The Rise and Fall of Tango Milonguero in North America in the 21st Century (Highlighting the Denver Tango Festival)

January 19, 2013

In the previous post (Trans-Cultural Diffusion and Adaptation of Tango Argentino in the 20th Century) the history of cultural transmission of Tango Argentino as a dance form to North America in the 20th century was reviewed. This transmission was biased due to cultural resistance and selective adoption, so that the tango social dance that developed in North America bore little resemblance to the Tango de Salon of the milongas of Buenos Aires. Noticeably absent from social tango dancing in North America during the 20th century was the maintained (closed) embrace characteristic of tango social dancing in Buenos Aires (The Essence of Tango Argentino). However, in the latter part of the 1990s, this was beginning to change. There were two factors that were primarily responsible for this. First, tango instructors from Argentina who taught Tango de Salon (in particular Tango Milonguero) began teaching tango workshops and training local community tango instructors in North America. Second, North American tango dancers began visiting Buenos Aires, where they experienced the tango social environment in the birthplace of tango (Tango de Salon: The Tango of the Milonga).

The Introduction of Tango Milonguero in North America

Susana Miller was the tango instructor from Buenos Aires who, at times in conjunction with milongueros such as Pedro ‘Tete’ Rusconi and Oscar ‘Cacho’ Dante, introduced North American tango dancers to ‘Milonguero Style Tango’ in the mid 1990s (apparently first in 1995); this stylistic variant of Tango de Salon, characterized by a slightly forward leaning posture, compact movements, and a maintained (closed) embrace, was representative of the style of dancing tango common in the downtown milongas of Buenos Aires at the time. North American tango instructors who learned from Miller and taught Tango Milonguero in their local communities beginning in the late 1990s included Christopher Nassopoulos (San Francisco), Robert Hauk (Portland), and Barbara Durr (Atlanta). Other North American tango instructors, less directly linked to the tutelage of Miller, but teaching a similar stylistic variant of Tango de Salon with a maintained closed embrace, who were teaching social tango in North America by the end of the 20th century were Hsueh-tze Lee (Boston) and Tom Stermitz (Denver). In addition, Daniel Trenner (Boston), although primarily a proponent of Tango Estilo del Barrio in a modified form (i.e., without the embrace), also taught Tango Milonguero at times in ‘advanced’ classes (Tango-L post).

Despite the initiation of instruction in Tango Milonguero and related tango stylistic variants characterized by a maintained closed embrace (perhaps more appropriately together called ‘Tango Estilo del Centro’) in North American in the late 1990s, tango danced in a maintained closed embrace at milongas in North America was a rarity, concentrated mostly at milongas during tango weekends where a visiting instructor taught Tango Estilo Milonguero. Nevertheless a subculture of Tango Milonguero developed in North America. Visits to Buenos Aires and participation in milongas there further reinforced the individual decision to adopt Tango Milonguero as a preferred personal style of dancing.

The Rise of Tango Milonguero via the Denver Tango Festival

In September 2000 (Labor Day weekend) Tom Stermitz initiated a ‘Milonguero Weekend’ at the Mercury Café in Denver, Colorado, which was primarily designed as a social gathering for devotees of Tango Milonguero, but also included some instructional workshops. In May 2001 a similar Memorial Day tango weekend had also been added to the annual schedule of tango weekends. The second Labor Day weekend in September 2001 had already attracted over 250 people, including over 150 from around the United States outside of the Denver area. At the 2002 Denver Memorial Day Milonguero Weekend’ Susana Miller taught the workshops. Advertising for the event clearly stated a Tango Milonguero emphasis:

“Many Milongueros; Many Tango Languages”: The term “Milonguero” honors the style and dancing of the older gentlemen of the dance floors of Buenos Aires. Dancing in Denver recalls the Buenos Aires experience…. The milonguero weekend is about SOCIAL DANCING, not SHOW TANGO.

Workshops: In 5 classes Susana Miller will develop a “milonguero” tango language, starting with words, grammer, phrases and sentences. With so many dances and a focus on close-embrace, your dancing will be transformed….

Unlike many festivals, the primary focus is on social dancing, not show tango or exhibitions.

The 2002 Labor Day Milonguero Weekend included several North American instructors teaching Tango Milonguero / Tango Estilo del Centro, as well as workshops / discussion groups on organizing and building tango communities. The Tango Milonguero focus was reiterated:

Milonguero Weekend: The theme is “milonguero-style” tango, meaning you should expect the dance floors to be crowded, and the music to be emphasize the rhythms of the 1930s & 1940s. This is not to criticize any other style, rather it is to share the experience with people who wish to dance like the crowded night clubs of Buenos Aires.

Again for the September 2005 festival it was stated:

What is Milonguero Style? The Denver Milonguero Festival honors the style of the great social dancers of Buenos Aires: close, subtle & romantic. Recapture that Buenos Aires experience!…

This is the style typical of crowded dance floors in Buenos Aires. Very-close embrace, use of ocho-cortados and rock-steps, navigation with tight turns.

Special themes this year: Milonguero from the Milongueros. Milonguero style dancers from Buenos Aires: Ricardo Vidort, and Dany Garcia & Silvana Valtz.

Elegant, Traditional Style Milonga. Play the eye game (cabeceo) at the Saturday evening milonga. Host seating will place men separate from women like traditional afternoon milongas in Buenos Aires.

(Note: Dany Garcia and Silvina Valz did not appear at the festival.)

By May 2003, the tango weekend was labeled as a ‘festival’, and although the naming of the festival has not been consistent, in September 2003, the name ‘Denver Labor Day Weekend Milonguero Festival’ was used, and the instructors were advertised as the ‘Top US teachers of “milonguero” or “club” style tango’. American instructors of Tango Milonguero / Tango Estilo del Centro who were regularly involved in the early Denver festivals included Christopher Nassopoulos & Caroline Peattie (San Francisco), Robin Thomas (New York), Robert Hauk (Portland) Barbara Durr (Atlanta), and Hsueh-tze Lee (Boston); Brigitta Winkler from Germany (Berlin) was also regularly invited to teach at the early Denver tango festivals. There was also some representation in teaching by tango instructors from Buenos Aires (May 2002: Susana Miller; September 2002: Miguel Angel Balbi taught pre-festival workshops; September 2003: Eduardo Aguirre accompanied Yvonne Meissner from the Netherlands in teaching the pre-festival workshops; May 2005 and September 2005: Ricardo Vidort taught festival workshops; Tomas Howlin, an Argentine living in Montreal, also taught at the Denver festivals in May 2005 and May 2008).

By the 2004 Denver Memorial Day Tango Festival attendance had reached about 400 people. Thus, the Denver festivals provided a gathering place for learning and dancing, two times per year, for aficionados of Tango Milonguero / Tango Estilo del Centro, many of whom had experience dancing in the milongas of Buenos Aires. Photographs documenting the nearly universal adoption of the closed embrace characteristic of Tango Milonguero are available for the May 2003, the September 2004, and the September 2007 Denver festivals. Videos of milongas at the Denver festivals (May 2007: Saturday Milonga) (Sept 2007: Outdoor Milonga) (Sept 2007: Mercury Café) provide additional evidence that the overwhelming majority of dancers at the Denver tango festivals danced in a maintained embrace at the milongas. Instructor demonstrations reinforced the images of dancing Tango Milonguero (May 2005: Ricardo Vidort & Liz Haight) (Sept 2007: Instructor Group Demo).

The Denver Festival was highly influential in the cultural evolution of social tango dancing in North America in that it provided reinforcement for the practice of Tango Milonguero / Tango Estilo del Centro and stimulated the spread of Tango Milonguero to tango communities throughout North American through expanded instruction, both by visiting instructors (often those who taught at the Denver festivals) and by local community instructors who had acquired the requisite skills. This led to the increased visibility of Tango Milonguero danced at milongas throughout North America. One tango community heavily influenced by the instructors who taught at the Denver tango festivals was Ann Arbor, Michigan, where students at the University of Michigan organized tango weekends and festivals at least 3 times per year that served as a focal point for dancers of Tango Milonguero in the Midwest USA. The Denver Festival was also a model for the Atlanta Tango Festival, which began in April 2005, and the San Diego Tango Festival, the latter also organized by Tom Stermitz from Denver, which began in January 2007 (See instructor demonstration at first San Diego Festival).

In 2006 Ray Barbosa initiated the annual Chicago Mini Tango Festival, which has been unique in consistently providing opportunities to teach tango for milongueros, including Pedro ‘Tete’ Rusconi, Pocho (Roberto Carreras) & Nelly (Nelida Fernando), Ruben Harymbat, Alberto Dassieu, and Blas Catrenau. This festival has employed mostly Argentines to teach Tango Milonguero, including such well known instructors as Susana Miller, Maria Plazaola, Oscar Casas, Maximiliano Gluzman, Alicia Pons, and Enriqueta Kleinman. This has provided additional opportunities for students of Tango Milonguero to learn directly from masters of the art of dancing tango in the milongas of Buenos Aires, and to practice dancing Tango Milonguero in milongas with other dancers with a similar interest.

Although the traditions of Tango Milonguero as danced in the milongas of Buenos Aires permeated the early Denver tango festivals , there were certain exceptions. In May 2003, the all female tango performance group Tango Mujer presented their tango stage show and members of the group taught the festival workshops; only Brigitta Winkler and, to some degree, Rebecca Shulman, had some prior experience teaching Tango Milonguero. Also at this festival, gender neutral tango dancing, uncharacteristic of milongas in Buenos Aires, was encouraged:

C. Workshops
(4) Women leaders and men followers are encouraged (not just tolerated).
D. Getting asked and asking for dances.
(2) Women are specifically permitted to ask guys for a dance.
(3) Women are specifically permitted to lead, both in workshops and in the dances.

(No mention was made of the use of the cabeceo in dance invitation.) It is also apparent that some of the workshops have covered topics outside the realm of Tango Milonguero. For example, in September 2002, Alex Krebs taught an Early Arrival workshop on ‘volcadas’; in May 2004 Homer Ladas taught a workshop on ‘Dynamic embrace or going between close and open’. The Alternative Milonga, featuring non-tango music to which dancers apply movements characteristic of tango, was initiated in May 2004 and has continued to this day. It also has been part of the Atlanta and San Diego Tango Festivals that otherwise have emphasized Tango Milonguero, but has not been incorporated into the Chicago Mini Tango Festival.

Nevertheless, despite these digressions from Tango Milonguero, the Denver Tango Festival and the similar Atlanta, Chicago and San Diego Tango festivals served in the mid 2000s as national gathering places (3 to 5 times per year) for dancers of Tango Milonguero in the United States.

The Turning Point: Gustavo Naveira Teaches Tango Milonguero in Boulder, Colorado

Gustavo Naveira, considered by many as a co-founder of Tango Nuevo, in conjunction with his partner Giselle Anne, have been teaching workshops in Boulder, Colorado, a suburb of Denver, since 2007; they currently maintain a residence and host a weekly practica in Boulder, and host the annual Boulder Tango Festival. Although many if not most instructors of Tango Nuevo (as defined by the teaching of amplified off axis movements; op. cit.), do not differentiate Tango Nuevo as a distinct genre of tango and, indeed, much of the instructional material is applicable for more than one genre of tango, the 2007 and 2008 Colorado Tango Encuentros with Gustavo and Giselle Anne contained instruction in the genre-defining off-axis movements.

A significant turning point in the history of tango festivals in the United States occurred in 2009. The theme of the 2009 Colorado Tango Encuentro with Gustavo & Giselle Anne was ‘Tango Milonguero’. This in itself was a significant change in topic coverage for the Colorado encuentros, but the change in the dates for the festival was also significant. Whereas the 2007 and 2008 encuentros were held in July, the 2009 encuentro in Boulder with Gustavo & Giselle Anne was scheduled to start September 7 – Labor Day – the day after the Denver Labor Day festival organized by Tom Stermitz ended. From the point of view of an organizer, it was a strategic move in that dancers coming to the Denver area for the Labor Day festival could remain in the area for the Tango Milonguero Seminario with Gustavo & Giselle Anne. However, dancers’ resources are not unlimited and when presented with the choice of participating in workshops on Tango Milonguero with familiar North American instructors or taking workshops on the same topic area with one of the most well-known tango instructor couples from Argentina, even given the added expense of studying with Gustavo & Giselle Anne (about $300 per person) versus studying with the Denver Festival instructors (about $150 per person), the opportunity of experiencing Gustavo & Giselle Anne’s approach to Tango Milonguero was probably considered by many an event not to be missed. Although exact figures on attendance and certainly economics are not available, the North American tango rumor mill (to be believed with caution) has spread reports that although attendance at milongas during the Labor Day weekend was consistent with previous festivals, attendance at workshops was significantly lower.

It needs to be stated that although there are some less than completely reliable assumptions being made in concluding that the Tango Milonguero Encuentro with Gustavo & Giselle Anne had a negative impact on the attendance at the Labor Day festival and thus its economic profitability, the reaction in the aftermath of this scheduling cannot be considered to be arbitrary. After the September 2009 scheduling of the Gustvao & Giselle Anne Seminario on Tango Milonguero immediately following the Denver Labor Day festival, the set of instructors teaching at future Denver Tango festivals, as well as San Diego Tango festivals, both organized by Tom Stermitz, changed signficantly. Instead of continuing with the previous set of tango instructors, most of whom focused primarily or even entirely on teaching Tango Milonguero / Tango Estillo del Centro, after the September 2009 ‘Turning Point’, most of the the instructors who were invited to teach at the Denver and the San Diego Tango festivals were more representative of Tango Nuevo and Tango Estillo Villa Urquiza than Tango Milonguero, even though these instructors may not specifically claim an affiliation with these styles or genres of tango.

Instructors known for teaching Tango Nuevo (with video examples of their teaching) who have taught at the Denver and San Diego Tango festivals since the Turning Point have included Homer & Cristina Ladas, Jaimes Friedgen & Christa Rodriguez, Carlos & Tova Moreno, and Murat & Michelle Erdemsel. The movements demonstrated in these videos are uncharacteristic of dancing in the milongas in Buenos Aires (and could lead to reprimand if used) and maladapted for dancing at crowded milongas anywhere in the world, including the festivals where they are taught.

There are also some instructors whose style of dancing is more characteristic of Tango Estilo Villa Urquiza / Tango Estilo del Barrio, who have been invited to teach at the Denver and San Diego Tango festivals only after the Turning Point. These include (with demonstrations referenced) Ney Melo & Jennifer Bratt, Mauro Peralta & Marika Landry, Felipe Martinez & Maria Ybarra and Brian Nguyen & Yuliana Basmajyan. It should be noted that only Ney Melo & Jennifer Bratt self-identify as dancing Tango Estilo Villa Urquiza and there are stylistic differences among the couples, but all of them maintain the embrace while walking and open out of the embrace for turns, characteristic of Tango Estilo Villa Urquiza, while they do not maintain the embrace throughout the dance (although Ney Melo & Jennifer Bratt often do) as in Tango Milonguero, and they are not inclined to use the off-axis movements characteristic of Tango Nuevo, nor are they Stage Tango performers.

To indicate the significance of the changes in the sets of instructors who have been invited to the Denver and San Diego Tango Festivals, a table is presented below. Data were obtained from TangoColoradoNews, the Tango-A Archives and Tom Stermitz’s web site. To simplify presentation, instructors are classified as either ‘entirely or primarily Tango Milonguero / Tango Estilo del Centro’ versus ‘NOT entirely or primarily Tango Milonguero / Tango Estilo del Centro’. This dichotomy circumvents the needless argument from instructors of Tango Nuevo (and sometimes other stylistic preferences) who merge together all tango stylistic variations under the ‘One Tango Philosophy and thus deny or protest their own classification. The table is divided into 3 groups of instructors; those in Group A were invited to at least 20% of the 18 Denver and San Diego Tango Festivals from September 2002 (the first time multiple instructors from outside Denver were invited) to September 2009 (Period 1), and those in the Group C were invited to at least 20% of the 10 Denver and San Diego Tango Festivals from January 2010 to December 2012 (Period 2), i.e., after the Gustavo & Giselle Anne Tango Milonguero Seminario Turning Point. Those in the Group B were invited to at least 20% of the festivals in both periods.

Table: Listed are numbers and percentages of Denver and San Diego Tango Festival appearances of each instructor in Period 1 (September 2002 – September 2009) and Period 2 (January 2010 – December 2012).

(bold): Tango Milonguero only
(not bold): not only Tango Milonguero

Period 1    Period 2    Instructors

Group A:
11  61%     0   0%       Christopher Nassopoulos & Caroline Peattie
10  56%     1 10%       Robin Thomas
9    50%     0   0%       Robert Hauk
9    50%     0   0%       Hsueh-tze Lee
7    39%     0   0%       Barbara Durr
5    28%     0   0%       Yelena Sinelnikova
4    22%     0   0%       Tomas Howlin

Group B:
6    33%     3  30%       Brigitta Winkler
6    33%     4  40%       Marika Landry
5    28%     2  20%       Avik Basu

Group C:
1       7%    5  50%       Homer & Cristina Ladas
0       0%    3  30%       Jaimes Friedgen & Christa Rodriguez
3     17%    2  20%       Alex Krebs
2     11%    2  20%       Eric Jorissen
0       0%    2  20%       Ney Melo
0       0%    2  20%       Mauro Peralta
0       0%    2  20%       Brian Nguyen & Yuliana Basmajyan
0       0%    2  20%       Felipe Martinez
0       0%    2  20%       Shorey Myers
0       0%    2  20%       Mike Melixi & Carrie Field

It is apparent from this table that there was a significant shift away from instructors teaching only Tango Milonguero / Tango Estilo del Centro in Period 1 to instructors NOT specifically identified with Tango Milonguero in Period 2. There were 6 instructors or instructor couples consistently identified with Tango Milonguero (Christopher Nassopoulos & Caroline Peattie, Robin Thomas, Robert Hauk, Hsueh-tze Lee, Barbara Durr, Yelena Sinelnikova) who taught repeatedly at the Denver and San Diego festivals in Period 1, and of these only Robin Thomas taught once (May 2011) in Period 2. In Period 2, only one instructor (Eric Jorissen) who is identified specifically with teaching Tango Milonguero has taught at 20% or more of the festivals. The other 9 instructors or instructor couples in Group C who have taught at 20% of the Denver and San Diego tango festivals in Period 2 are not specifically identified with Tango Milonguero, and most could readily be classified as placing an emphasis on Tango Nuevo or Tango Estilo Villa Urquiza, as identified from the teaching and demonstration videos presented above. Thus, for the most part, the only instructors to survive the transition that occurred after Gustvo Naveira and Giselle Anne taught their Seminario on Tango Milonguero in Boulder in September 2009 were instructors who were not specifically identified with Tango Milonguero (Group B) and new instructors who were invited after this turning point were instructors who were, for the most part, not specifically identified with Tango Milonguero.

When examining the details of the changes in the Denver and San Diego Tango Festivals following the Gustavo & Giselle Anne Tango Milonguero Turning Point, the rationale for this radical pivot in the dance orientation of invited instructors is understandable. If Gustavo Naveira & Giselle Anne, popular worldwide promoters of Tango Nuevo, can teach Tango Milonguero effectively (as probably they can to some degree) and draw a large audience, then other instructors who are popular in North America in part because of their promotion of Tango Nuevo may also be able to teach Tango Milonguero effectively, and they also may be able to attract more festival attendees because some dancers who were initially attracted to them because of their Tango Nuevo instructional offerings would follow them to the Denver and San Diego Festivals to improve their knowledge and practice of Tango Milonguero. Add popular instructors from the increasingly well-received Tango Estilo Villa Uquiza, and it would still be possible to maintain the theme of a festival that focuses on Tango de Salon, the tango of the milongas of Buenos Aires at the same time attendance is increased within the competitive economic realm of tango festivals.

It has not been possible to retrieve information on workshop titles from all Period 2 Denver and San Diego Tango festivals. For those that are available, it is apparent that the terms ‘milonguero’ and ‘close embrace’ are still used in labeling content for some workshops, indicating some consistency with Period 1 workshop content, and there are additional workshops for which the stylistic variants of tango portrayed are not evident, but for which one cannot at face value conclude the content was not consistent with Tango Milonguero or more generally, Tango de Salon. Nevertheless, from the workshop topics alone, there is some leakage of information regarding at least some topics taught that are inconsistent with Tango de Salon. Those identified include the following:

January 2010 San Diego Festival: Brigitta Winkler & Fabienne Bongard: ‘Play with enganches’

May 2011 Denver Tango Festival: Mauro Peralta & Marika Landry: ‘Change of dynamics using ganchos’ and ‘Suspension movements: types of colgada movement adapted for crowded milongas’.

September 2011 Denver Tango Festival: Felipe Martinez & Tara Fortier: ‘Mini-colgaditas for the social dance floor’

May 2012 Denver Tango Festival: Homer & Cristina Ladas: ‘Social volcada-wraps’

December 2012 San Diego Tango Festival: Homer & Cristina Ladas: ‘One social over-turned gancho’

By specifically stating that off-axis movements and leg wraps are ‘social’ or are ‘for crowded milongas’, this sends the message that these movements are socially acceptable, although they still have not reached that level of acceptability in milongas in Buenos Aires. This expansion of the boundaries of Tango Milonguero for foreign audiences is often advertised as ‘Nuevo Milonguero’, an appellation apparently designed to provide legitimacy for the movements within the social environment of the milonga. Thus, the Denver and San Diego Tango Festival instructors are redefining the acceptable boundaries of social tango for North America.

Workshop titles are not always reliable indicators of content. Videos of teaching at the Denver and San Diego Tango festivals, which could document topical coverage, are rare. However, one available video indicates that even in a workshop with a non-informative title, violations of the codes of the milongas of Buenos Aires can be demonstrated. In this workshop by Homer & Cristina Ladas entitled ‘Long steps in compact spaces’, several ganchos are incorporated into a class demonstration sequence.

Demonstrations given by instructors at the Denver and San Diego festivals also reveal a change in the characteristics of the type of tango portrayed in the festivals. Whereas in Period A instructor demonstrations adhered to the characteristics of Tango Milonguero / Tango Estilo del Centro, in Period B this has not been the case, as is seen in the following instructor exhibitions: Alex Krebs & Diana Cruz (September 2010); Jaimes Friedgen & Christa Rodriguez (September 2011); Homer & Cristina Ladas (May 2012); and instructor group demo (May 2012). The Denver Tango Festival also now offers the non-traditional so-called ‘tango rap’ of Momo Smitt, which some dancers appear to find suitable for dancing steps characteristic of tango.

It is apparent that the change in instructors and performers invited to the Denver and San Diego festivals after the September 2009 Turning Point has altered the image of tango offered to attendees. However, the impact on dancing at milongas is more subtle. In this video of a milonga at the September 2011 Denver festival, it is apparent that the overwhelming majority of dancers are dancing a variant of tango that is within the range of stylistic variation of Tango Milonguero / Tango Estilo del Centro. However, upon closer inspection, often by observing dancers in the middle of the floor, it is apparent that the embrace is valued less, with the arm-pinching kidney hold by women having become more common, and anti-social movements such as high boleos, volcadas, and ganchos have crept into the dancing repertoires of some of the Denver festival attendees, characteristics that were rare in Period 1 festivals.

It should be noted that the Denver and San Diego Tango Festivals are still currently advertised as:

A Tango festival “By Dancers; For Dancers”. T he Denver Tango Festivals are a special treat for all tango dancers who love the social tango popular in the milongas of Buenos Aires: close, subtle & romantic.

At the milongas this description is apparently still reasonably true. However, some of the workshop material and the demonstrations by instructors are not characteristic of the ‘social tango popular in the milongas of Buenos Aires’. Thus, the Denver and San Diego Tango Festivals no longer provide a supportive environment for the Tango Milonguero adherent minority that exists and appears to be rapidly diminishing in North America today. The Atlanta Festival, also having provided that supporting environment (milonga video), was last held in 2010, so that is one additional venue that is no longer available to aficionados of Tango Milonguero.

The Chicago Mini-Tango Festival, in its 8th year, still continues to offer instruction in Tango Milonguero / Tango de Salon almost exclusively, with almost all instructors having experience teaching Tango de Salon in Buenos Aires and being knowledgeable about dancing conditions and customs in Buenos Aires milongas. In fact, the 2013 program of instructors (Alicia Pons, Oscar Casas & Ana Miguel, Osvaldo Natucci & Enriqueta Kleinman, Pablo Rodriguez & Eva Garlez) is one of the most consistently Tango Milonguero programs (at around $300 per person for the entire program: Registration) this festival has offered. However, milongas at the Chicago festival (video1) (video2) (video3) have rarely achieved the harmony of a cohort of dancers practicing Tango Milonguero, in part because there have not been local (Chicago) instructors consistently providing instruction in Tango Milonguero and because the existing local instructors and their students have demonstrated ignorance of the codes of conduct regarding navigation on crowded floors and injection of stage moves onto the milonga dance floor. There have been some good demonstrations of Tango Milonguero by milongueros at the Chicago Mini Tango Festival (e.g., Ruben Harymbat & Alicia Pons; Blas Clemente Catrenau & Enriqueta Kleinman), but there have also been some demonstrations by invited instructors that do not depict Tango de Salon (e.g., Gustavo Benzecry Sabá & Maria Olivera; Daniela Pucci & Luis Bianchi). ‘Tango rap’ has also found an open microphone at this festival. Thus, the tango images and opportunities presented by the Chicago Mini Tango Festival are inconsistent, and it has not to date offered an adequate Tango Milonguero refuge to dancers of this stylistic variant of tango.

The Aftermath of the Altered Focus of the Denver Tango Festivals

Perhaps as a response to the loss of a Tango Milonguero focus in the Denver, San Diego and now defunct Atlanta Tango Festivals, recently there have been a few attempts to host events with a specific Tango Milonguero focus in North America. The website Siempre Milonguero, dedicated to this purpose, states:

Siempre Milonguero is an unincorporated association organized to advocate Argentine Tango in the Milonguero Style. Siempre Milonguero seeks to preserve and promote the culture, philosophy, and dance form of traditional social tango developed throughout the Golden Age of Argentine Tango (1935-1952) and still danced in the tango salons of Argentina today.

As an association based in the U.S., we seek to connect dancers and organizers within the Milonguero Style tango communities in North America. We support dancers committed to good navigational skills, traditional music, and the codes of the dance, by listing venues and events that share these interests.

Siempre Milonguero proposes the hosting of ‘encuentros’:

Encuentros are small, cozy tango retreats hosted by rotating communities and attended by those communities and our larger network of dancers. Encuentros can offer the opportunity to learn from highly respected milonguero maestros from Argentina and around the world, or can just be a place for like-minded people gather and dance. Encuentros are a place for committed milongueros to learn from and dance with each other in a venue that encourages and supports the codes and atmosphere of the traditional Buenos Aires milongas.

On its ‘Latest News’ page, three events of this type are listed, for San Diego, for Salida, Colorado, and for New York City; only the New York City event had multiple instructors. To some degree the ‘Encuentros Milongueros’ appear to be associated with hosting Susana Miller to teach tango, which more or less replicates the situation that existed in North America with respect to Tango Milonguero in the 1990s, before the initiation of the Denver Tango Festivals. Given its short history and the low visibility of these efforts, it is not clear to what degree these encuentros will diversify in their offerings and succeed in replacing the impact of the past Denver, San Diego, and Atlanta Tango Festivals.

Summary and Conclusions

The Denver Tango Festival and its descendants, the Atlanta and San Diego Tango Festivals, have provided a place for aficionados of Tango Milonguero in North America to gather several times per year to participate in tango activities where the overwhelming majority of dancers have danced tango in a manner similar to the way it is danced in the milongas of Buenos Aires, and to learn from instructors who teach Tango Milonguero. However, a pivotal event that upset this equilibrium was the September 2009 Seminario on Tango Milonguero given by Gustavo Naveira and Giselle Anne in Boulder, Colorado immediately following the Denver Labor Day Tango Festival. After this Turning Point, a significant transformation occurred in the Denver and San Diego Tango Festivals organized by Tom Stermitz. Although the theme of the festivals was still advertised as ‘social tango’, the invited instructors were no longer the group of instructors who taught Tango Milonguero exclusively or even emphasized it in their teaching tours; i.e., a number of the instructors invited subsequently instead were popular instructors of Tango Nuevo (as indeed are Gustavo & Giselle Anne). Although after the Turning Point phrases such as ‘close embrace’ and ‘milonguero’ still accompanied some workshop titles for the Denver and San Diegeo festivals, characteristics of Tango Nuevo, such as ‘enganches’, ‘ganchos’, ‘colgadas’ and ‘volcadas’ also entered the pedagogic vocabularly. Demonstrations by instructors became even less connected with Tango Milonguero. Although the majority of dancers at the milongas still have been dancing a style of tango resembling the Tango Milonguero of the milongas of Buenos Aires, the nearly universal focus on a maintained embrace in social tango dancing has lessened and anti-social elements such as high boleos, ganchos and volcadas have become more prominent not only in the workshops and demonstrations, but also on the milonga dance floor.

By claiming the focus of these festivals is still ‘social tango’, an attempt to redefine social tango in North America is being undertaken. In the first 10 years of its existence, the Denver Tango Festival promoted Tango Miloinguero and was the focal point among national (US) tango festivals in doing so. The environment created was intended to resemble the environment of the milongas of Buenos Aires. However, without a corresponding change in the environment of the milongas of Buenos Aires, the Denver and San Diego Tango Festivals have redefined ‘social tango’ to be that communicated, to a significant degree, by instructors whose teaching is more likely to emphasize Tango Nuevo than Tango Milonguero. This newly defined ‘social tango’ is a reflection of the One Tango Philosophy that mixes elements of Tango de Salon, Tango Escenario, and Tango de Practica on the milonga dance floor to replace a partner and music oriented dance with a movement exploration based dance that is often maladapted for the social environment of the milonga. The failure of the One Tango Philosophy is that it neglects to recognize the adaptation of different genres of tango to different environmental niches (Tango Styles, Genres and Individual Expression: Part I – A Rationale for Classification by Niche Adaptation). However, the ability to offer additional movement possibilities in teaching this Unified Tango introduces a flexibility that is successful in the tango marketplace because tango consumers will continually find new movement options to purchase at tango festivals.

The failure of Tango Milonguero as a festival option to survive in the tango free enterprise market is due largely to the cultural determined expectations of tango consumers. In the North American cultural environment, where showiness in dance is valued, it was inevitable that the visual conspicuousness of Tango Nuevo and Tango Estilo Villa Urquiza would displace Tango Milonguero within the niche of ‘social tango’ dancing. Tango festivals are expensive to operate, yet successful ones can generate significant income for organizers such that it is not necessary to seek income outside of tango. The decision to discard Tango Milonguero because of its economic disadvantages is indeed a logical one, based upon the economic and cultural constraints of the foreign environmental niche in which it is offered as a version of tango.

Prior to the Tango Renaissance of the 1980s, tango in the Rio de Plata region spread primarily as an urban folk dance, driven by the desire of the people to participate in their living culture. Among aficionados of Tango Milonguero worldwide, there is a subculture in which dancers participate, one in which man, woman, tango music, and the others on the milonga dance floor merge their common interests to form a unified participation in a shared tango experience. This was the atmosphere generated in the early Denver Tango Festivals. In its transformation to an emphasis on an externally projected tango populated with movement tricks, catalyzed by exhibitions from the currently popular North American tango celebrities associated with Tango Nuevo, the Denver Tango Festival has evolved to resemble the large majority of tango festivals that are stocked with tango clothing and shoe vendors and yoga classes, i.e., a commercial enterprise designed more to consume the economic resources of tango dancers than to educate them on tango culture.

In order for Tango Milonguero to survive as a subculture outside the Rio de la Plata region, it is necessary for aficionados of Tango Milonguero to eschew tango commercialism and embrace tango culture. Instead of participating in the commercialized tango marketplace with idolized celebrities that now constitute tango festivals, Tango Milonguero dancers should gather together with the purpose of dancing and sharing the culture of the Buenos Aires milongas. There is no need to collect hundreds of dollars (or more) from 400 more festiveros captured by mass marketing to experience tango as it is danced in the milongas in Buenos Aires. An inexpensive gathering of 100, even 80 or 60 Buenos Aires experienced dancers in a weekend of milongas with other non-workshop activities, similar to the ‘lindy exchange’ concept embraced by swing dancers, could replace commercialized tango festivals to meet the need of Tango Milonguero dancers. What is needed is a return to the ‘by dancers, for dancers’ concept upon which the Denver Milonguero Tango Weekends were originally based. Tango Milonguero should be recognized a cultural entity to be preserved, not an economic commodity to be modified for mass marketing.

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