Inflation in the milongas

Argentina is used to inflation.  It has had inflation as high as 1,200%.  It was about 25% last year, and going strong again this year.  It’s hard not to notice that inflation is steady and affects everyone and everything.  The milongas are not immune to it.

A few years ago, one didn’t have to consider the cost of attending one or two milongas each day and every day.  Entradas were only three pesos, and the same for drinks.  Taking a taxi was common.

I traveled to Buenos Aires in 1996 when the peso was equal to the dollar.  It was not an inexpensive trip by any means, but I was here for only a few weeks to dance in the milongas.  I recall one of the most expensive milongas was above Confiteria Molino, at the corner of Rivadavia and Callao.  It was a beautiful salon where the finest went to dance on Thursday night.  I asked the price of the entrada at the door and was told $16 dollars–but at least that was for the two of us.  At that time most milongas were charging three or four pesos (dollars). 

Then came the devaluation of the peso in 2002 and suddenly the entradas were nothing for foreigners.  The locals were still going several times to dance each week when it cost four or five pesos to dance and a few more for a drink.  Organizers began charging two different prices–one for locals who attended regularly, and other for foreigners who attended while vacationing.  This did not go over well with foreigners who cried discrimination.

Brochures for the Campeonato Metropolitano included the price of entrada for each milonga participating in the qualifying rounds.  In 2004, they were from one to five pesos.

The milonga organizers increase the entrada prices every year.  A few weeks ago I was shocked to hear that most entradas are now 20 pesos.  I had never paid that much before; my regular milonga charges fifteen pesos.  I have been walking the ten blocks ever since taxi rates were raised.  At least I can walk there; so many dancers need to take a taxi or long ride by bus to the milongas.  In addition to the entrada, one is expected to order something from the bar–water, coffee, etc.  Then there is the cost of the coat check (two pesos), ladies’ room attendant (another two pesos), and tipping the waiter (at least a peso).  Bottled water is seven pesos in most milongas–the drink of choice among most dancers.  If I have curtailed my milonga attendance for economic reasons, it is easy to understand why the locals have done the same.  A daily visit to a milonga can cost 30-50 pesos; going seven days a week is expensive for most porteños.  Those living on a small retirement have to choose between eating or dancing.

The price of tango dancing has hit the local dancers the hardest.  They simply cannot afford to go out every day of the week.  I saw the reality of the situation last week at Porteño y Bailarin where there were no more than twenty-five people.  Needless to say, the floor was never crowded.  Another night when it rained cats and dogs and I got drenched, there was a very small turnout at Club Fulgor in Villa Crespo.  The locals stayed home because of the rain for certain.  I know it wasn’t because of the ten-peso entrada–probably the lowest one in the city.

There are several things happening to contribute to the change in the milongas.  Foreigners often outnumber the local dancers at some places.  Dancers are getting older and going out fewer times each week.  Locals are getting tired of the way things have changed and stay home instead.  Many are not able to dance anymore because of health problems.  The cost of clothing and shoes has skyrocketed.  For the most part, dancers want to dress well.

The milongas are changing before our eyes.  We see it happening, and there is nothing anyone can do about it.  There is no respect on the floor.  There is no more respect for the codes.  There was a time when everyone dressed to go to the milonga in their finest.  An elegant dance requires elegant clothing–bien empilchado! as the milongueros would say.  The appearance of sneakers and baggy pants doesn’t pay respect to the tango in a public dance. 

Tango friends wanted to dance to an orchestra, so we went to Confiteria Ideal on a Saturday night.  I inquired in advance about the entrada when making our reservation.  The attendance is mainly couples who spend 56 pesos for two to dance in this charming place to an orchestra.  I read recently that Sunderland Club in Villa Urquiza charges 25 pesos entrada.

Inflation has several definitions, another is: lack of elegance as a consequence of being pompous and puffed up with vanity.  That is another type of inflation that is occurring in the milongas of Buenos Aires.  It reminds me of one dancer in particular who is at the head of a movement with followers who want to dissect tango rather than feel it.  Tango needs more who want to feel it than those who want analyze it.  After all, tango is a feeling that is danced.


bien empilchado: (lunfardo) well dressed.

5 Responses to “Inflation in the milongas”

  1. Kerstin Gaertner Says:

    Muy informativo!

  2. yabotil Says:

    Thanks for the post. This is disappointing – I’ve yet to visit BA but the more I read, the more I feel like I’ve already missed my time and I’ll only be dancing with other tourists …

  3. jantango Says:

    It is important to visit Buenos Aires for an immersion in the culture of tango and see the places that inspired the poets. There is a history in the city that you find no where else in the world. It is important to know it personally if you love tango.

  4. jaky Says:

    What makes me sad about all you say about the milongas is the fact that the local people cannot afford anymore the price of the milongas… tango is for the people, if there is no people, there is no tango… the tourists also need these people.
    I visited BsAs only once in 2005 and I still remember it because of the encounter with the local people. I don’t go there to meet the people of Toronto or Vancouver.
    Anyway, thank you for all your posts… very interesting.

  5. tangobob Says:

    That night in Villa Crespo was unusual, normally the $10 entrada ensures that the place is full, only a group of five (mainly) foreigners would go out in such weather.
    Fortunately tourists are rare in the barrios, and they still dress to impress, jeans and baggy pants are still mainly the reserve of visitors.

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