Preventing Teaching on the Milonga Dance Floor: The Role of the Pre-Milonga Lesson

December 29, 2014

 

  • Teaching on the milonga dance floor is disruptive to the flow of the ronda and therefore is unacceptable behavior at a milonga.
  • Feedback on dancing may be accepted by the partner, but often it is unsolicited and unwanted. This can be an unpleasant experience for the person receiving the feedback.
  • Milonga organizers can decrease significantly the probability of teaching on the milonga dance floor by taking certain preventive measures and by direct intervention.
    • Increasing floor density can inhibit ad hoc instructors from teaching on the dance floor because they need space to demonstrate any discussed movements. Floor density can be increased by a priori selection of a milonga site with a sufficiently small dance floor, and by placement of tables at the selected site to decrease the area used for dancing.
    • Pre-milonga lessons should not be included as part of a milonga program. These lessons may attract dancers to a milonga and assist in income generation as well as recruitment of new dancers to the community, but there is often a residual effect with the material presented at the lesson discussed subsequently on the social dance floor. In particular introductory tango lessons should not be scheduled prior to a milonga because if these students remain at the milonga, their presence will invite teaching on the dance floor from more experienced dancers.
    • One advantage of the pre-milonga lesson is that it increases attendance and thus floor density at the beginning of the milonga, thereby creating more challenging conditions for ad hoc instruction on the dance floor. Alternative means of increasing floor density at the beginning of a milonga include a pre-milonga dance lesson on something other than tango (e.g., chacarera), a lecture on tango music or culture, or a social event such as a community meal.
  • If these preventive measures are insufficient to eliminate teaching on the milonga dance floor, the milonga organizer may need to approach ad hoc instructors directly to inform them that this behavior is unacceptable at a milonga.

 

One of the behavioral codes of milongas in Buenos Aires is that teaching is not permitted on the dance floor [Do Milongas Exist outside Argentina? (The Milonga Codes Revisited)]. Teaching on the dance floor at a milonga disrupts the progressive flow of the ronda. It is also considered rude to offer unsolicited advice to one’s partner on how to improve one’s dancing. Incomplete satisfaction in a partner’s dancing should be reflected in lack of consent (via the cabeceo) to future dance invitations.

In First World tango communities, there may exist milongas where it is possible to observe teaching on the dance floor. (This is less likely in mature tango communities, where the cultural traditions of Argentine tango are understood, and where the average skill level of dancers is higher.) At these milongas, it is not unusual for some dancers to offer advice as feedback to their partners while dancing, even to the point of reviewing or showing dance movements on the dance floor. In some cases, for example between a man and a woman in a relationship, both partners may consent to this practice. The couple may even perceive that the teaching on the dance floor is not disruptive to the flow of the ronda if the teaching is done in the center of the floor, and particularly so at a milonga with low floor density. This is usually most common at the beginning of a milonga, before most dancers have arrived. In other cases, teaching on the dance floor may be imposed by one partner on the other. This may be done by someone who has helpful intentions, although the recipient may not perceive it as such, or by someone who is trying to impress a partner with his/her self-assumed expertise, for whatever purposes that may serve. Often the self-appointed teachers are not qualified to teach, although sometimes they are paid tango instructors attempting to attract business during a social activity. (This is also done occasionally by tango instructors in Buenos Aires, although typically in conversations after the tanda is completed.)

The issue addressed here is how milonga organizers can act to prevent teaching on the milonga dance floor.

Direct intervention, i.e., speaking to those who instruct on the milonga dance floor, asking them to refrain from such activities, may be sufficiently effective in terminating the offensive behavior. However, this may be perceived by the offender as being too controlling of a harmless activity and thus create the impression of an inhospitable milonga environment for some dancers, which could through word of mouth gain the organizer the reputation of being the ‘tango police’ and thus lead to ostracization of the organizer in a tango community. An organizer could post signs on milonga codes, as has been done at the Cachirulo milonga in Buenos Aires, which is less intrusive than direct confrontation of milonga code violators, but this too is not always well received within First World cultures that value liberty above respect for cultural traditions, and may not be effective for dancers who neither read nor heed the posted codes.

What will be addressed in this post are methods for minimizing the occurrence of teaching on the milonga dance floor in the first place.

(1) Increase milonga floor density

In general, increasing floor density will decrease the probability of teaching on the milonga dance floor. Dancers mutually agreeing to discussing tango movements on the milonga dance floor generally will be inhibited from undertaking such discussions as the floor density increases. Self-appointed tango instructors need space to demonstrate their knowledge to the partner upon whom they are imposing their instruction. If a milonga floor is crowded, potential instructors with foresight will recognize the risk of collisions with other dancers on a crowded dance floor. If not, in hindsight, instructors concerned about social etiquette will cease subsequent instruction upon collision.

An obvious way to increase floor density is to decrease the size of the dance floor in planning a milonga. From previous experience, a milonga organizer may be able to estimate the size of a dance floor needed to accommodate couples who wish to dance while also minimizing the amount of empty space on the floor. This factor should enter into the decision making process for selecting a site for a milonga. Floor density also can be increased at a given site by placement of tables. Milonga organizers often attempt to maximize dance floor space by placing tables as close to the walls as possible. (This even occurs in Buenos Aires milongas, where the goal is probably to increase the number of seats to accommodate as many attendees as possible, and thus maximize income.) Creating an aisle behind tables (i.e., between the tables and the walls) can decrease the space on the dance floor, as well as guiding traffic of non-dancers to the aisles instead of along the edge of the dance floor, thereby reducing the risk of collisions of dancers with people walking to and from tables to other areas of the milonga building. Additional creative measures in placement of tables can further decrease the size of the dance floor and thus increase floor density.

(2) Do not schedule tango lessons immediately prior to a milonga

It is quite common for organizers of First World milongas to schedule one or more lessons before a milonga. This also occurs for some Buenos Aires milongas. Milonga organizers who are also tango instructors may host these lessons because they may feel they have valuable instruction to offer, or they may do so because they wish to attract tango students who are not otherwise taking their classes, or both. Perhaps most importantly to a milonga organizer, pre-milonga lessons usually attract additional dancers to a milonga, increase organizer income and provide monetary assistance in paying space rental charges. For the dancers, pre-milonga lessons provide an opportunity to assess the ability and compatibility of other dancers with whom they have not danced previously, assisting them in the selection of appropriate partners during the milonga. The content of pre-milonga lessons may be targeted specifically to attract newcomers to tango, thus providing an opportunity for community growth. When pre-milonga lessons are well attended, there will be tend to be more dancers on the floor at the beginning of a milonga, providing energy and thus motivation for dancers to come out onto the floor and dance. If the floor density is high enough at the beginning of a milonga, this will discourage the performance of space consuming movements, as are characteristic of Stage Tango and Tango Nuevo.

The aforementioned advantages of pre-milonga lessons are apparent. What may not be apparent are the negative consequences of holding pre-milonga lessons. Pre-milonga lessons are catalysts for teaching during the milonga. It is not unusual to witness dancers who have just participated in a pre-milonga lesson dissect and discuss the contents of the lesson on the milonga dance floor, disrupting the flow of the ronda. If the lesson instructor is still present, students from the lesson may be observed discussing the contents of the lesson with the instructor while standing on the dance floor. If it is necessary to host a pre-milonga lesson (e.g., to bring in income to meet space rental expenses, or to recruit new dancers to a community), usually it would be best to hold the lesson in a separate room, if available. In such a case, the instructor can remain in the instruction room after the lesson to answer questions.

In general, pre-milonga lessons have limited instructional value. They are typically discrete units (i.e., not part of a continuing series) and thus lack continuity in content and student participation with other instructional units. They often attract dancers of various skill levels and it is challenging for tango instructors to communicate tango dancing skills to a diverse set of dancers in a limited time. Thus, many (if not most) pre-milonga lessons consist of teaching a step pattern, which does little to improve the improvisation and leading-and-following skills needed for dancing at a milonga. Often pre-milonga lessons provide an opportunity for tango instructors visiting a community to recruit students for upcoming workshops (or other pre-milonga lessons) and milonga organizers may feel compelled, for the sake of community harmony, to host visiting instructors as they make the rounds through community milongas, exposing dancers to their instructional material.

Although pre-milonga lessons may attract beginners to a milonga, the milonga is not an appropriate event for beginners. Milongas are for experienced dancers who know how to navigate (and also know the social etiquette for dance invitation). Having beginners at milongas invites teaching from those who wish to share their tango knowledge on the dance floor. The appropriate place for tango lessons allowing subsequent practice with instructional input is the practica. The practica can serve the purpose of providing an introduction to the tango community for beginners if more experienced dancers are encouraged to participate in the practica. Socialization (and thus community growth) can be enhanced by serving food and beverages at a practica. To varying degrees, this is what occurs in the informal social tango dance events frequented primarily by young adults in Buenos Aires (The Tango Practica, the Practica Nueva and the Tango Dance Party in Buenos Aires). The term ‘practica’ does not have a specific meaning for (non-Spanish speaking) tango newcomers; thus, it probably should be reserved for communications internal to the tango community. For the public at large, the term ‘tango practice dance party’ would be more appropriate, communicating that the event has room for practice and also has a social atmosphere. Regardless of the level of instruction, a tango lesson given as part of a practica is more likely to give immediate and lasting reinforcement to acquired dance skills than a pre-milonga lesson, even if it is a discrete unit (i.e., not part of a weekly series), although a practica following a weekly class series is likely to be even more effective.

(3) Schedule activities other tango instruction prior to a milonga

Although the pre-milonga lesson may be effective in attracting dancers to a milonga and thus avoid the empty floor conditions that often plague milongas at the start, which inhibit dancers from arriving at the beginning of a milonga, there are several alternative ways of attracting dancers to the milonga before social dancing begins. If a dance lesson is given, it can be for some other dance, e.g., chacarera, that may be part of a milonga. An alternative to providing dance instruction could be a lecture or even participatory workshop on tango music (e.g., differentiation of tango orchestras). There could be a lecture and/or discussion on tango culture and history. Another attractive option that attracts attendees is to have a meal before a milonga. This situation is quite common for the Saturday night Milonga del Barrio in Buenos Aires (Variation in Traditional Tango Venues in Buenos Aires). In North American tango communities, when this occurs, it is often a ‘pot luck’ dinner, where dancers bring a dish to share. Another attractive possibility is to have a concert of tango music before a milonga. One type of event to be avoided prior to a milonga is a tango show or set of performances using Stage Tango or Tango Nuevo, as this may encourage some dancers to use their interpretation of the observed movements on the milonga dance floor.

Summary

Teaching on the milonga dance floor is undesirable in that it disrupts the flow of the circulating ronda and because it is rude to impose upon others unsolicited instruction. Direct verbal intervention by milonga organizers can be used to stop such activity when it occurs. However, milonga organizers can reduce the probability of teaching on the milonga dance floor by taking some preventive measures. Not scheduling lessons before a milonga eliminates the possibility for dancers to review lesson content at the subsequent milonga. However, eliminating pre-milonga lessons creates empty floor conditions at the beginning of a milonga, an environment that also encourages teaching on the dance floor. Milonga organizers can compensate to increase floor density by decreasing the size of the dance floor, but still need a sufficient space to accommodate dancers that arrive later. One method of increasing milonga floor density at the beginning of a milonga without encouraging teaching is to schedule an activity immediately prior to the onset of social dancing that does not involve tango dance instruction. Under the best of conditions, a workshop on tango music or culture, a tango music concert, or a community meal can serve this purpose.

If tango dance instruction still occurs on the milonga dance floor despite the implementation of preventive measures by milonga organizers, it may still be necessary to intervene verbally to put an end to this undesirable activity.

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