- 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.