condition, cell phones do not accompany dancers onto the pista.
In a 21st century environment, dress codes are more relaxed in Buenos Aires than they were during the Golden Age, when suits, white dress shirts and ties were obligatory for men, and dresses for women. Since some matinee milongas attract people who have just left work, it is not possible to bathe before leaving for a milonga. However, these attendees are usually office workers who dress appropriately for a business environment (some even change clothes for the milonga) and who do not sweat excessively during work.
16. The musical program is structured into tandas of 3 or 4 pieces, separated by cortinas of non-tango music. For tandas of tango, the pieces in a tanda are recordings from the same orchestra.
17. The cortina is long enough to allow all dancers to leave the floor.
18. The tango music played is classic tango music from the Golden Age of tango, or (rarely) more recent recordings from orchestras playing in the style of Golden Age orchestras.
19. The last tango played at a milonga is “La cumparsita”.
20. At least 70% of the musical program is classic tango music. There may be additional tandas of jazz, tropical Latin (cumbia, salsa and merengue), rock, and Argentine folkloric music.
21. Milonga attendees do not approach the DJ to request specific music to play. The DJ does not invite requests.
E. Dance Invitation and Partnership
22. A dancing couple consists of a man in the role of leader, and a woman in the role of follower.
23. It is inappropriate to approach the table where a person is seated in order to invite that person to dance. The cabeceo is used to invite someone to dance (For details on the cabeceo see Codes and Customs of the Milongas of Buenos Aires: The Basics and Very Tango).
24. The cabeceo is signaled only between the men-only and the women-only seating sections.
25. The cabeceo is initiated after the start of the tanda, when the rhythm of the music is identifiable, or at the start of a subsequent piece in the tanda, before couples start dancing.
26. The man approaches the woman’s table only after she has accepted his invitation to dance through the cabeceo; he waits at the edge of the dance floor near her table for the woman to join him.
27. The woman does not rise from the table until the man has reached the area of the floor nearest her table.
28. The man signals the initiation of the embrace by opening his arms into the embrace position and the woman initiates the contact.
29. While dancing, with the exception of the sacada or arrastre directed by the man’s leg or foot at a woman’s leg or foot, the only permissible contact between partners is that which is part of the embrace. Touching a partner’s face, hands, arms, torso, hips, or legs with the hands is inappropriate.
30. A couple converses a brief period (approximately 30-45 seconds) before dancing at the beginning of the second to the last pieces in a tanda. The resumption of dance by all couples on the floor after conversing is nearly simultaneous.
31. The embrace is broken during the period of conversation. Neither partner touches the other during this period. If there is affection between partners, this is an indication that they are together as a couple for the duration of the milonga.
32. When a man asks a woman to meet for coffee after a milonga, this is an invitation to have sex.
33. If a couple makes arrangements to meet after the milonga, they leave the milonga separately, meeting outside of the milonga on the corner or at a nearby café.
34. Do not talk while dancing.
35. A couple dances until the end of the tanda before leaving the floor. However, it is permissible to end the partnership before the end of the tanda if one partner has made the other feel uncomfortable, either through rough dancing or inappropriate contact. This partner abandonment will be noted by milonga attendees and will influence their choices in dance invitation.
36. Saying ‘gracias’ (‘thank you’) at the end of piece before the end of a tanda signifies the person (man or woman) does not wish to dance until the end of the tanda with that partner.
37. At the end of the tanda, the man escorts the woman back to edge of the floor where she entered after accepting his invitation to dance.
38. A couple dancing two consecutive tandas together signal that they are together. A man and woman sitting separately but dancing several (about 3 or more) tandas together will be identified as being together for the duration of the milonga and will not be invited to dance by other dancers at that milonga.
39. A man and a woman attending a milonga and sitting together at the same table dance only with each other. They will not invite others to dance and they will not be invited by others to dance.
F. Floor Courtesy
40. Do not enter onto the pista to dance unless your knowledge of tango is sufficient to provide a comfortable dance for your partner and you know how to use the space on the floor.
41. Dancers with limited navigational skills should dance in the center of the floor. Only dancers with good navigational skills should enter the circulating ronda in the outer lane of the floor.
42. Do not enter onto the pista during a tanda while others are dancing if you are not dancing. Wait until the cortina to walk across the floor to go to the restroom or leave the milonga, if necessary. Under no circumstances should you stand in front of a table adjacent to the pista to engage in conversation during a tanda.
43. After acceptance of a dance invitation through the use of the cabeceo, a man should not walk across the floor in the path of oncoming dancers to meet a woman to dance with him. At the start of the tanda, when the floor is clear, it is permissible to walk directly across the floor to the woman’s table, likewise at the start of a piece when dancers are conversing and not dancing.
44. Couples join a ronda that circulates counterclockwise around the floor and maintain their position relative to other couples in the ronda. A man should allow some space for the couple in front of him to turn; on the other hand, he should not allow too much space in front of him in the circulating ronda so that it does not progress.
45. When entering into a moving ronda, there must be sufficient space to enter without risking a collision or disrupting the flow of the ronda. If these conditions are met but a couple is approaching the entry point, the man at the edge of the floor makes eye contact with the nearest approaching man to indicate his imminent entry into the ronda.
46. In his navigation, a man protects a woman from collision with other couples on the floor. Under crowded floor conditions, successful navigation consists of keeping the woman’s back oriented towards the tables as much as possible.
47. In dancing, movements are kept compact with feet on the floor and close to the body so as not to collide with or make contact with other dancers on the floor.
48. Exhibition movements that attract attention because of their conspicuousness are prohibited. This includes high boleos, ganchos and enganches, volcadas, colgadas, soltadas, quebradas, lifts and drops.
49. Teaching is not permitted on the dance floor.
50. Couples leave the floor at end of tanda, during the cortina.
Note (for #42). In most milongas, there is an aisle behind the tables to use to walk around the salon. However, at Plaza Bohemia (when at Maipu 444), Chique (Casa de Galicia), and La Nacional, for example, there have been some tables placed adjacent to the pista that do not have aisles behind them. At these milongas, walking across the floor to and from these tables should be reserved for the cortina.
Certain exceptions to these codes exist in Buenos Aires milongas. In some milongas (e.g., at Club Gricel, Boedo Tango, and Parakultural at Salon Canning) some men will walk up and down the aisles to invite women to dance. These are also milongas where seating sections are not as clearly defined, with tables of all men and all women interspersed throughout the front rows (near the dance floor). A Milonga del Barrio, sometimes attended only by couples on Saturday evening, will not in this case have separate seating sections for men, women and couples. The chairs at a table may be oriented across the table (for conversation) rather than at the dance floor. In this situation, the cabeceo will not be used to invite someone to dance because a man and woman coming to the milonga together (with rare exceptions) only dance with each other.
There are several tango social dance events in Buenos Aires that are advertised as ‘milongas’ where these codes are not enforced and customs are not practiced:
– The gay-friendly milongas La Marshall and Tango Queer practice gender neutral partner pairing (i.e., adherence to traditional roles of man as leader and woman as follower is not required), do not have separate seating sections for men and women, and the cabeceo is generally not used for dance invitations. The different sociocultural environment in these tango social dance venues has been discussed in detail previously (Gay Friendly / Gender Neutral Tango Social Dancing in Buenos Aires) (Queer Tango / Gay Tango / Gender Neutral Tango: Alternatives to Traditional Gender Roles in Tango).
– The ‘outdoor milongas’ La Glorieta in Belgrano and El Indio’s Sunday evening milonga in Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo do not provide tables and chairs for seating. There is no onsite food and beverage service at La Glorieta. At Plaza Dorrego, seating adjacent to the milonga is provided by restaurants that sell food and beverages. The outdoor milonga La Calesita in Nuñez provides tables and chairs for seating, but food and beverage is available for purchase only at the bar. In none of these milongas are there separate seating sections for men, women and couples, and generally the cabeceo is not used in dance invitation.
Thus, the ‘gay-friendly’ and outdoor milongas are not milongas in the traditional sense.
– There is a class of tango social dance venues that are generally (but not always) advertised as ‘practicas’ where various milonga codes and customs are not observed (The Tango Practica, the Practica Nueva and the Tango Dance Party in Buenos Aires); most of the attendees are young adults. La Viruta in Palermo and La Catedral in Almagro are long-standing youth-oriented tango social dance venues sometimes classified as ‘milongas’. There are certain practicas where Tango Nuevo is taught where social dancing occurs after the (early) teaching portion of the event; representative examples of these are Practica X at Viejo Correo in Caballito and El Motivo and Tango Cool at Club Villa Malcolm in Palermo. At these practicas (sometimes called ‘informal milongas’) there are no separate seating sections for men, women, and couples and the cabeceo is generally not used for dance invitation. The music may be played in sets of the same rhythm by the same orchestra, but may lack cortinas; thus, clearing the floor may not be regulated. Music other than classic tango music from the Golden Age (e.g., Piazzolla, Pugliese after 1960, electrotango) may be played for dancing tango. There may not be a clearly defined ronda. Dancers often make expansive off-the-floor and showy movements. These tango social dance events are not milongas in the traditional sense because, in general, milonga codes are not observed.
General Characteristics of Tango Social Dance Events in North America (and elsewhere outside Argentina)
In Buenos Aires, when one goes to a milonga, it is expected that there will be separate seating sections for men and women, and that dance invitations will occur through use of the cabeceo. This is the custom. This is so widespread that exceptions were noted above. In contrast, there are very few tango social events outside Argentina where there are separate seating sections for men and women, so few that they are worthy of mention. A notable exception is the regular La Milonga Las Chinitas in Hong Kong, which makes a point of observing milonga codes. At the 2005 Labor Day Denver Milonguero Tango Festival, the Saturday night milonga was designed with separate seating sections for men and women, encouraging the use of the cabeceo. Reports from attendees were that this experiment was not very successful and it apparently has not been tried since that initial attempt. At the 2011 Seoul Tango Festival the ‘Sunday Singles Milonga’ also had separate seating sections for men and women and encouraged the use of the cabeceo. Other reports of milongas outside Argentina with separate seating sections for men and women and use of the cabeceo for dance invitation have been difficult to find, although attempts at observing these traditions have undoubtedly been made (See Movement Invites Movement). Many milonga attendees outside Argentina are resistant to the segregation of men and women, preferring to sit in mixed-sex groups (My Tango Diaries).
The advantages of the cabeceo in allowing mutual consent in selecting dance partners and in preventing unnecessary movement across the dance floor in a crowded milonga have been discussed repeatedly. Two particularly good and different discussions of the cabeceo are provided by Very Tango and In Search of Tango. However, in milongas worldwide outside Argentina, the cabeceo is used intermittently, mainly by those who have been to Buenos Aires. This is primarily because most tango instructors do not teach the art of the cabeceo. However, there also appears to be a resistance to using it, in part because many tango dancers from different cultures around the world are uncomfortable with making eye contact with another person for even a moderately prolonged period.
In the absence of these core characteristic of milongas in Buenos Aires, it is questionable whether any tango social event outside Argentina can be validity advertised as a ‘milonga’.
In Search of the Traditional Milonga in North America
If observance of milonga codes were to occur anywhere in North America, the most likely place would be at milongas held at festivals that emphasize the teaching and practice of traditional tango (Tango de Salon), i.e., the tango of the milongas of Buenos Aires. Examined here are recordings of dancing at milongas at 3 tango festivals (reviewed in chronological order) where observance of milonga codes would be most likely to be found.
– Atlanta Tango Festival
This festival used to be called the ‘Atlanta Tango Social’. At its inception it invited many of the same instructors as the Denver Tango Festival (see below), and was known for social tango dancing. A review of one of these festivals (2009) is provided by Alex Tango Fuego.
A video of a milonga from the Atlanta Tango Festival, apparently from 2008, indicates no apparent milonga code violations due to implementation of exhibition moves. In this video, floorcraft in general was at least consistent with Buenos Aires milonga codes. (In contrast, Alex Tango Fuego noted floorcraft violations in his review of this festival in 2009.) However, there were a few milonga courtesy violations apparent from this video. A man is seen walking up to a woman at her table to invite her to dance. Another man is seen leading a woman off of the floor in the middle of a piece (obviously before the end of the tanda) walking against the movement of the ronda. Several men are wearing their shirts hanging loose outside their pants. One woman is seen dancing in bare feet and another woman is seen dancing in boots.
– Chicago Mini Tango Festival
The Chicago Mini Tango Festival has been the only tango festival in North America that has repeatedly hosted milongueros for teaching tango. Included have been Pedro ‘Tete’ Rusconi (2007), Roberto ‘Pocho’ Carreras (2008), Ruben Harymbat (2008 & 2009), Alberto Dassieu (2010), Ricardo ‘El Pibe Sarandi’ Maceiras (2010), and Blas Catrenau (2011) (link). Emphasized is the teaching of ‘Argentine tango social dance, including the movement, the musicality, the navigation, embrace and etiquette so you can attend and enjoy milongas on your own’. This festival webpage also provides a list of Buenos Aires milonga codes.
The reality of dancing at milongas at this festival is somewhat different. This short video of a milonga at the 2010 festival reveals the following violations of Buenos Aires milonga codes. Seating is by placement of chairs without tables at the edge of the dance floor. Women are observed lifting their feet off the floor on several occasions. Exhibition moves such as ganchos, enganches, volcadas and soltadas are observed. At the beginning of the tango, dancers converse, but resume dancing at different times. Some dancers have milonga inappropriate attire such as jeans, t-shirts, hats, headbands, and sport shoes. Several men are wearing their shirts hanging loose outside their pants.
– Denver Tango Festival
This festival is described on its website as:
A Tango festival by Dancers; For Dancers….. We produce tango festivals that emphasize social dancing and good floor craft. These festivals are designed for people who love the style of Argentine tango popular in the milongas of Buenos Aires: close, subtle & romantic!
A video of this festival in 2011 paints a somewhat different picture. For the most part, dancers maintain their position in the ronda and keep their feet on the floor and do not execute exhibition movements. Nevertheless, there are numerous high boleos and other off-the-floor movements used by some women throughout the recorded period. Ganchos and volcadas are used on several occasions. A few couples are seen either switching between lanes or not joining the ronda at all. Most dancers separate from contact and converse a short time at the start of each piece after the first in a tanda, but unlike Buenos Aires MIlongas, they start dancing again at various different times. Floor courtesy is violated numerous times by people who are not dancing walking along the edge of the floor while others are dancing. During each cortina, some couples remain on the floor; several women are seen leaving the floor unescorted. In one case, a man is seen abruptly exiting the floor, leaving a woman standing alone on the floor.
Scenes from the Generic North American Milonga (Top 25 Milonga Code Violations)
In general, very few of the Buenos Aires milonga codes and customs listed above are observed in North American milongas. Provided below is a description of common characteristics of milongas in North America (and elsewhere outside Argentina) that dancers have found to be the most objectionable violations of milonga codes, as based on repeated complaints made by dancers in tango blogs and internet discussion forums.
1. There are no tables, only chairs or even sofas facing the dance floor, positioned so that one’s feet can extend onto the pista, creating a hazard for dancers on the floor.
2. Tables adjacent to the dance floor are not rectangular (perhaps circular), creating a poorly defined boundary for the dance floor.
3. Dance floors have an irregular (non-rectangular) shape, sometimes with changes in width, causing bottlenecks in the progression of the ronda.
4. There is insufficient lighting for effective use of the cabeceo.
General Social Etiquette, Personal Hygiene, and Appearance
5. Some dancers come to a milonga without bathing, applying deodorant, and brushing teeth.
6. Some dancers come to a milonga in jeans, t-shirts, shorts, and sports shoes. Some dancers wear clothes that smell badly and need to be washed.
7. Music for dancing is sometimes not structured into tandas with cortinas. Thus, dancers are continually entering and leaving the floor.
8. If cortinas are used they are often too short for all dancers to leave the dance floor, resulting in a logjam of dancers entering and leaving the floor simultaneously.
9. It is very rare to attend a milonga where ALL of the music to which tango is danced is classic tango music from the Golden Age. Even some milongas advertised as ‘traditional’ will play a tanda or two of Piazzolla or ‘electrotango’ music. At many milongas, a large proportion of the music played is outside the realm of classic tango music. This includes Piazzolla, electrotango, recordings of modern tango orchestras that do not maintain a clear and constant rhythm for dancing, and non-tango music played for dancing tango.
10. Dancers make requests to the DJ for specific music to be played for dancing. Some milonga DJs take requests for music, sometimes even encouraging them.
Dance Invitation and Partnership:
11. Men commonly walk up to the table where a woman is sitting and ask her to dance, often by extending an arm, touching, or even grabbing the hand of the woman. (Women are also sometimes guilty of inviting men to dance in this way.) Women feel obligated to dance with the man inviting her or, if they say “no”, they feel obligated to sit out the tanda.
12. Men often initiate a dance invitation during a cortina, before the tanda begins, identifying the rhythm and the orchestra. Thus, one may see a couple enter onto the dance floor standing, waiting for the music in the tanda to begin.
13. Women are sometimes seen leading other women as followers.
14. Some dancers talk while dancing.
15. Some couples leave the floor before the end of the tanda.
16. Men often do not escort women back to their seats at the end of the tanda.
17. People who do not know how to dance well enter onto the pista and dance, perhaps making their partner uncomfortable or becoming a navigational hazard for other dancers on the floor.
18. People walk onto the dance floor to travel to the rest room, obtain food or drink, or socialize at another table. Sometimes people congregate in front of a table and socialize, creating an obstacle for dancers.
19. Dancers enter a crowded dance floor in front of oncoming traffic without looking in that direction.
20. One couple may pass another in the circulating ronda if the latter is perceived to be moving too slowly. On the other hand, some couples remain stationary on the pista and do not move within the ronda. A significant proportion of dancers like these gives the appearance of the absence of a ronda. (See Berlin Tango Festival).
21. Some dancers are navigational hazards to others, making large movements in unpredictable directions.
22. Some dancers lift their feet high off the floor, or attract attention to themselves in other ways with exhibitionist movements such as ganchos, volcadas, colgadas, high boleos, and incessant use of sacadas.
23. Some dancers teach on the dance floor, even to the point of stopping dancing and demonstrating steps.
24. A cell phone rings and a dancer leaves his/her partner on the floor to check the cell phone left at the table.
25. Some couples dance to music of the cortina, or just remain on the dance floor during the cortina.
Some tango social dance events advertised as ‘milongas’ in North America have many or nearly all of these violations of milonga codes. Given that a rectangular pista bounded by tables may be absent, dance invitation is by verbal request, music other than classic tango music is played for dancing tango, teaching is executed on the dance floor, and navigation and floor courtesy is compromised, it would be more appropriate to classify all or nearly all tango social dance events in North America as ‘social practicas’ by Buenos Aires standards (The Tango Practica, the Practica Nueva and the Tango Dance Party in Buenos Aires). Most milongas in North America are more similar to La Viruta and La Catedral than they are to El Beso and Lo de Celia.
Thus, to answer the question ‘Do milongas exist outside Argentina?’, if a milonga is ‘a place where tango is danced’, indeed, there are thousands of these. However, if a milonga is identifiable by the observance of the codes and customs of the milongas of Buenos Aires, there are few, if any, milongas outside Argentina. The practices observed in tango social dance events outside Argentina would classify all or nearly all of them as ‘practicas’ (perhaps ‘social practicas’) or ‘tango dance parties’. If any concession can be made to the concept of a milonga as an environment where specific codes are observed, it would be to classify almost all milongas outside Argentina as ‘informal milongas’, terminology that is in current use (La Nacion). Whether milongas exist that can be called ‘traditional milongas’ is a matter of discussion, something that will be addressed in a future post.
Miguel Angel Balbi said, “it’s only called a milonga when there are milongueros.” That requires knowing who is a milonguero, and not just any person who dances tango.
I will say that there are no milongas outside of Buenos Aires. Today there are very few true milongas as you have described.
> Miguel Angel Balbi said, “it’s only called a milonga when there are milongueros.” That requires knowing who is a milonguero, and not just any person who dances tango.
– This requirement for a milonga is more complicated that it may appear. Not everyone (including milongueros) will agree upon who is or who is not a milonguero.
– It is also a restrictive requirement. The milonga has been part of the social fabric of porteño culture, certainly more so in the Golden Age than today, but nevertheless an important part of the culture. Many of the Saturday night gatherings where tango is danced in los clubes de barrio are considered by porteños to be milongas. Perhaps in some important ways they are not. Dance invitation codes may not be practiced if these tango social dance events are comprised almost entirely of couples or groups of friends who know each other. However, they do observe other important milonga codes such as those listed above under ‘C. General Social Etiquette, Personal Hygiene, and Appearance’, ‘D. Music’, some ‘Partnership’ codes (E22, 30, 31,34, 35, 39) and all ‘F. Floor Courtesy Codes’. La Milonga del Barrio (https://tangovoice.wordpress.com/2011/06/05/tango-de-salon-the-tango-of-the-milonga-part-ii-of-%E2%80%98tango-styles-genres-and-individual-expression%E2%80%99/) cements social relationships within a community. It is a special kind of milonga, whether or not milongueros are present.
You post is excellent. The only point that could be explained a bit better is “walking the woman to the edge of the floor to where she entered”, rather than to her seat.
Yes, ‘walking the woman to the edge of the floor where she entered’ is more accurate. This has been corrected.
Thanks for collecting this list, interesting post. I miss a couple of (fairly obvious but important) things, such as a mentioning that the circular flow is counter-clockwise, or that one should not step against the line of dance (certainly not more than one very short step).
Even if the description accurately represents how a handful of milongas in Buenos Aires are structured, the underlying essentialist approach – that these features define what a milonga “is” – is questionable, given that, as you observe, most dance events (in Buenos Aires and worldwide), which are called milongas, factually depart from these set of customs to smaller or larger extent. Meaning of terms constantly changes, even in science; this is a fact of life and it’s pointless to insist that a term “really” means something else, whether we like the change of meaning or not.
Instead, a better way to put your message could be: the list includes features which would have been generally recognized as defining characteristics of a milonga a dozen of years ago by the then-regular milonga attendees; today they are recognized as such only by a portion of (typically older) regulars of a handful of milongas. The past dozen years (as all dozens of years before, during times tango was widely danced) have seen many changes, some of which can be regarded as welcome and some others which can be regarded as unwelcome from the perspective of certain dancers.
Focusing on what the “real” meaning of a term “is” is almost without exception a fruitless endeavor, and it can blur the real value of such descriptions, namely that many of these features presumably surfaced as results of a longer evolutionary process guided by psychological, sociological, safety etc. pressures. Hence, to the extent to which these pressures are acceptable and are still present today, the emerging features as solutions to potential problems can be of value. However, to see this value one needs to carefully evaluate and explicate the motivations or potential motivations for keeping the customs, as opposed to just keeping them because they are part of a tradition or because they supposedly constitute “the” meaning of a term.
Top-down style education for the uninitiated has some value, since many people overestimate their own ability to see through an intricate social dynamics which can legitimize customs that do not strike as plausibly useful at first sight. However the experts’ work of justifying the independent different customs in today’s, in large part more enlightened and thankfully less chauvinist, societal context can not be replaced with a meaning-essentialist short-cut. In my view it is also counterproductive to do so. First, because it misses an opportunity to educate newcomers about why could it be useful for them and for their community to adhere to some of these customs; by understanding the “why” it is more likely that the custom is going to be adopted, as opposed to be seen as an accidental relic from the past. Second, a mindless adoption of customs, without understanding the proper weight of the motivating reasons, can easily produce overly judgmental people who maintain respect for others on the basis of adherence to a quite banal set of customs, such as whether they change shoes in the bathroom or enter in them to the milonga. Third, strict adherence to a set of rules could hinder the way of finding better solutions to the societal pressures dancers face today. Wisdom of the elders should not be underestimated, but should not be overestimated either; we want to live our life in the present and in the future, not in the past.
– Yes, the ronda circulates counterclockwise around this floor. This obvious oversight of has been corrected (#44).
– Stepping against the line of dance is more or less covered by #s 46 & 47. In reality dancers in Buenos Aires milongas may step against the line of dance momentarily if there is more space in that direction. Of course, they do not do so blindly.
– Regarding other issues raised:
– There are more than a ‘handful’ of milongas in Buenos Aires that observe the overwhelming majority of the milonga codes listed. By conservative estimates (BA Tango listing), there are more than 70 traditional milongas per week in Buenos Aires.
– Except for La Viruta, La Catedral, and La Marshall (the last a special case to meet specific needs), informal milongas such as Milonga10 and Loca have been in existence about 3 years or less. Others have come and gone. At this point they are more of a social experiment than an evolutionary trend. There are also about 1-2 dozen tango social venues advertised as ‘practicas’ (such as Practica X and those at Villa Malcolm) that do not observe milonga codes.
– Even though there are thousands of tango social dance events advertised as milongas worldwise, they are none or next to none that have the characteristics of the overwhelming majority of Buenos Aires milongas. However, they do resemble the social practicas in Buenos Aires. To call these foreign events ‘milongas’ is a misappropriation of the terminology. They would be more correctly labeled as ‘practicas’, a term already in existence.
– Regarding the communication of message, it is intentionally designed to make people think, to question their assumptions. Responses could be to use more appropriate terminology, finding a reasonable compromise to retain the essential features of Argentine tango culture when exported to foreign cultures, or instead to find refuge and comfort in the fact that foreign cultures support the misappropriation of terminology. One of the goals of this blog is to find that reasonable compromise that does not significantly dilute the core characteristics of Argentine tango culture.
– Foreign cultures are not the appropriate breeding grounds for redefining the characteristics of Argentine tango culture. The evolution of ballroom tango is an indication of what can happen when those forces are in place. History appears to be repeating itself.
“we want to live our life in the present and in the future, not in the past.”
We can only live in the present. No matter how hard we try, we cannot live in the future. There’s nothing wrong with remembering the past.
Tango is the only thing in my life which has put me in the role of a “traditionalist.” In everything I can think of in my life I am an iconoclast — except tango. So I applaud your efforts to present the beauty of tradition. I find it very hard to present tradition in a way that will not offend others. (I will present a link to my attempt below.) I cannot say I did a great job, but I attempt to present tango etiquette (los códigos) in a descriptive rather than a prescriptive way. For years grammarians, for example, prescribed how language should used. The Royal Spanish Academy, for example, did not even define “tango” as a dance from Argentina until 1984. This lack of describing change is an example of the some of the worst foibles of being prescriptive rather than descriptive. Your prescriptive view of what a milonga is FOR ME is excellent, but I fear that it will further the gap of those who do not even want to learn the rules that they break. Tango is very much like a living language. It will change, and those who are older will miss the positive changes from the shock of the great losses they see — the loss of the beauty of tradition. I would like to be included among those who are traditional tangueros. I attempt to persuade others of the beauty of tradition, but at every turn, my efforts to describe los códigos de tango have strong challengers. But what you have done here is an important addition and resource to understanding tango etiquette. Here is the link mentioned above: http://tango-beat.blogspot.com/p/los-codigos-tango-etiquette-made-easy.html
The point about description versus prescription is indeed an important one. However, the list of milonga codes presented here is intended to be descriptive rather than prescriptive. This is how milongas are in Buenos Aires. The codes are indeed prescriptive for milonga attendees, but the goal here was definition. It was directed more at tango social dance event organizers than at dancers per se. If an event abides by the milonga codes, it is a classified as a ‘milonga’ (no modifier needed); if it does not, it should not be classified as a milonga (at least not without a modifier). Truth in labeling provides accurate information to attendees as to what to expect. For example, an ‘alternative milonga’ will play a significant proportion of non-tango music for dancing. A ‘gay-friendly’ or ‘gender neutral’ milonga will allow gender neutral dance partnerships. An ‘outdoor milonga’ will be held outdoors. A ‘traditional milonga’ will abide by Buenos Aires milonga codes. A ‘practica’ will allow teaching on the dance floor. One problem with event labeling in North America is that someone who is traveling can consult a list of ‘milongas’ in a city visited and unless specific inquiries are made (and even then there are no guarantees), it will not be possible to determine whether dancers will dance to classic tango music, have good navigational skills, refrain from exhibitionist moves, and clear the floor during the cortina (less likely) or (more likely) have a significant proportion of electrotango, Piazzolla, and non-tango music played for dancing, accompanied by teaching on the dance floor, reckless navigation, and exhibitionistic dancing.
Future posts will address the issue of making the codigos more palatable to those who are unfamiliar and somewhat hesitant to adopt them.
Regarding those who believe they are charting the evolutionary future of tango while ignoring its core defining characteristics, perhaps they should ask themselves whether what they are doing is really tango.
This video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-E5UiJgndoI is the best example I’ve seen recreating the appearance of a milonga in Buenos Aires.
Yes, indeed. This is very encouraging. Perhaps there are other milongas outside Argentina similar to this, but they are just not widely known.
I think by your definition I attend very few traditional milongas (and I live in Buenos Aires and dance here almost daily).
The most traditional milongas I attend regularly are La Bruja and Sundays at El Beso. I’ve been attending these two milongas for years. And I think they are pretty traditional. But let’s see where they depart from the definition:
2. The tables are round.
7. I have NEVER experienced a minimum consumption requirement at any milonga whatsoever. Or at least never seen it enforced. Of course, you also don’t see people swigging from their own water bottles at traditional milongas, but no one forces you to order anything.
11. Couples often enter together. Why not? If you want to be seated separately, just ask the organizer to seat you separately.
13. Most people are fairly nicely dressed. But certainly, in winter in particular, many people — men and women — wear jeans. And this is one of the dressier milongas. I’ve also seen men dancing in sneakers.
14. Most women change their shoes at the table. Including me. This does not raise any eyebrows.
22. At these milongas, this is certainly true most of the time. But, in the last half an hour or so of the milonga anything goes and I have often seen same-sex couples dancing. Incidentally, I have seen same-sex couples at milongas like Canning and La Baldosa, too. And those are fairly traditional milongas.
31. Since I dance with a lot of guys I have known for years and feel affectionate towards, they generally hug and kiss me at the end of the tanda and even after individual tangos. Again, this is common among other dancers, too. It’s natural, why not? And I don’t notice it having any impact whatsoever on who else does or doesn’t ask you to dance.
38 and 39 I see exceptions to these two rules at the El Beso milongas all the time. Again, if you want to dance with someone and they want to dance with you, erm, what’s stopping you from dancing with each other? Most of the regulars at these milongas are friends. The men are not exactly going to fight a duel because someone else eyed their girlfriend to invite her to dance the Di Sarli tanda.
48 There are plenty of high boleos happening. Although some of the other moves you mention are more stage tango moves and are not in evidence. Navigation at El Beso is facilitated by a) the pretty high general standard of dancing and b) the mirror. And young Argentines LOVE to lead high boleos. Collisions and accidents are pretty rare.
My conclusion: La Bruja and Sundays at El Beso are, neither of them, traditional milongas. Nor is Ninio Bien or most of the Canning milongas (they contravene the above points plus no. 23). Or La Baldosa (contravenes the rule against same-sex couples being tolerated). In fact, I would say that probably there are not that many traditional milongas in Buenos Aires. At least, among my favourite milongas. But what there are are milongas with wonderful music and a very high level of dancing where I have blissful tango experiences. And, personally, that’s what’s important to me. That’s my Buenos Aires. Though it may not be yours.
I give a description of the La Bruja milonga here:
Laws and customs function to serve the interest of a society and thus the individuals comprising a society, although not all individuals may benefit equally. For any system of laws or customs, there is a difference between prescribed rules and actual behavior. Two familiar examples that demonstrate this discrepancy are traffic laws and tax laws. Individuals will typically attempt to circumvent these rules when it is to their advantage and the price to pay for being caught or the probability of being caught is low. For social codes such as milonga codes, detection of the consequences of violations can be inapparent, because responses of the community at large may be subtle, sometimes below the threshold level for outsiders to the community to detect, and often consist of nothing more than disapproval. Nevertheless, one need not search widely to encounter the displeasure of porteños (and in particular porteñas in some cases) in observing or directly experiencing such milonga code violations as direct approach to the table for dance invitation, inappropriate dress (e.g., wearing sneakers), inappropriate physical contact, same sex couples dancing, execution of high boleos, etc.
To a large degree, milonga codes have been relaxed in some cases because of the large influx of foreigners into Buenos Aires milongas; foreigners provide significant economic support to the milongas and their transgressions will be overlooked to some degree. Some tolerance also is exercised because foreigners are not well versed in the details of milonga codes. (Milongas such as Niño Bien, Parakultural, and even La Baldosa and El Beso are popular with tourists and each has to varying degrees relaxed some milonga codes.) The behavior of porteños in interaction with foreigners also may deviate from milonga codes either because the reward (economic or social) is greater than any punishment for violation (and some transgressions are overlooked due to interaction with members outside the community). A stricter standard exists for interactions among porteños.
These conclusions are not idealized statements, but based on the words (including much direct conversation with) milongueros. Regardless of some degree of tolerance of deviation from strict enforcement of codes, there are some milonga codes that are virtually inviolable. These are mostly what comprise sections D (Music), E (Dance Invitation and Partnership), and E (Floor Courtesy), and these will serve as the basis for further discussion on developing a set of codes for traditional milongas outside Argentina.
Specific responses to comments:
“The most traditional milongas I attend regularly are La Bruja and Sundays at El Beso. I’ve been attending these two milongas for years. And I think they are pretty traditional. But let’s see where they depart from the definition:
2. The tables are round.”
– Yes, the tables in the front row (next to the dance floor) are round, although the tables in the rows behind are rectangular (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QBgOzxtPiw). This is highly unusual for milongas in Buenos Aires, and was unintentionally overlooked in preparing the list of coeds and customs. The round tables are small, so there is still a defined edge to the pista, which is still more or less rectangular. This code was listed to point out the contrast with some North American milongas where large round tables are adjacent to the floor and the pista loses the quality of being rectangular.
“7. I have NEVER experienced a minimum consumption requirement at any milonga whatsoever. Or at least never seen it enforced. Of course, you also don’t see people swigging from their own water bottles at traditional milongas, but no one forces you to order anything.”
– Minimum consumption is either a written or unwritten rule at milongas in Buenos Aires. This is where the establishment makes its money. El Beso is somewhat of an exception in that it is even sometimes necessary to contact the waiters or waitresses or go to the bar to get something to drink. In any milonga it is possible to evade purchasing a beverage if one is dancing nearly all of the time.
“11. Couples often enter together. Why not? If you want to be seated separately, just ask the organizer to seat you separately.”
– It appears to be only foreigners who enter together and sit separately. If a couple is seen entering a milonga together but seated separately they will be treated differently than if they enter separately. A person seen entering a milonga without a partner will be seen as potentially available for socializing at some time after the milonga. A person seen entering a milonga with a partner will be recognized as unavailable for socializing after the milonga. Porteños publically respect the integrity of couples.
“14. Most women change their shoes at the table. Including me. This does not raise any eyebrows.”
– People notice. Changing shoes at the table identities a person as being a foreigner.
“My conclusion: La Bruja and Sundays at El Beso are, neither of them, traditional milongas. Nor is Ninio Bien or most of the Canning milongas (they contravene the above points plus no. 23). Or La Baldosa (contravenes the rule against same-sex couples being tolerated). In fact, I would say that probably there are not that many traditional milongas in Buenos Aires.”
– Niño Bien is a tourist milonga, perhaps the one that comes closest to observing traditional codes among tourist milongas. So is Parakultural at Canning, both of which Sally Blake lists as ‘tourist-circuit’ milongas in her book ‘Happy Tango’. La Baldosa has also become a popular milonga for tourists. On different days (‘Entre Tango y Tango’ Friday and ‘La Milonga de los Consagrados’ Saturday at Centro Region Leonesa, ‘A Puro Tango’ Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday at Salon Canning, and at ‘La Milonga de Flores’ Thursdays and Sundays at Salon El Pial) at the same locations, the codes are more closely observed. All milongas at Lo de Celia and all ‘El Arranque’ milongas are very traditional, as are most (perhaps all?) of the milongas at La Nacional and the new ‘Plaza Bohemia’ on Alsina, not to mention the numerous neighborhood milongas where foreigners rarely attend. Traditional milongas are still very much alive in Buenos Aires but the sometimes subtle consequences of not observing milonga codes are not always apparent to foreigners. Lack of adherence to milonga codes does not usually lead to expulsion, but it will lead to differential treatment, i.e., varying degrees of peripheralization, including not being allowed inside the community to learn what porteños really feel about tango and the milonga.
I’m still not really happy with this description. Especially since most the people I know well at El Beso, dance with regularly, observe violating the codes, etc, are not foreigners, but Argentines. Yes, mostly young Argentines. But Argentines. Simply restating things like “you will be treated differently if you arrive as a couple” or “changing your shoes at the table marks you out as a foreigner” (erm, how, since my Argentine women friends do this too?) does not make them more likely to be true in actual life. What you are describing, it seems to me, is milongas where the average age is over 55. And I would hesitate to divide the milongas between tourist and Argentine milongas. The best dancers among the young Argentines tend to congregate at the milongas where the best young dancers are. The best young foreign dancers, unsurprisingly, do the same. Milonga 10 and El Yeite are good examples of this phenomenon. Most of my own Argentine friends care about getting good dances much more than they do about whether or not people change their shoes at the table.
PS In conclusion, I would say that rather than tourist and native milongas there are young people’s, mixed age and older people’s milongas. And what you are describing are the rules at milongas for older people.
It is true for the most part that the tango social dance venues where the traditional milonga codes are observed are attended primarily by older people and that the tango social dance venues where the traditional milonga codes are not generally observed are attended primarily by younger people. However, there are younger people who attend the traditional milongas and older people who attend the informal tango social dance events. There are also at least some tango social dance events attended by mostly older people where the music played (at least 70% classic tango, no neotango) would classify them as milongas (versus ‘bailes’), but the milonga codes are not strictly observed (e.g., Sueño Porteño at Boedo Tango). One of the most traditional downtown milongas in Buenos Aires, Lujos at El Beso on Thursdays, has a noticeable number of younger dancers (< 40 years old), although the majority of these appear to be younger foreign women.
It is also true to some degree that the higher the proportion of tourists at a milonga, the less likely traditional milonga codes will be observed. However, no milonga in Buenos Aires consists entirely of tourists, so no milonga can be classified as a strictly tourist milonga, although some (Niño Bien Thursdays at Centro Region Leonesa, Parakultural Fridays at Salon Canning, and Porteño Y Bailarin Tuedays and Sundays at Club Castel) have a higher proportion of tourists than others.
Therefore, although age and proportion of tourists are correlates of observing milonga traditions, it is the environment (created by the organizer and the music) that strongly influences the degree to which traditional milonga codes are observed. The classification ‘Milonga Tradicional’ is a valid classification for tango social dance venues where milonga codes are closely observed, although until recent years (certainly less than 5 years ago), at the overwhelming majority of the tango social dance venues in Buenos Aires that were called ‘milongas’, the milonga codes were observed to a significant degree (and thus the term ‘tradicional’ as a modifier for ‘milonga’ was redundant), the exceptions being the tourist oriented milongas (such as those mentioned above), the youth-oriented milongas La Viruta and La Catedral, and the gay milonga La Marshall. Even today, many (if not most) of the informal tango social dance venues in Buenos Aires where traditional milonga codes are not observed are called ‘practicas’ rather than milongas (e.g., Practica X, El Motivo and Tango Cool!), although the terminology ‘milonga informal’ is coming into use (The Tango Practica, the Practica Nueva and the Tango Dance Party in Buenos Aires: https://tangovoice.wordpress.com/2011/09/20/the-tango-practica-the-practica-nueva-and-the-tango-dance-party-in-buenos-aires/), thereby requiring the terminology ‘milonga tradicional’ to designate and differentiate the tango social dance venues where traditional milonga codes are observed. Although there has been a growth in the number of informal milongas or social practicas in recent years, their numbers (a few dozen) and attendance are small compared to the large number (well over 100) traditional milongas that exist not only in ‘downtown’ Buenos Aires, but also in clubes de barrios throughout Buenos Aires (city and province).
Thanks for your very detailed reply. I didn’t notice many women under 40 personally at Lujos when I went. But, of course, the make-up of the clientele at a milonga does vary a lot from week to week and from month to month (there are far fewer tourists in BA at some times than others). I’m a bit sceptical as to whether a ‘tourist’ milonga by your definition, like, say, La Bruja, is really still a ‘tourist’ milonga in September or October, when there are very few tourists in attendance. Even Parakultural can feel cosily Argentine at some times of the year.
Of course, Practica X, Practica 10, Tangocool, etc. are practicas in name only. People go there to dance, not to practise. In the case of Practica 10, to dance in tandas, with cortinas, mostly using cabeceo to invite people. Pretty milonga-like, in short. This is very different from a real practica like De Querusa, La Maria, Lo de Fabian, the Sunderland Practica, etc.
There is also a huge pink elephant in the room here which we are both discreetly ignoring: level of dance. With the exception of Cachirulo on Saturdays at Villa Malcolm, you are naming traditional milongas where — OK, this is my purely subjective opinion, please don’t bite my head off — the dancing is not generally of very high quality. And that’s why, although I am in many ways more comfortable in traditional environments, I gravitate towards the less traditional of the milongas you name. (Though I’m NOT generally too fond of Parakultural or Ninio Bien).
My account of my own visit to Lujos is here:
PS I think the term “practica nueva” is a little confusing. It implies that a lot of people are dancing tango nuevo. And, in fact, almost no one is. Nuevo has been very out of fashion for a while now (this may change). A significant minority are choosing to dance milonguero style, and almost everyone else is dancing some version of salon.
A ‘tourist milonga’, per se, does not exist in the sense that any milonga in Buenos Aires consists entirely of tourists. The differences among milongas are based on the probability of tourists attending and there is a more or less continuous range of variation among milongas in Buenos Aires, as well as variation within a milonga depending upon the season. Nevertheless, certain milongas, such as Niño Bien, Parakultural, and Porteño y Bailarin, attract a larger proportion of tourists than other milongas at all times of the year. Sally Blake’s classification of these as ‘tourist circuit venues / milongas’ (‘Happy Tango’, p. 113) seems entirely appropriate. It is in these milongas that the traditional milonga codes are less likely to be observed.
As to whether Practica X, El Motivo, and Tango Cool! are practicas versus milongas, a practica starts with a lesson, and the instructor remains available for consultation for some time. This is true at these venues. Some insight regarding the differences between practicas and milongas are apparent in this extended video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31rWZgNh0h0) recorded at Practica X. The music played in this long video includes 2 tangos by Malerba, followed by 3 tangos by Di Sarli, followed by a tango by Lomuto, with no cortina during this period. Couples enter and leave the floor at any time. People walk across the middle of the floor. There are several couples who do not join the circulating ronda. The room appears to be too dark to use the cabeceo for dance invitation. These traits are not characteristic of traditional milongas. There is also very little dancing in this video of Practica X that could be called Tango Milonguero or, more broadly, Tango de Salon; there are numerous violations of milonga codes displayed in the dancing, such as lifting feet high off the floor in boleos and use of ganchos. However, movements characteristic of Tango Nuevo, such as volcadas and colgadas, were not observed.
Regarding the quality of dance, that will off course vary from milonga to milonga. Some traditional milongas where the quality of dance is considered to be high (as determine from personal experience and the recommendations of trusted porteños) include Cachirulo (El Beso Tuesdays & Villa Malcolm Saturdays), A Puro Tango (Wednesdays & Sundays at Canning), Lo de Celia (Wednesdays & Sundays), Lujos (Thursday at El Beso, Sunday at Plaza Bohemia on Alsina), La Cachila (Thursday at Gricel), and Entre Tango y Tango (Friday at Leonesa); there are undoubtedly others. Regarding the quality of dancing at the informal milongas and practicas, this is a matter of personal opinion. Certainly many dancers at these venues can execute complex movements with great precision. However, what characterizes and differentiates tango from other dances is the maintained shared embrace and musicality (Tango Milonguero: Improvised Expression of Music through Movement in a Shared Embrace: https://tangovoice.wordpress.com/2010/06/12/tango-milonguero-improvised-expression-of-music-through-movement-in-a-shared-embrace/). The ability to provide a maintained comfortable embrace, smooth coordinated movement, and creative but connected interpretation of the music is what characterizes the best dancers at these milongas. Milongueros and milongueras in general have these abilities, but these abilities are neither the exclusive domain of porteños nor a necessary correlate of achieving middle or older age. However, the energy of youth, the desire to show off, and a general environment that values physical prowess over intimate connection reduces the probability of finding a partner with these desirable characteristics of tango at the informal milongas and practicas in Buenos Aires.
Thanks for your very considered reply. I won’t get into the minefield of what it means to dance well, whether or not intricacy of steps, freedom of improvisation and technical proficiency are incompatible with musicality and connection. I believe they are not: you can dance with connection and feeling whether you dance milonguero or salon and quite independently of the height of the follower’s back boleos. But those things are a matter of taste, of course. But I think Practica X is actually quite atypical. And I’m not even certain that it is still up and running. Yes, many practicas begin with a lesson. Some milongas do too. But, although the teacher may still be physically there (if they feel like sticking around to dance, drink beer, socialise, etc.) after the lesson, they are in no sense ‘available’ to give pointers. In what sense does Practica 10 differ from Milonga 10, for example, except that one is on Tuesday and is slightly less well attended (it being a weeknight) and the other on a Saturday? The music is played in tandas, with cortinas, it’s certainly light enough for cabeceo, and people use it. No one walks across the floor mid-tanda. I can see absolutely no difference between the two occasions, beyond the name. I don’t find it helpful to use the name practica to refer to two such different things as The Sunderland Practica (where Carlitos walks around, correcting individual couples, people stop and practise specific steps, repeating them if necessary, asking their partners for feedback) and somewhere like Malcolm where there may not always be cortinas, but there is definitely no stopping and trying out moves, no teachers in evidence, no ‘practising’ going on (unlike the scene at a real practica like La Maria or De Querusa). This use of terminology just leads to confusion. Why not just call a place like Practica 10 an ‘informal milonga, frequented by a lot of younger people, who dance mostly tango salon’ rather than pretending it is a practica, when it clearly isn’t?
Basically, it seems to me that what you are saying is that places you personally enjoy and approve of should be called ‘milongas’ and places you do not approve of should be called ‘practicas’. That’s illogical. And I also feel that there is no need to denigrate the concept of a ‘practica’. The ‘practicas’ (REAL ones, with teachers giving feedback and people practising) are a vital part of the tango scene here. Practising is important. Real practicas do exist and I suggest you promote them, not try to dismiss them out of hand or lump them together with informal milongas.
Some of the issues raised in this discussion have been addressed in a new post:
Milongas and Practicas: Cultural Tradition and Evolution in Buenos Aires Tango Social Dance Venues
As was explained on Tango-L in 2006, the purpose of the law identifying what music must be played to qualify a dance party as a milonga was to grant milongas an exemption from the new fire codes. Out of necessity, the law codified common practices.
There is nothing in the laws to prevent the use of modern tango music. Interestingly enough, many milongas in North America have a much higher percentage of tango/vals/milonga music than the 70 percent is required by the Buenos Aires laws.
Milongas outside Argentina typically have more music that is intended for tango dancing because tropical Latin music, jazz, swing, and Argentine folk music are not normally part of the music program at milongas. However, with respect to the music played to elicit tango dancing, there is typically a great difference. The music played at tango social dance venues in Buenos Aires (even at the informal milongas) is almost entirely classic tango music from the Golden Age. Even if occasionally some modern tango or ‘electrotango’ is played at an informal tango social dance in Buenos Aires, it is extremely rare for non-tango music to be played for dancing tango. Throughout North America and Europe, it is quite common (perhaps almost standard) to play electrotango, modern tango, and non-tango music intended to elicit movements associated with tango dancing.
I think what is played at milongas in North America varies considerably. For the milongas where I dj, the music intended for dancing tango is drawn nearly exclusively classics of the golden age. Depending on the venue, I also play salsa, merengue, blues and swing for non-tango dancing.
Although, my list contains some material that is contemporary, I very rarely play it. I believe that any contemporary tango music that is used for dancing tango ought to have the same musical sensibilities as tango from the golden age.
In my opinion, the demand to play non-tango music for tango dancing is a misguided attempt for people to bridge the gap between cultures for newcomers. Unfortunately bridging the gap that way helps sort out who will participate in tango in North America, and the use of non-tango musical selections for tango dancing becomes self-perpetuating.
“I think what is played at milongas in North America varies considerably. For the milongas where I dj, the music intended for dancing tango is drawn nearly exclusively classics of the golden age. Depending on the venue, I also play salsa, merengue, blues and swing for non-tango dancing.
– Yes, the music that is played at milongas in North America varies considerably, much more so than in Buenos Aires, where the overwhelming majority of music played for dancing tango is classic tango music, even at the youth-oriented informal tango social dance venues, the main and rare exception being live music (mostly at the informal venues). In Buenos Aires, at social dance events where tango is danced, the proportion of music played to elicit dancing other than tango varies widely, from perhaps one set every 2 hours (‘downtown’ milongas on weeknights) to half or more of the music played to elicit dancing other types of dancing (the ‘bailes’, typically held in a club de barrio). In North America it is not unusual to attend a social dance event advertised as a ‘milonga’ where no type of dancing is done other than that which is recognized by those attending as ‘tango’; at these events, the music can vary from all classic tango to nearly no classic tango. In North America (and Europe) it is quite common for movements recognized by those in attendance as tango dancing to be executed while non-tango music is being played; this non-tango music can occupy a significant amount of the music program. The employment of movements characteristic of tango dancing when non-tango music is played is extremely rare in Buenos Aires tango social dance events.
“Although, my list contains some material that is contemporary, I very rarely play it. I believe that any contemporary tango music that is used for dancing tango ought to have the same musical sensibilities as tango from the golden age.”
– Yes, this is what is done at tango social dance events in Buenos Aires. If contemporary tango music is played to elicit tango dancing, it is almost always an emulation of classic tango music.
“In my opinion, the demand to play non-tango music for tango dancing is a misguided attempt for people to bridge the gap between cultures for newcomers. Unfortunately bridging the gap that way helps sort out who will participate in tango in North America, and the use of non-tango musical selections for tango dancing becomes self-perpetuating.”
[…] is by no means an exhaustive list of the milonga codigos. There are plenty of articles written that attempt to codify all the rules. But remember the number one reason for the codigos in […]
Some folks are more conservative about rules, some less so. All living culture, including tango, evolves and blends with others.
Post-modernists note that cultural conservatives are usually very selective about which “traditional” norms they proscribe. On the one hand, traditional culture always involves components that even conservatives find objectionable for example – knife fights; “compadritos” – vain, ostentatious, little wannabe gangsters, became a name for male tango dancers; lunfardo – the slang of gangsters, which became the unofficial language of tango; “minas” – a common tango reference to women with connotations including “broads” or “tarts” – or worse.
On the other hand, traditional culture always includes elements that conservatives might reject and that progressives might embrace – incorporation of African dance and music, a more open approach to sexuality, male-male dancing, etc.
Tango has always been part of a syncretizing process – a subtle, articulate blending of cultures and norms.
While it is useful to know that some people apply favorite codes, the codes are by no means universal or “correct”. They are simply what certain people at certain times are accustomed to. There is no need to be ruled by the expectations of the oldest, fussiest guy at the Milonga. The fact that some little cliques may be rude to you if you violate their expectations is not, itself, justification for imposing those expectations. Probably, young people are more tolerant of old foggies, than the other way around. That doesn’t make the old foggies right. If you can get the girl or boy you like to dance by directly asking her – do it. If you like Piazzolla – by far the most important composer tango has ever produced – then play him and dance to him. Juan Carlos Copes proposed incorporating Hip-Hop music into tangos.
Tango was always a living thing influenced by soldiers, prostitutes, Africans, immigrant proletarians, middle class boys slumming, English “tango teas” and French “Apache”. The “Golden Age” was only one part of tango history. Beautiful, though it may be, It has no legitimate claim to “authenticity. Presenting a set of 25 rules as if it were the “real” tango, and saying there are more to come, is perhaps comforting to a certain notoriously uptight part of bourgeois Argentine society, but that’s just as ridiculous as trying to say Americans ought to behave like they do in “Mad Men”.
Here’s a line from the 1998 movie “Pleasantville” about nostalgia for, and limitations of, romantic “codes” of the 1950s.
Girl: You can pin me anytime, Skip. Or maybe I should just pin you.
Boy: [laughs] That’s silly, Mary Sue. How could you possibly pin me?
This article describes many characteristics of milongas that are widespread in Buenos Aires today. Most are absent in First World tango social events called ‘milongas’. This article raises the question as to whether these First World social dance events should be called ‘milongas’ because very few characteristics of Buenos Aires milongas, as they occur today, are incorporated into First World ‘milongas’. In Buenos Aires, an experienced dancer knows what to expect in terms of customs and how to behave when attending a milonga, and what the inexperienced dancer learns by observation at a milonga applies to milongas in general. The problem with the rather broad application of the term milonga in First World tango social dance events is not only that the characteristics of the event only loosely represent the culture from which they were derived, but also that these characteristics differ from event to event. A tanguero traveling in First World countries does not know what to expect, whether the music played for dancing will be classic tango music or non-tango music, whether or not there will be tandas with cortinas, whether or not the cabeceo will be recognized, whether or not dancers will embrace when dancing, whether or not exhibition moves will be used, whether or not there will be a circulating ronda, whether dress is more formal or more casual, etc. In First World cultures a ‘milonga’ is a social dance event where people think they are dancing tango to what they think is music designed for dancing tango.
There is no doubt that tango has evolved through time. Before there was tango, there were the dances of immigrants to Argentina – the habanera from Cuba, the polka, mazurka, and contradanza from Europe, as well as the African derived candombe. These dances had their own identifiable characteristics. Some characteristics of these dances were incorporated into a new dance that eventually was called ‘milonga’. This new dance was not habanera, polka, mazurka, contradanza or candombe; it was ‘milonga’, a new dance of Argentine origin. Over several decades in the 19th century the tango evolved from milonga, but the two dances maintained a relationship with one another in social dance events. The music played for dancing tango also evolved, with changes in tempo, as well as changes in instrumentation, with the guitar and flute used in early tango music replaced by the bandoneon and piano in later tango music. In the Golden Age, the music at milongas was played by two live orchestras, one playing tango and the other playing ‘jazz’. Variations in tango dancing style evolved, for example, from the bent leg walk with side embrace of canyengue to the upright posture with frontal embrace characteristic of Tango de Salon. Even the manner of partner selection has evolved from men standing in the center of the floor using the cabeceo to invite women seated at the periphery of the floor (with chaperones standing behind them) to the creation of separate seating sections for men and women from which the cabeceo is used.
When tango dancing became popular in First World cultures towards the end of the 20th century, events called ‘milongas’ were hosted. However, the characteristics of tango dancing, the music played for dancing, and the social customs practiced at many times resembled little the milongas of Buenos Aires. Tango had become adapted to First World cultural norms. This is the evolution of tango in a different cultural environment, a Tango Extranjero, not the evolution of Tango Argentino. This adaptation of tango to First World cultural norms while maintaining the nomenclature of Tango Argentino is not only confusing, but smothers the development an authentic Argentine Tango cultural environment within First World cultures. Just as habanera, polka, mazurka, contradanza, and candombe, not of Argentine origin, contributed characteristics to the formation of a new dance with Argentine characteristics called ‘tango’, the modification of tango dancing and the milonga environment in a foreign culture should not lay claim to the terms ‘Argentine Tango’ and ‘milonga’. It is a different cultural phenomenon and needs a different name.
I can’t speak for “First World” cultures generally, but my experience of local milongas in NYC leads me to believe they are closer to what you describe as a traditional milonga, with some exceptions. Seating is often a problem here and the dance floors are rarely square, most are rectangular and of varying quality. Men and women sit wherever they like, sometimes at a reserved table, sometimes at one of the free seats, and sometimes they simply stand or move around the room. The cabeceo/mirada is used, but not by everyone; however, I have never met anyone who was not at least aware of it. The music is almost always Golden Age tango, three of four songs followed by a cortina. Tangos are interspersed with vals and milonga rhythms. No music that is not part of the tango canon is played other than during the cortinas.
Most dancing is what might loosely be called “milonguero style,” with a strong physical connection. However, there are many people on the floor who do not follow tradition, who engage in exhibition style moves, weave in and out of the line of dance, or burst into nuevo tango from time to time. Quality and style of dancing vary greatly. So, I’d say the overall structure is there, but the individual dancers don’t always follow it. Dress is all over the map, anything from suits and ties to T-shirts and baggy cargo pants. Dance floors tend to be very crowded at the popular milongas. I’m not sure how that compares to other milongas in the US or elsewhere, but I’ve met a number of traveling DJs from out of town and they all stick to tradition when it comes to the music.
Based upon personal experience in attending milongas in North America and various parts of western Europe, there certainly appears to be a trend towards incorporation of more Argentine Tango cultural traditions into First World milongas, although there is still considerable variation. For the most part, this is an encouraging sign. The most apparent change is the use of only classic tango music for dancing tango, constructed in tangos with cortinas. The norm 5 years ago in the US was at least one ‘neo-tango’ tanda per hour, apparently to satisfy those who believed that this music was appropriate for dancing tango. More and more dancers clear the floor during the cortina. Yes, the cabeceo is understood by more dancers, but its use is not widespread and does not appear to be the norm anywhere, except perhaps at some ‘encuentros milongueros’. Gender segregated seating is non-existent except at a very few ‘encuentros milongueros’. With respect to dancing, although one may still see some exaggerated volcadas here and there, the Tango Nuevo fad has subsided considerably. Maintaining the embrace while dancing has become more common. However, foot paradas with excessive decoration that stop the flow of the ronda still exist in epidemic proportions, as does excessive use of off the floor embellishments by women, particularly high boleos and cuatros (https://tangovoice.wordpress.com/2012/07/12/womens-adornments-for-tango-social-dancing/). In general, navigation still needs considerable improvement, in part because many dancers do not control the speed and direction of their movements. The incorporation of traditional elements into milongas is a sign of education and maturity of a tango community, but not necessarily of the age of a community.