Where are all the dancers?

If you go to any milonga in Buenos Aires, you probably won’t find a capacity crowd.  Porteños are finding these inflationary times difficult.  They are going out fewer nights each week than they once did, that’s for certain.  The only ones who can go out several nights a week are those who don’t pay the entrada or have an excellent income.

I struck up a conversation with a woman at the table last Friday night in Gricel.  She told me that she takes a taxi to and from the milonga, pays the 20-peso entrada, and buys an obligatory drink.  She added that she went to Niño Bien the night before which is usually packed with foreigners.  It had a lighter attendance than normal.  I asked what she thought was the reason.  “All the foreigners came in August for the festival and world tango championship.  Tourism is down and the milongas are empty.”

Later my friend Lucia arrived to join me in Gricel.  She takes taxis to and from the milongas; that’s 30 to 40 pesos, plus the 20-peso entrada and a drink.  She can easily spend 70 pesos a night.  If she doesn’t dance, it is a total waste of time and money for her.  She can no longer afford to go dance several times a week; once a week is all she can afford.  She accepted invitations from anyone who passed by the table so she could get to dance.  During three hours, she danced less than usual.  The milonga was dying down at 3:00–the time many waited to begin dancing.

A friend told me she had come from another milonga where there were no more than a handful of dancers.  She wanted to dance, so she and another woman arrived late where I danced four tandas the previous hour.  That was more dancing than I’ve had at other milongas.

I consider myself fortunate in that I can walk to my favorite milongas.  When taxi fares rose a few years ago, I decided I would walk to and from the milongas or take a bus, no matter what time of year or hour.  It became my 20-minute warmup for dancing.  Taxi fares increased another 26% this week.  Bus fares in Buenos Aires continue to be the lowest in South America.

Here is a comparison of prices ten years ago and what they are today.  Take into consideration that ten years ago, the peso was equal to the dollar.  Today the dollar is worth four pesos.

  • Buenos Aires Herald newspaper: 1.00 – 5.00AP
  • bus ride:  .70 centavos – 1.20/1.25
  • subway:  .70 centavos – 1.10
  • haircut: 12.00 – 39.00
  • half-dozen eggs: .89 – 4.39
  • loaf of bread: 2.75 – 10.09
  • milonga entrada: 4.00/5.00  – 20.00
  • bottled water at a milonga:  $2.00 – 7.00
  • temporary furnished apartment rental per month for foreigners: $700  – $950
  • Buquebus fast boat to Colonia  $74.00 – 254.00
  • Dial-up internet service $25/month; Broadband service 112/month

Most milongas are charging 20 pesos.  Lo de Celia entradas went from 15 to 20 pesos this month for Friday and Sunday.  That’s a 33% increase, but Celia has kept her prices lower than other milongas for a long time.  Every milonga organizer is feeling a financial pinch.  When I stopped to think about it, I’m paying about the same entrada now as I did ten years ago.  In 2000, the entrada at Gricel was five pesos/five dollars; today it is 20 pesos/five dollars.  When the peso was devalued in 2001, everything was less for those with dollars to spend.  I can relate to porteños living on retirement, because I’m in the same boat.  You’ll see fewer dancers at the end of the month in the milongas.  That’s because they would rather eat than dance.

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