Local or foreigner?

Nothing and nobody goes unnoticed in a milonga.  When you’re one who goes every week to a milonga, you notice not only who is there, but who isn’t, and especially any new dancer.

A new dancer arrived a few weeks ago in a milonga.  One tanda after another she danced.  All heads turned to watch and invite her.  This was the case every week.

She dances differently than all the Argentine women who attend every week, so I was certain she is a foreigner.  I met her table companion in the ladies’ room and asked where she is from.  She said, Buenos Aires.  Then I wondered, could her friend be Argentine as well?

After a few weeks of seeing her in the milonga, I was certain she is a European, not only by the way she dances, but also how she dresses.  I was curious so I asked someone who danced with her.  Much to my surprise, he replied, she’s Argentine. 

Where are Argentines learning to dance tango like foreigners?


7 Responses to “Local or foreigner?”

  1. Cos Says:

    I have been following your posts for a while. I am a beginner Tanguero myself. I respect that you write your musings about tango.

    However, I am getting a feeling of the rigidity of social norms-so inherent in Tango through your writing. It reminds me of a colonial superiority mindset where an outsider is always a outsider. This is inherent in Tango as well, in my opinion. I have danced two Milongas in Boston, MA and I feel this everytime I dance.

    The non-inclusivity of Tango will ensure its demise, unless something is changed.

  2. jantango Says:

    If you feel like an outsider in the Boston milongas, it’s up to you to become an insider. That’s what I had to do when I moved to Buenos Aires, knowing a handful of people and not yet speaking the language. Tango dancers are friendly, once you get to know them; otherwise they wouldn’t be attending a social activity. I discovered that among dancers in Buenos Aires who are like family members dancing together for decades.

    There are social norms in any social activity, ballroom dancing included. It takes time to be accepted by others as one of the crowd. A milonga is the same anywhere in the world in that respect.

    The next time you go dancing, talk with the host organizer and ask to be introduced to other dancers. You may need to be the one to break the ice.

    Thanks for commenting. My pet peeve is seeing tango done more as an exhibition dance than a social one. Exhibitions are about the look; social tango is a feeling in the moment. The exhibitions are being performed by so-called salon dancers who never dance socially and work hours on their choreographies. An audience of social dancers gets the wrong idea about tango which is improvised in a milonga.

  3. delmartango Says:

    Since BsAs is an international city I would imagine that its people would be subject to the influences of “foreign” ways of dancing.

    I was wondering if you could expand a bit and let us know in what way she was dancing like a foreigner. On the youtube video you cite that, “She turns her head to the right, closes her eyes, and places her left arm low on a man’s back.” But if she’s dancing social tango, “a feeling in the moment,” like a “native,” what do these externalities in form matter?

    A side note on lexicon…there are many tango clowns that are of Argentine decent and are Argentine nationals. “Dancing like an Argentine” has no credibility in my eyes.

  4. jantango Says:

    When I came to BsAs as a tourist in 1996, foreigners were rare in the milongas and most of them present only during the summer months. That was still the case when I moved here in 1999. Today there are foreigners of all ages who stay a year to study and dance in the milongas. Many live part of the year in BsAs or have moved here permanently. Portenos are accustomed to the foreign dancers, but that has brought about radical changes in the milongas.

    I’m not suggesting everyone should dance the same. The foreign way of dancing is largely influenced by the Argentine teachers who travel abroad and bring their stage/exhibition style instead of a social style with the codes and customs of the milongas. I see exhibition style being passed off as “tango salon” when it’s choreography and inappropriate for the milonga floor. This includes tango nuevo.

    There was a time when the milongas had “pure” dancing. My video of Club Juvenil (2000) is one example of what I mean; just dancing for the pleasure of it. Then the young trendsetters changed things with splayed hands on the man’s back, flying elbows, and heels off the floor, etc. When they taught classes, women copied whatever they did whether it was good or not.

    You and your partner danced in Lo de Celia Tango Club during your visit where 99% of the women look over the man’s shoulder, embrace him around his shoulder, with no splayed hand, etc. It’s a good indication of a foreigner when a woman has her arm diagonally across the man’s back with her hand splayed in the center and her elbow raised. That seems to be the last fashion among foreigners and young Argentines. I don’t think they realize how strange it appears, and men have told me they don’t like the feel of it.

    I expected this topic would have comments, and I welcome them. I agree that dancing like an Argentine is not necessarily a high standard. Many dance terribly and have no clue. However, there are milongueros who don’t look like much on the outside, but have great feeling for the music. I question those who make the dance everything to show to others with nothing to give from within. There are many professionals in that category who do damage to tango as a social dance for the sake of earning a living.

  5. Aurora Says:

    I agree with you on the fact that she dances differently than other milongueras. However I would rather say she dances like a foreigner not as opposed to an argentine, but as opposed to a milonguera (and to that extent I agree with Delmartango, Hi to you too by the way).
    It’s really hard to tell from the outside of the abrazo if she’s really a milonguera. I can see from the video (so, the outside of the abrazo) that she has a great care for the visible part of her dancing. It is not a problem for a milonguera because she masters the abrazo, but foreigners (as opposed to milongueros) often don’t focus on mastering the abrazo before adding a good visual “finish”.
    I’d like to know what the milongueros she danced with, tell about her abrazo.
    About the fact that she learned to dance tango in Buenos Aires, more like a non milonguera than like a milonguera, I think that the commercial part of tango has taken such a room that it smothers all non commercial parts of tango. Milonguero dancing is one of them, it’s being smothered by exhibition tango. Exhibition tango focuses on adornos or foot positions which are beautiful but not the essence of tango. However, touching the essence of tango demands rather a lot of personal practice than a lot of classes. Around me, I observe that people learning tango focus more on receiving a knowledge than welcoming the feeling of tango milonguero. Maybe learners expect more to receive a knowledge than to turn toward themselves and search for a feeling. It’s another kind of experience, to me it’s a more active learning. It implies you’re responsible of your mistakes. It also implies that you may find inspiration in other people’s dance, but the goal isn’t to reach an ideal tango paradise that every good dancer has reached. It’s a personal path. It’s a hard path, so worth it!

  6. delmartango Says:

    Jan, I suppose I quibble mostly with your choice of words. I think you and I are mostly in agreement about ideology.


    Foot positions are not just about beauty or exhibitionism. They are part of the the techniques that underpin your ability to maintain that feeling of tango. Its very easy to maintain that feeling if you hug each other while swaying in place or shuffle around the floor. But if you want to move with grace, elegance, and connection you need foot positions. Don’t hate on good technique.

  7. Aurora Says:

    Hi again!
    Delmar tango, I consider that technique is important, however, to me it’s a means to enjoy the embrace and the feeling (the goal I aim at in tango). Another important point is how I work my technique : I may work on it through classes and through experience (listening to the music, dancing with my partner and dancing in the milongas). Don’t hate on good practice 😉
    I don’t think it’s easy to maintain the feeling in tango, even just walking in the music. When you master this point, another extremely important step is to find fulfilment by attaining it, to enjoy it. You say, foot positions “are part of the the techniques that underpin your ability to maintain that feeling of tango”. It’s not one of my goals in tango to prove to me or others that I can maintain the feeling by adding difficulties. I don’t want to attain perfection, I want to enjoy living the moment. As technique is a tool I can use to attain this goal, I want to improve. As I said, to me technique is a means. That’s interesting to put into question that part of my tango, thanks for the post and the comments 🙂

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