Does a real milonga still exist?

Before my serious interest in tango, I attended ballroom dance classes in Chicago where the studio owners held parties on a Friday or Saturday night for their students.  We danced to a variety of recorded music.   Everyone got dressed up.  The parties had exhibitions by the teachers and their students.   When I began teaching, I organized class outings and parties for my dance students as well.  The focus was on practicing and socializing.  Everyone got to know everyone else by name.

Those who have had social dance experience probably believe that a milonga is a dance party just like all the others they have attended with one difference–most of the music is tango.    This is not true.

A venue was a milonga because there were milongueros present.  That alone set it apart.  It could have been a club de barrio like Premier in Caballito or a confiteria like Domino downtownAs long as there were milongueros, the term  milonga was appropriately usedToday there are only a handful of places where the milongueros go.  One outdoor venue which has no seating, no tandas, no use for the codes, and no milongueros is included on the list of milongas in Buenos Aires.

A milonga is where milongueros go to listen and dance to tango.  A milonguero doesn’t talk while dancing.  There is respect for tango.  A milonguero doesn’t discuss his personal life in a milonga.  Conversation between dances is brief and private.  The main agenda is the music and dance; exhibitions, announcements, raffles, birthday celebrations, etc. are no part of a real milonga

They call them milongas, but a real milonga doesn’t exist in Buenos Aires–they have become tango dance parties for socializing.  The milongas as they were known by the milongueros are gone forever.

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8 Responses to “Does a real milonga still exist?”

  1. Enrique Madris Says:

    Si bien, la milonga cambió mucho, y en general no se respetan los códigos
    (fundamentalmente los viejos, nuevos milongueros, no los conocen, o no les interesa respetar) , todavía hay quienes mantenemos la tradición de la milonga. Respecto a las mujeres, con más de cuarenta años, van a la milonga, único lugar donde se pueden hacer notar y desconocen los códigos.

    English translation by jantango:
    Yes, well the milonga has changed a lot and in general they don’t respect the codes (basically the old ones do, but new milongueros, they don’t know them and aren’t interested in respecting them), still there are those who maintain the tradition of the milonga. Respecting women more than 40 years, they go to the milonga, the only place where you can observe and ignore the codes.

  2. yabotil Says:

    Thanks Jan for the post but I’m a little confused. If a milonga couldn’t exist without milongueros, then how did the very first milongas come about? Did the milonga come first or milongueros come first? I thought (but could be wrong) that one had to dance many years in a milonga before they are a milonguero?

  3. jantango Says:

    I’ll use Miguel Angel Balbi (now 72) as an example. He learned to dance at family gatherings when he was a boy. His uncle (a milonguero) took him to a confiteria on his 14th birthday as his “right of passage” into the milongas although the minimum age was 18. Miguel went regularly downtown to dance because his family lived on Av. Belgrano in the Almagro neighborhood, relatively close to downtown. He was dancing well enough to go to Club Oeste, Salon Agusteo, Salon Italia Unita, Centro Region Leonesa, and Club Almagro (then a club on Gascon) where he watched the milongueros and developed his personal style. He continued dancing every day of the week. When he was about 17, the milongueros told him that he was a milonguero–because he was living the lifestyle of a milonguero. A man doesn’t refer to himself as a milonguero.

    Being a milonguero has nothing to do with the number of years dancing tango; it is a lifestyle. It has to do with knowing the orquestas of the milonga, the singers, the lyrics, and respecting the codes which are passed on verbally. A milonguero can dance well with any woman and never goes accompanied to a milonga. A milonguero eats and breathes tango. It is the lifeblood that flows through his veins.

    It was Miguel Angel Balbi who told me, “it’s called a milonga when there are milongueros present.” A milonga isn’t really a milonga without milongueros. Confiteria, club de barrio, and salon de baile are types of venues called “milongas” by the milongueros where they went to milonguear. The only confiteria today with dancing is Confiteria Ideal, but there are no milongueros as far as I know.

    Thanks for asking the question. This is something that isn’t clear to many, so you gave me the opportunity to explain it for others.

  4. Enrique Madris Says:

    Tengo 76 años, desde chico aprendí en la calle bailando con los del barrio, en prácticas en clubs de barrio. Bailé en todos los lugares mencionados, mas el Social Rivadavia, otro Club en Caballito, el Sportivo Buenos Aires. Además, en esa época, saliamos de trabajar, bailábamos en las confiterías del Centro La Novel, Sans Souci, Picadilly,en Corrientes 1214, y otras. Muchas veces, en dos lugares en el mismo día. Más recientes además del Club Alamgro, en Juvenil, se bailaba bien.
    A partir de la década del 60, el furor se fué apagando, salvo un puñado de milongueros, que dia a dia continuaron con el baile. Por ejemplo en Clubs, y Urquiza, Sin Rumbo, Sunderland, y otros fueron importantes.
    En todo el mundo, y Argentina no es excepción, se produjeron y producen cambios. En nuestro país, el nivel de vida cambió enormemente, como las costumbres, la seguridad….
    Antes ir a bailar, demandaba un cuidado especial en el aspecto el cuidado personal y empilche eran importantes. Hoy se va, así no mas.
    El respeto, se dejó de lado. Los códigos, somos pocos los que los seguimos. Por eso, me refiero a los viejos (de edad), pero nuevos
    milongueros ( seudo-danzarines). (Danzarin, es el baila, baila, es igual Darienzo que Pugliese) Bailarín, es el que siente y trasmite la música a su pareja)
    Concretamente, si no hay milongueros no hay milonga…..
    Se llame como se llame, hay cambios transformaciones en todos los órdenes, y lo mismo ocurre con el baile ¿no llamamos milonga a las actuales, porque no hay milongueros, o quedamos pocos?
    Antes, decir “milonguera” era algo no bien visto, todo cambia. Hoy
    les agrada que las llamen “milongueras”……………
    ¿Que denominación les damos?

    Enrique writes about his personal experiences and mentions the places he went to dance. He says that lots has changed in Argentina. There are very few who respect the codes today. The bold text says: To be exact, if there are no milongueros, there are no milongas.

  5. yabotil Says:

    Thank you for the detailed explanation!

  6. j Says:

    it seems to me from this post and every other post that your definition of a milonguero is someone:
    a) over 70 years old
    b) doesn’t do anything fancy on the dance floor,
    in which case I’m glad not to be a milonguero by your definition.
    But I do have to agree about the raffles and the birthdays and the announcements. Sometimes it gets so long and tedious that the whole energy of the venue (since it’s not a milonga according to you) is completely disrupted.

  7. jantango Says:

    I have never said anywhere that a man has to be over 70 to be considered a milonguero; those milongueros who still dance happen to be older than 68. If this had been the case, Tete would have been a “milonguero” for only the past four years. If you know someone in his teenage years who is going to milongas every night of the week to watch the milongueros and then goes home to practice and develop his own style without attending classes, then he could be a milonguero some day if pronounced as such by another milonguero.

    In the February 2010 issue of La Milonga Argentina magazine, there is an interview with Tete. He was asked, “how do you define a milonguero?” He answered, “to be a milonguero you need years of life. I’ve been dancing for 60 years. A milonguero isn’t just anybody.” As far as I’m concerned, he didn’t answer the question. From what some have told me, Tete danced more rock ‘n’ roll and salsa in the confiterias than tango during the 1950s. My personal experience with Tete is that he didn’t respect the codes. He came to my table to get me to dance with him rather than use the cabeceo. True milongueros never approach a woman’s table to obligate her to dance.

    A milonguero dances simply and musically for himself and his partner. He doesn’t dance for others, so he has no need to impress anyone.

    I am writing from my personal experience in the milongas since March 1996 and from what milongueros like Miguel Angel Balbi have told me first-hand about the way things were in the confiterias downtown in the 1950s. Tourism has changed the environment of the milongas from one of respect for tango to a three-ring circus.

  8. Keiko Says:

    Your final sentence makes me very sad.

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