Tango Manifesto: A Declaration of the Rights of First World Tango Dancers to Have a Tango Environment Supporting Argentine Tango Cultural Traditions

June 23, 2016

 

  • Many First World tango dancers who have danced in the milongas of Buenos Aires desire to have in their home communities a traditional milonga supporting the customs of Buenos Aires milongas. It is their indisputable right to create and maintain this environment.
  • In creating a milonga environment incorporating Argentine tango cultural traditions, it is postulated here that these tango traditionalists have 4 minimum expectations for a traditional milonga:
  1. All music played at a milonga is classic tango music structured into tandas with cortinas.
  2. There is a smoothly circulating ronda on the dance floor that is free of navigational hazards and exhibitionism.
  3. There is an absence of instruction on the dance floor.
  4. The right of dancers to choose their partners for dancing by cabeceo is respected.
  • In North American tango communities, there is usually some general agreement in principle with these rights of tango traditionalists. Nevertheless, there are countervailing forces that impede the incorporation of these Argentine tango cultural traditions into the milonga environment.
    • The nearly constant recruitment of beginning level tango dancers typically results in inviting them to attend milongas before they have acquired skills in navigation and use of the cabeceo. Their presence at milongas also invites teaching on the dance floor from more experienced dancers. The practica usually is not provided as an alternative environment in which these practices are acceptable.
    • Tango community organizers frequently invite traveling instructors who teach popular off-axis, space-consuming, and outward directed movements (characteristic of Tango Nuevo and Tango Escenario), as well as methods of excessive ornamentation that, when used by dancers at the milonga, function to attract attention and create navigational hazards. Some dancers using these movements claim they are adapted for the social dance floor, thereby counteracting criticism of their inappropriateness for the milonga.
    • Conditions favoring the use of the cabeceo for dance invitation at the milonga are typically absent. Gender segregated seating is not supported. Instruction and practice at use of the cabeceo is not provided within the community.
    • Although playing only classic tango music for dancing tango has become more commonplace at milongas, milonga organizers often invite musical ensembles to play music for dancing tango that is less suitable (i.e., lacking a clear tango rhythm).
  • Economic considerations (desire for profit, need to meet expenses) are often responsible for the failure to incorporate Argentine tango cultural traditions into First World milongas.
  • Recommendations are made to assist incorporation of Buenos Aires milonga customs into a First World traditional milonga, including:
    • Selecting a DJ who plays only classic tango music
    • Not offering pre-milonga lessons, which encourage instruction on the dance floor
    • Not scheduling exhibitions, which elicit exhibionism on the social dance floor, during breaks from social dancing
    • Setting aside some tables specifically designated for those using the cabeceo for dance invitation
  • Tango traditionalists need to assert their rights to have a milonga environment free of interference with the practice of the customs of the milongas of Buenos Aires.

 

At many (probably most) tango social dance events advertised as ‘milongas’ in First World countries, the characteristics of dancing and the associated social milieu are very different from that of most milongas in Buenos Aires. In First World milongas dancers often do not embrace while dancing [Factors Affecting the Survival of Argentine Tango Cultural Traditions in Non-supportive First World Cultural Environments (The Dominance of Tango Extranjero)]. The movements used are often large, attention-attracting and potentially invasive of the space of other dancers on the floor (video). The ronda is sometimes poorly defined, with dancers stopping in place to perform exhibitionist displays, often incorporating an excess of adornments (To Decorate or Not to Decorate; Women’s Adornments for Tango Social Dancing), and what line of dance exists often fails to progress as a harmonious unit around the floor (video) (See also: A little Tango lesson: Help me Ronda! Dancing in harmony with all the other dancers on the dance floor). The music played for dancing tango is sometimes modern tango or popular First World music lacking a tango rhythm, not the classic tango music of the Golden Age (Music Played at Milongas / Tango Social Dance Venues). In some cases, there is teaching on the dance floor (No teaching on the dance floor) (Preventing Teaching on the Milonga Dance Floor: The Role of the Pre-Milonga Lesson). Invitations to dance are almost always by Direct Approach to the table with verbal invitation, rather than by using the cabeceo (The “Cabeceo”;  Use of the Cabeceo and Gender Segregated Seating in Milongas in Buenos Aires and Elsewhere in the World).

Despite these characteristics common to First World tango social dance events, there is often a minority of dancers (labeled here as tango traditionalists), particularly those who have danced in the milongas of Buenos Aires, who cherish Argentine tango cultural traditions (Codes and Customs of the Milongas of Buenos Aires: The Basics) and who have a strong desire to dance in a milonga environment in their home country incorporating these traditions. They would prefer to have partners with whom they can share a peaceful embrace while having their movements inspired by classic tango music. Women would prefer to have their movements guided smoothly by their partners rather than being pulled or pushed off balance, have their legs displaced with excessive force, or be rushed through rapid changes of direction. Men would prefer to dance with partners who do not struggle to break out of the embrace or engage in excessive kicking, leg-wrapping, and foot driven ornamentation (Women’s Adornments for Tango Social Dancing). These dancers would like to dance in a smoothly circulating ronda and not experience frequent impediments to progression or encounter risks of collision on the dance floor. They would prefer not to be exposed to a spectacle of exhibitionist movements. These dancers do not like other dancers instructing them on dancing tango on the dance floor, and would not like to encounter the obstacles to navigation that these ad hoc instructors create in any case. Tango traditionalists wish to select their partners for dancing rather than be exposed repeatedly to invitation by Direct Approach from partners with whom they would not enjoy dancing.

Creating an environment resembling the Buenos Aires milonga in First World tango communities is a daunting task. Local cultural traditions regarding dancing and social interaction shape the milonga environment. Education regarding milonga customs is needed in most cases, and many characteristics of this Argentine culture are resisted upon attempts at implementation. A worldwide tango dance culture that has adapted to local cultural influences has evolved (Tango Extranjero) and become ingrained in foreign tango communities.

Despite the dominance of Tango Extranjero, tango traditionalists have the right to enjoy a milonga environment based on Buenos Aires milonga customs in their home communities. After all, this is the cultural origin of tango and creating this type of environment should require neither justification nor defense. There are obviously many traits that characterize the milongas of Buenos Aires [Do Milongas Exist outside Argentina? (The Milonga Codes Revisited)]. Implementing all or even a majority of these conditions in First World milongas is nearly impossible, due to the impediments placed by local customs. Therefore, in order to create a tradition-based milonga within a foreign culture, it appears that the best strategy at this time is to concentrate on bringing to fruition an environment containing the most essential features of Buenos Aires milongas. Stated here are proposals for creating a tradition-based milonga along these lines, stated specifically in terms of four basic rights of tradition-minded tango dancers.

 

Basic Rights of Traditional Tango Dancers

Dancers who support the cultural traditions of Buenos Aires milongas have certain rights, as tango dancers, to be able to attend in their local communities a milonga having certain characteristics. At a minimum level, these rights can be stated succinctly in terms of 4 basic necessary conditions for a tradition-based milonga.

  1. All music played at a milonga is classic tango music structured into tandas with cortinas.

In Buenos Aires milongas today, one rarely hears music played for dancing tango that is not the recorded music of the popular tango dance orchestras of the Golden Age (Biagi, Calo, Canaro, D’Agostino, De Angelis, D’Arienzo, Demare, Di Sarli , Donato, Fresedo, Laurenz, Lomuto, Pugliese, Tanturi, Troilo), or from orchestras during this period that were not among the most popular at milongas but which played music that is similar to these orchestras (e.g., Malerba, Orquesta Tipica Victor, Rodriguez). This music was designed for dancing tango. Although this music was recorded during a 30 year span from the late 1920s to the late 1950s, and the recording quality of some of this music is not optimal, the rhythmic quality of this music elicits the smooth yet syncopated walking movements characteristic of tango dancing, and the emotional impact of this music enhances the embrace between dancing partners. There is music from some more modern tango orchestras emulating the musical style of Golden Age tango orchestras that also has some of these qualities (e.g., Villasboas, Gente de Tango, San Souci) and recorded music from these orchestras will occasionally be played at Buenos Aires milongas, but the primary and nearly exclusive repertoire of music drawn upon for dancing tango at Buenos Aires milongas is the recorded classic tango music from the Golden Age referenced here.

The organization of music into tandas with cortinas allows a couple to develop a dancing and possibly social relationship over the course of 3 or 4 recorded pieces of music. A cortina of nondanceable music signals the end of the partnership and a time for dancers to clear the floor and prepare for select other partners in an organized predictable manner.

At some First World milongas, music other than classic tango music sometimes is played for tango dancing (Tango Alternative music:). This includes the nuevo tango music of Astor Piazzolla and other ensembles playing music in this genre. This mixture of classical music and jazz elements with elements of tango can be quite enjoyable for listening, but the varying tempo, often too fast or slow for dancing, or the occasional absence of a distinct rhythm, makes this music unsuitable for dancing tango. Notably, Piazzolla himself did not intend to compose music for dancing (Astor Piazzolla: A Memoir; by Natalio Gorin, translated by Fernando Gonzalez. Amadeus Press, Portland, Oregon, 2001). Other music played for dancing tango at First World milongas may include what has been called ‘electrotango’, which is music that incorporates electronically produced sounds, including hard percussion (electronic drum kits) and vocal loops sometimes referencing aspects of tango, along with a bandoneon (e.g., Gotan Project; Bajo Fondo Tango Club; Tanghetto; Carlos Libedinsky; Jaine Wilensky; Otros Aires). This type of music typically lacks the singular and prominent pulsating walking rhythm characteristic of classic tango music. Also heard sometimes at First World milongas is non-tango music (popular music from First World or occasionally Third World cultures other than Argentina) that may or may not have a clear rhythm, yet rarely has a tango rhythm (List 1; List 2List3). Lacking a tango rhythm, these types of music are unsuitable for dancing tango (and, by definition, such dancing cannot be called ‘tango’ if tango music is not played for dancing). If these types of music are concentrated in what has been called ‘alternative milongas’ and advertised as such, traditional tango dancers can be sufficiently informed and avoid these venues. However, it has not been unusual for a DJ at a First World tango social dance event, advertised simply as a ‘milonga’, to play several tandas of Tango Alternative music (i.e., an alternative to tango music) in order to appeal to dancers who prefer not to dance exclusively to classic tango music. Tango Alternative music may elicit movements that are used in tango dancing but lack a connection to rhythm (Tucson Tango Festival); at worst Tango Alternative music inspires rapid and sometimes violent looking movements that create severe navigational hazards (Portland Tango Festival). Tango Alternative music typically also disrupts the emotional connection between partners enhanced by classic tango music. For traditional tango dancers, the Tango Alternative music played and the dancing it stimulates are disruptive to the visual, aural, and emotional atmosphere created at a milonga.

  1. There is a smoothly circulating ronda on the dance floor that is free of navigational hazards and exhibitionism.

Milongas in Buenos Aires are typically characterized by having a ronda that progresses smoothly in a lane moving counterclockwise around the outer portion of the floor (Lo de Celia; Club Gricel; Sunderland Club). Couples in the ronda are expected not to pass one another. If there is space in front of a dancing couple, they may move into that space without infringing on the space of the couple in front in the line of dance. Couples are expected to not move against the line of dance, but if they do, it is only a step or two that is taken after determining visually that the space behind them is available. [There may be (and usually is) an area in the middle of the floor that does not have a line of dance that is as clearly defined as in the outer lane, but dancers in this space maintain a safe distance from other couples.] Dancers typically keep their feet close to the floor and near their bodies; they do not lift their feet above the floor or project them outward from their bodies (as in high boleos, linear boleos, and piernazos). Dancers embrace and usually maintain this embrace throughout the dance (Ricardo Vidort & Myriam Pincen;  Ruben Harymbat & Enriqueta Kleinman; as examples of Tango de Salon Estilo Milonguero); if the embrace is opened, it is for ochos and turns in which the woman moves around the man at a close distance (Gerardo Portalea & Susana; Jorge Dispari & Maria del Carmen; as examples of Tango de Salon Estilo del Barrio). Dancers in Buenos Aires milongas do not separate to a connection of one hand only or to a distance with no body contact (soltadas). Dancers maintain a balanced connection, not pivoting off axis, creating compromises to balance (colgadas and volcadas). In these ways the risk of collision with other dancers is reduced significantly. Appropriate selection of movements in combination with experience in navigation on crowded floors minimizes risks of collisions. There may be exceptions in adherence to these standards, but these are the socially agreed upon conventions for dancers attending a milonga in Buenos Aires. Many violations of milonga codes are committed by foreigners.

There is also an expectation that on the dance floor in Buenos Aires milongas there will be an absence of conspicuous space-consuming movements characteristic of Tango Escenario (video). Excessive and conspicuous displays of adornments are also avoided (Women’s Adornments for Tango Social Dancing; Women’s Technique) (video1; video2). Not only do these movements create navigational risks because they involve large and unpredictable changes in direction, but also because stationary displays impede the progression of the ronda. These exhibitionist movements are also avoided because they are visually distracting. The mood of the milonga is one of connection and communication with one’s partner, not displaying to the audience one’s physical prowess. Exhibitionism and space consuming movements in general raise the level of arousal of other couples dancing on the floor, putting them into a defensive mode, thereby interfering with concentration on the music and an emotional connection with one’s partner in a relaxed embrace.

  1. There is an absence of instruction on the dance floor.

In Buenos Aires, tango instruction is not supposed to occur during a milonga. Dancers learn to dance in a group class setting, in a (formal or informal) practica (The Tango Practica, the Practica Nueva and the Tango Dance Party in Buenos Aires) or in a one-on-one setting (either a private lesson with an instructor or in learning from a friend or family member).

It is not unusual for teaching to occur on the dance floor at First World milongas. Tango dancers have the right to not encounter teaching at a milonga. Teaching received from a dance partner may be unsolicited, and dancers have the right to not be subjected to this, no matter how well-intentioned it may be. Traveling and resident tango instructors should also refrain from teaching on the milonga dance floor; however, this code of behavior is sometimes violated at First World milongas. A milonga is a social dance environment, not a classroom. Even if teaching is willingly accepted from a partner, this interaction causes an interruption in the ronda and creates unnecessary navigational challenges for other dancers on the floor. It can also create audible conversation that interferes with other dancers’ concentration in listening to the music and communicating nonverbally with their partners.

  1. The right of dancers to choose their partners for dancing by cabeceo is respected.

At Buenos Aires milongas, either dancers come to the milonga with a partner and dance exclusively with that partner throughout the duration of the milonga, or partners for a tanda are selected using the cabeceo (Use of the Cabeceo and Gender Segregated Seating in Milongas in Buenos Aires and Elsewhere in the World). There are separate seating sections for men, for women, and for couples, so that dancers know who is available to be invited using the cabeceo. Dance invitation by Direct Approach is frowned upon and is considered a legitimate reason for rejecting the invitation.

Dancers at First World milongas have the right to select their partners for dancing. They should not be placed into a position of social obligation when receiving a dance invitation from someone who makes a Direct Approach. Use of the cabeceo is an effective means of selecting partners for dancing by mutual consent. Use of the cabeceo also prevents the embarrassment of rejection from a potential partner who is approached directly for a dance invitation.

However, in First World milongas, even for dancers who know how to use the cabeceo as a means of dance invitation and wish to use it, the effectiveness of the cabeceo is typically limited by the lack of dancers’ awareness of this option or the willingness to use it. Willingness to use the cabeceo as a means of dance invitation is reduced when few potential partners are expecting a cabeceo and thus initiation of the cabeceo will fail or limit the number of potential partners. Environmental conditions such as low lighting or physical obstructions (including dancers remaining on the floor during the cortina) may also make implementing the cabeceo difficult. Lack of clearly differentiated seating (i.e., men, women, and couples at different tables) may also complicate partner selection.

 

Tango Community Attitudes towards the Basic Rights of Traditional Tango Dancers

This declaration of the rights of tango traditionalists is limited and reasonable and should be able to be accommodated. This Tango Manifesto does not place demands upon a tango community that all milongas have the attributes stated here, but only that should a milonga be created with the intent to incorporate these Argentine tango cultural traditions (e.g., being labeled specifically as a ‘traditional milonga’), that dancers attending these milongas respect the house rules (just as one would normally do, by custom, at an event for any social organization). One would think that this is not too much to ask. After all, this is only an attempt to recreate conditions existing in the milongas of Buenos Aires, the cultural origin of tango. However, the reality is that in most (perhaps nearly all) First World tango communities it is very difficult, if not impossible, to establish a milonga incorporating fully even this limited number of practices following Argentine tango cultural traditions. Some dancers are following a different voice, and feel justified in doing so. The irony in this situation is that in many First World tango communities, there is at least some general, possibly tacit agreement with the principles stated here regarding the rights of traditional tango dancers, particularly among tango community leaders (tango instructors and event organizers).

Focusing specifically on North American tango communities in 2016, it is safe to say that, at least in principle, there is general agreement that the dance floor should be free of navigational hazards. Most dancers probably would agree that one has the right to choose one’s partner for dancing tango. It would be difficult to find someone defending the right to offer unsolicited instruction on tango dancing on the milonga dance floor.

Also, a promising sign with regard to support of tango traditions is that the character of music played at most milongas in North America has changed over the last 10 years. Experimentation with the playing of Tango Alternative music for dancing tango appears to have decreased significantly or, when played, at least such dance events are more likely to be advertised to indicate this, e.g., as ‘alternative milongas’ or ‘50% traditional, 50% neotango’. Thus, in recent years it has become more likely that the music played for dancing tango at milongas consists entirely of classic tango music from the Golden Age structured into tandas of 3 or 4 recorded pieces separated by cortinas, during which dancers clear the floor. The apparent obligatory ‘one tanda of neotango per hour’ is mostly in the past.

Nevertheless, despite at least some general agreement in support of these tango traditions in North American tango communities, there are powerful countervailing forces that prevent the establishment of a traditional milonga environment. The most influential factor preventing the enactment of these simple codes of behavior is economics, either the desire to profit from hosting tango activities, or the need to generate sufficient income to meet the expenses of hosting such events (Strategies for Tango Community Development: Profit and Non-Profit Models and the Perspective of Maintaining the Cultural Integrity of Tango).

An important corollary of the primary economic influence upon decision making in North American tango communities is the perceived need by community organizers for nearly constant recruitment of new tango dancers and the desire for their rapid integration into the milonga environment. Often milongas are preceded by introductory tango lessons, concluding with an invitation to remain at the milonga and dance and socialize. Even if introductory pre-milonga lessons are lacking, students in beginner level classes are encouraged to attend milongas, which even may be advertised as ‘beginner friendly’. As commonly taught, beginner level tango students lack even basic navigational skills and thus create navigational hazards at a milonga. Many milonga organizers (who are also tango instructors) encourage more experienced dancers to ask tango newcomers to dance so that they will feel welcome in the milonga environment. Not only does this place social pressure upon experienced dancers to select tango partners with whom they would prefer not to dance, but since newcomers are almost always unfamiliar with the use of the cabeceo, which is rarely taught to beginning tango students, this establishes the Direct Approach as the standard protocol for dance invitation. The partnering of more experienced dancers with newcomers also invites teaching on the dance floor.

Additional impediments to the incorporation of Argentine tango cultural traditions are created by the penetration of Tango Nuevo and Tango Escenario onto North American milonga dance floors. Off-axis movements (volcadas, colgadas), outward-directed, space-consuming movements [high (including linear) boleos, soltadas] and other exhibitionist displays (back sacadas, enganches & piernazos) amplify collision risks. Many dancers have been injured by recklessly placed high boleos (Surveying the damage: Floorcraft Rant). It is also not unusual to see dance partners attempting to engage in these movements discuss on the dance floor the mechanics of the movements they have been taught, thereby disrupting the smooth progression of the ronda. Also contributing to the obstruction of the flow of the ronda is the epidemic spread of the ‘sandwich con adornos’ roadblock on the milonga dance floor. The attention-attracting characteristics of Tango Nuevo and Tango Escenario movements not only are distracting to other dancers on the floor, who often are thrust into a stress-elevated defensive mode, but due to the conspicuousness of these movements, they plant in the minds of naïve milonga attendees the notion that displaying physical prowess in creating tango movements is milonga acceptable behavior (Is Tango Nuevo compatible with Tango de Salon at the same Milonga?). Although the actual number of dancers employing these movements at a particular milonga may be limited, the impact of a few couples performing these disruptive displays can radically change the character of a milonga. Tango community organizers, most of whom host milongas, fuel this interference with incorporation of tango cultural traditions by sponsoring traveling instructors teaching Tango Nuevo and Tango Escenario. Paradoxically, some of these instructors even claim to support Argentine tango cultural traditions (example 1; example 2).

When faced with complaints regarding the navigational hazards created by off-axis and outward directed movements, some of these dancers state that they do not create navigational hazards with these movements because they only perform them when floor density is low. Risks of collision may be reduced with lower floor density, but disregard of the magnitude, velocity, and direction of movements on a sparsely populated floor once again elevates collision risks. When floor density is high, these dancers may make the counterargument that their movements have been modified (essentially, made smaller) to be ‘safe’ for the crowded dance floor. To a significant degree these perceptions have been created by tango instructors who teach workshops entitled ‘Volcadas/colgadas for the social dance floor’ (e.g., Dancing Soul). Further legitimacy is attempted by labeling this style of dancing as ‘nuevo milonguero’, which results in oxymoronic additions to tango step vocabulary such as the ‘volcada milonguera’ and the ‘colgada milonguera’. Nevertheless, despite consuming less space, execution of these modified off axis movements still compromise the balance of one’s partner, which is in itself a hazard (although the risk is often accepted by the woman led through these movements). Space is needed for performance of volcadas, colgadas, piernazos, and any partner separation. Adaptation of a linear boleo for the social dance floor is unimaginable. None of these movements are evident in the traditional tango dance in the milongas of Buenos Aires; they have been manufactured for export to culturally naïve foreigners. All of these movements, even the less dangerous smaller versions, increase collision risks on the social dance floor. So does a dance strategy emanating from within oneself that focuses on step sequence execution (i.e., Tango Nuevo) rather than one that is governed from the external social and spatial environment existing on the milonga dance floor [while coming from within is attention to the music and shared emotional expression with one’s partner (Tango Milonguero: Improvised Expression of Music through Movement in a Shared Embrace)]. Once a philosophy justifying the use of movements characteristic of Tango Nuevo and Tango Escenario on the milonga dance floor (e.g., One Tango Philosophy, Organic Tango) has invaded the public consciousness within a tango community, one is contending with the pervasive propaganda of popular traveling Argentine tango instructors that disrupts an environment supporting Argentine tango cultural traditions.

Even if perchance these space consuming movements are placed with skill so as to not appear to present collision risks, other dancers are placed into a defensive mode or are visually distracted by the exhibitionist elements, both of which disrupt attempts at a peaceful harmony with one’s partner. In following Buenos Aires milonga traditions, one dances with the purpose of connecting with the music and communicating with one’s partner in the embrace, not for the purpose of displaying to milonga attendees the expertise in producing step sequences [Understanding Argentine Tango (with the Assistance of Milongueros): It’s not just another Ballroom Dance].

With respect to methods of dance invitation, use of the cabeceo is hindered by the widespread acquiescence to the Direct Approach. This is the norm in every North American tango community and, with the exception of the few encuentros milongueros, probably at every milonga in North America. The general picture that emerges is numerous dancers (usually men) walking around the milonga, approaching potential partners at the table and making verbal requests to dance. Invited partners (usually women) are placed into a position of social pressure to accept the dance invitation, even if this is not a person with whom one wishes to dance, or the invitee can make a verbal rejection, which may gain this invitee a reputation as an elitist or hurt the feelings of the inviter. Accepting a dance invitation with a less than desired partner may result in not having the opportunity at that time to dance with a preferred partner. The system of dance invitation would be much more efficient, less humiliating, and with less social pressure applied, if the cabeceo were used instead of the Direct Approach. Use of the cabeceo gives more power to women, in particular, in choosing their partners (Female empowerment and the cabeceo: A very linktastic post); without the cabeceo, women are subjected more to dancing with less preferred partners than are men, primary because North American social dance customs give more privilege to men than women in initiating dance invitations.

Most tango dancers with some experience are at least somewhat aware of the use of the cabeceo as a means of dance invitation, with some thinking it is some custom, perhaps even a relic, used primarily in Buenos Aires milongas, having little relevance in First World cultures. Despite agreement among many tango community leaders and experienced tango dancers that it would be a good idea for more dancers to use the cabeceo as a means of dance invitation, there is little effort applied towards increasing its usage. Use of the cabeceo is often mentioned in passing (e.g., by tango instructors), but there is a lack of consensus regarding promoting its use. Thus, the Direct Approach remains the status quo at North American milongas.

Although recorded music played for dancing tango at North American milongas has become more representative of Buenos Aires milongas in that a program of all classic tango music, structured into tandas with cortinas, has become the standard for more and more milongas in recent years, nevertheless, there is a common decision in organizing milongas that interferes with this trend, this being the enlistment of ensembles to play live music for dancing. There is no doubt that live music was integral to creating a favorable atmosphere for dancing tango at milongas in Buenos Aires during the Golden Age. These orquestas played music designed for dancing tango. It is for this very reason that the recorded music of these orquestas is played at milongas in Buenos Aires today. There are several contemporary tango orquestas that have played music in the style of Golden Age orchestras [Gente de Tango (Di Sarli), Orquesta Típica Misteriosa Buenos Aires (Di Sarli et al.), Color Tango (Pugliese et al., not always danceable), Los Reyes del Tango (later D’Arienzo), Sans Souci (Calo), Sexteto Milonguero (various Golden Age orquestas)] at milongas in Buenos Aires [e.g., Confiteria Ideal, Salon Canning (Parakultural), La Viruta, Villa Malcolm] in recent years. These orquestas come closest to replicating the style and sound of Golden Age tango orquestas. Live music at tango social dance venues in Buenos Aires today is not uncommon, but it typically occurs at more informal tango social dance events, often those attended primarily by younger dancers and tourists (The Tango Practica, the Practica Nueva and the Tango Dance Party in Buenos).

At milongas in North America, it is not uncommon to have live music played by local musicians or traveling musical groups (some of which are from Argentina). However, it is extremely rare that these contemporary musicians play music for dancing tango that has the rhythmic and emotional qualities of recorded classic tango music, even when playing interpretations of classic tango music (‘Felicia’ vs. D’Arienzo) (‘Gallo ciego’ vs. D’Arienzo) (‘A la gran muñeca’ vs. Di Sarli) (‘Romance de barrio’ vs. Troilo). In a further deviation from the sound of classic tango music, some of the live music played at milongas in North America consists of interpretations of Golden Age or post Golden Age tango compositions lacking a consistent clear rhythm for dancing tango (Sebastian Piana composition ‘Milonga triste‘) (Julian Plaza composition ‘Danzarin’) (Astor Piazzolla composition ‘ Milonga del Angel‘) or even non-tango music, e.g., electronica or rap.

Tango event organizers offer live music at milongas because it attracts more dancers to their events, thereby reinforcing the interpretation that economic and community growth considerations outweigh support for tango cultural traditions in their decision making. Live tango music creates a more exciting environment for most attendees, regardless of their level of expertise in dancing tango, although it can be a particularly effective recruiting tool for newcomers to tango. Some of the excitement created by live music at a milonga is the volume of sound, and other stimuli for animated (but not necessarily controlled) dancing are provided to some dancers with the playing of the music of Piazzolla and other post Golden Age orquestas (e.g., Pugliese after 1960). The result of this stimulation is often the elicitation of larger and more rapid movements characteristic of Tango Escenario and Tango Nuevo and excessive use of adornments, little of which is connected to the music [Understanding Argentine Tango (with the Assistance of Milongueros): It’s not just another Ballroom Dance]. Given the characteristics of the music and the dancing it elicits, tango traditionalists are often disappointed with live music at milongas as a replacement for the recorded classic tango music from the Golden Age.

 

Remedial Measures to Create a Traditional Milonga Environment

There are several measures organizers of traditional milongas can utilize to increase the likelihood of incorporation of Buenos Aires milonga customs.

Music Played for Dancing Tango

The easiest characteristic of a milonga to change is the music played for dancing tango, which is under the control of the milonga organizer, whose prerogative it is to hire the DJ for the milonga. The appropriate DJ for a traditional milonga is one who plays only recorded classic tango music in tandas of 3 or 4 pieces, with cortinas of non-danceable music between tandas, of sufficient length to allow all dancers to clear the floor. The DJ should also not be open to taking requests from dancers with regard to the music played.

Teaching on the Milonga Dance Floor

Milonga organizers can play a role in reducing significantly the amount of teaching on the dance floor. One way to accomplish this is to not schedule a tango lesson immediately prior to the milonga (Preventing Teaching on the Milonga Dance Floor: The Role of the Pre-Milonga Lesson). Within the tango community as a whole, teaching on the milonga dance floor can also be reduced by encouraging beginning level tango dancers to attend practicas, where teaching is permissible, instead of attending milongas (The Role of the Milonga Organizer in Creating an Environment Promoting Argentine Tango Cultural Traditions).  The role of the practica within tango communities as a training ground for developing tango dancers needs to be promoted. Even for more advanced dancers, the practica is the setting for working on technique and experimenting with musicality. The practica is the appropriate place where more experienced dancers can contribute to community growth by dancing with less experienced dancers. Dancing couples can willingly exchange feedback about their partners’ dancing. Designated instructors at practicas can offer feedback to dancers at all levels. (To be avoided at practicas are dancers with a little experience believing they are qualified to be self-appointed instructors.) In order to accomplish these goals, floor density at practicas needs to be much lower than at milongas. The practica also can serve a social function, allowing members of the tango community to walk around, intermingle, and converse in a more casual environment. Access to food and beverages can serve as a catalyst for social interaction. Within a community, a practica can even be set aside for practitioners of Tango Nuevo. In reality, these are the conditions of many tango social dance events advertised as ‘milongas’ in North America, but which are, in fact, practicas, not milongas [Do Milongas Exist outside Argentina? (The Milonga Codes Revisited)]. There are a variety of types of practica in contemporary Buenos Aires and these variations can serve as models for North American (and other First World) tango communities (The Tango Practica, the Practica Nueva and the Tango Dance Party in Buenos Aires).

If teaching does occur on the dance floor at a traditional milonga, it may be necessary for the milonga organizer to inform (or remind) those involved that this is inappropriate behavior at this milonga.

Navigational Hazards and Exhibitionism

Eliminating navigational hazards and exhibitionism from a milonga is difficult once it has become prevalent and therefore accepted within a tango community. Nevertheless, there are some preventive measures that can be taken by a milonga organizer to reduce navigational hazards and exhibitionism on the dance floor. Removing stimuli eliciting exhibitionist movements can be productive in this regard. Not playing Tango Alternative music for dancing may assist in reaching this goal. Certainly to be avoided are exhibitions scheduled during a break in social dancing at a milonga, whether by traveling or local instructors, or by tango students in a community. (Having tango students give demonstrations at milongas only reinforces the concept that tango dancing is designed for exhibition.) It should also be obvious that traditional milonga organizers should not bow to social pressure from the community at large to host a visiting tango instructor specializing in teaching exhibitionist movements to teach a pre-milonga workshop containing this type of material, as part of this instructor’s milonga tour through the community.

To some degree, navigational hazards also can be reduced by not inviting beginner level tango dancers to milongas. Not scheduling an introductory tango lesson before the milonga reduces (possibly eliminates) the number of tango newcomers at a milonga (Preventing Teaching on the Milonga Dance Floor: The Role of the Pre-Milonga Lesson). If resources (tango instructors, space) are available, the milonga organizer can offer to beginner level tango dancers at another time an appealing practica environment, one that invites social interaction with like-minded tango traditionalists at all dance skill levels in the community.

Increasing milonga floor density (i.e., reducing the open space available to perform exhibitionist movements) may in some cases reduce the perceived opportunity to execute spatially expansive movements, although it will increase the risk of collisions caused by tango dancers for whom performing exhibitionist movements is their standard modus operandi. This restriction of space can be accomplished not only by selecting a venue for a milonga that is not too large, but also by strategic placement of tables to make the dance floor smaller, e.g., by allowing space behind the tables for movement of milonga attendees outside the milonga dance floor (The Role of the Milonga Organizer in Creating an Environment Promoting Argentine Tango Cultural Traditions).

Perhaps the most difficult challenge in reducing navigational hazards and exhibitionism at milongas is controlling the space exploration tendencies of Tango Nuevo and Tango Escenario inspired dancers who feel they have the right of free expression at a traditional milonga. There are several lines of defense against this behavior. The first line of defense is carefully crafted advertising that promotes the event as a ‘traditional milonga’. This may not be completely effective because some instructors of Tango Nuevo and Tango Escenario (or their advertisers) state their dancing is rooted in tango traditions (example 1; example 2), or has been modified for the social dance floor. The second line of defense is posting the milonga codes, either in a conspicuous place upon entry (Tango Codigos – Part 2), or in a hand-out to attendees, with the latter preferred because the transaction of distribution of the written codes is a more direct communication. A possible third line of defense is making a public announcement if navigational hazards occur, e.g., as has been done at the Cachirulo milonga in Buenos Aires (video). A fourth line of defense is talking directly to the offenders regarding rules violations, with a request to leave the milonga (e.g., by saying this is not the environment for that kind of tango) as the final option for repeat offenders.

Cabeceo for Dance Invitation

Breaking the inertia of lack of use of the cabeceo for dance invitation is an arduous task because the Direct Approach is deeply ingrained in North American social dance culture. Prior to introducing the cabeceo into a milonga on any basis other than its employment by the occasional dancer already familiar with this practice from previous experience, there needs to be education and practice within the community regarding its use. Tango instructors need to introduce the cabeceo as part of learning to dance tango. This can be accomplished in workshops (in this case, the pre-milonga lesson is appropriate) or in practicas (e.g., as in the Practimilonguero hosted by Monica Paz, primarily for tourists, in Buenos Aires).

Even with this educational preparation, there needs to be some positive reinforcement for using the cabeceo and some negative consequences for using the Direct Approach, other the sometimes unrealized benefit of dancing only with preferred partners and the relief from social pressure when faced with an undesired Direct Approach. The cabeceo works most effectively with clearly defined gender-segregated seating (Use of the Cabeceo and Gender Segregated Seating in Milongas in Buenos Aires and Elsewhere in the World). Therefore, one organizational feature of a milonga that can encourage the use of the cabeceo is to designate (by table top sign if necessary), sections of tables, one for men, another for women, for dancers intending to use the cabeceo for dance invitation (The Role of the Milonga Organizer in Creating an Environment Promoting Argentine Tango Cultural Traditions). These tables should be in a prime location, adjacent to the dance floor, where they would be clearly visible. Milonga attendees would be asked upon entrance if they wish to use the cabeceo for dance invitation and, if so, would be escorted to these tables. The conspicuous designation of these tables for the cabeceo (only) signals to milonga attendees that the dancers sitting there are to be invited via cabeceo, thereby relieving occupants of the social pressure of agreeing to dance with anyone making a Direct Approach. Setting aside tables for use of the cabeceo accommodates tango traditionalists, but does not obligate other dancers to use the cabeceo for dance invitation. Nevertheless, it provides a public example of its use, a condition that could lead to increased usage by other members of the tango community. An obstacle to effective implementation of the cabeceo is having enough dancers of both sexes willing to participate and occupy the tables designated for its use. Perhaps at least one dozen men and one dozen women would be needed to allow dancers to select a variety of partners across different tandas. Under the conditions stated here, dancers at other tables would be permitted to send and receive dance invitations via cabeceo, but would also be subject to Direct Approach. These conditions would allow tango traditionalists to use the cabeceo and avoid the Direct Approach (as well as provide justification for rejecting it), but not force all dancers to use or be limited or using the cabeceo for dance invitation.

A significant obstacle to incorporation of the cabeceo into milonga practices in North American tango communities is the resistance of dancers to assigned gender segregated seating, even though this is the norm in Buenos Aires milongas. Widespread use of the cabeceo for dance invitation is probably the most difficult of the tango traditions mentioned in the Tango Manifesto to be incorporated into a traditional milonga.

 

Final Statement

Tango traditionalists in First World countries have the right to create a milonga environment incorporating Argentine tango traditions. Tango has its cultural origin in Buenos Aires; therefore, this right is indisputable. There should no need to justify or apologize for creating a milonga respecting Buenos Aires milonga codes. The conditions for a traditional milonga set forth in the Tango Manifesto are limited (compared to the milonga customs observed in Buenos Aires) but important in establishing a milonga environment resembling that of Buenos Aires milongas.

Members of a tango community should not feel offended or angry (as they often are) about the request to honor Argentine tango cultural traditions; they have free choice in not attending a milonga with these codes of behavior. To force one’s ignorance, lack of regard, or even disdain for tango traditions upon those who wish to honor them (e.g., by dancing Tango Nuevo in a traditional milonga) is one of the worst offenses that can be committed in a tango community. It leads to conflict and community fission. Ironically, those who resist the incorporation of tango cultural traditions into a milonga environment have been known to criticize tango traditionalists as being restrictive of freedom of expression and therefore antagonistic to tango community harmony and growth; in reality, it is the free expression of tango traditions that is often restricted, disappointing tango traditionalists and sometimes even discouraging their active engagement in a tango community. Resistors to tango traditions often make the counterargument that tango is evolving and that new interpretations of tango need to be accommodated. The truth is that they are already accommodated in most milongas in most tango communites. What really needs to be accommodated is a milonga environment for those dancers who wish to model their behavior after the customs of the overwhelming majority of milongas in Buenos Aires today.

In order to minimize conflict and gain respect and support for their efforts, tango traditionalists should refrain from criticizing the adaptation of tango to foreign cultures that has become epidemic, even if there is indeed justification for this criticism. Tango traditionalists need to be positive in communicating about their program. They should clearly assert that they are honoring Argentine tango cultural traditions and creating an environment for the purpose of enjoying the practice thereof. All who are interested are free to join in this practice. What others may do is different and the message should be that it is not inherently bad, just different. Tango traditionalists can appeal to a respect for cultural diversity that allows each genre of interpretation of tango (e.g., Tango de Salon vs. Tango Nuevo) to have its own environmental niche for expression (Is Tango Nuevo compatible with Tango de Salon at the same Milonga?). This is how tango social dance venues are differentiated in Buenos Aires today (Milongas and Practicas: Cultural Tradition and Evolution in Buenos Aires Tango Social Dance Venues).  This perspective contrasts with the ‘one big tent’ theory of the One Tango Philosophy promoted in many (perhaps most) First World tango communities, where Tango de Salon, Tango Nuevo, and Tango Escenario are not recognized as different expressions of tango adapted to different environmental niches and therefore are integrated onto the same milonga dance floor (Tango Styles, Genres and Individual Expression: Part I – A Rationale for Classification by Niche Adaptation).

First World Tango dancers should have choices in attending milongas.

Those who wish to enjoy a milonga environment with all classic tango music, with partners who embrace and connect to the music, navigate so as to maintain a circulating ronda with minimized risk of collision, and refrain from exhibitionism, with an absence of instruction on the dance floor, with the opportunity to select preferred partners using the cabeceo, should be free to create this environment and not be confronted with intrusions (perhaps even confrontations) from dancers who wish to impose a different interpretation of tango upon others who do not want it.

Those who wish to have a tango social dance environment that includes Tango Alternative music for dancing, allows exhibitionism and exploration of the spatial dimensions of dancing tango without the restriction of a circulating ronda, permits free verbal exchange of ideas about tango dancing on the dance floor (i.e., instruction), and tolerates the Direct Approach for dance invitation, should also be allowed to host and attend these events. All that is requested is that these events be advertised honestly as ‘alternative milongas’, ‘nuevo practicas’, or ‘nontraditonal milongas’, as the case may be, so as to differentiate them from traditional milongas.

Tango traditionalists should no longer be forced to sit silently or complain among themselves about a tango social dance environment where they experience Tango Alternative music, exhibitionism, collisions, undefined rondas, teaching from ad hoc instructors and Direct Approach from undesired dance partners. They need to assert their rights to have a traditional milonga environment and the local tango community needs to respect it.

 


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