Miguel Angel Balbi

November 29, 1937 —

My notes from our conversation on September 10, 2000.

The milongas of the 1950s had recorded music of tangos alternating with latin and jazz music.  The deejay planned four tangos, four rumbas, four tangos, four foxtrots or jazz, four tangos, salsa, tangos, valses, tangos, milongas, etc.  Milongueros stopped going to the milongas in the 1970s because the musical format changed to what is more common in the milongas today: two tandas of tango, vals, two tandas of tango, milonga, etc. with only an occasional tropical or jazz/rock ‘n’ roll tanda.

Miguel Angel went to the milongas seven nights a week from 1952 until he married in 1962.  His regular schedule was:

Monday – Mi Club, Suipacha 586

Tuesday – Confiteria Sans Souci, Corrientes 955

Wednesday – Confiteria Domino, Lavalle and Esmeralda

Thursday – Club Oeste, Alberdi and José Maria Moreno (Caballito)

Friday – Club Almagro, Gascón and Corrientes

Saturday – Juventud del Belgrano, Virrey Aviles 3153 (Belgrano R)

Sunday – Club Social y Deportivo Buenos Aires, H. Puerreydon y Gaona

During the reign of the military, lunfardo was not permitted.  The milongas continued, but tangos with lunfardo weren’t permitted for dancing.  Tango with lyrics in lunfardo were not recorded.  If a club played music with lunfardo, it ran the risk of being closed.  There were municipal inspectors who would do random inspections at milongas.  If they heard music with lunfardo, the place closed.  The government initiated this measure as respect for the language and raising the level of life in the city.  Miguel said that even the word “milonguero” was not permitted.  This term has been around since the late 1940s in the milongas.  This ban on lunfardo was not a problem for milongueros at the city confiterias because their favorite orchestras — Anibal Troilo, Ricardo Tanturi, Miguel Calo, Carlos Di Sarli, Angel D’Agostino — didn’t record songs with lunfardo lyrics.  The orchestras of the barrios Juan D’Arienzo, Francisco Canaro, Roberto Firpo, Rodolfo Biaggi.  The orchestras of the cabarets were Osvaldo Fresedo, Lucio Demare, and Julio DeCaro.

The two most important elements of a successful milongas are excellent music and a square floor like Salon Canning.  The milongas today have bad music, bad floors, bad dancers, and lots of bumping and kicking.  There are dozens of milongas in Buenos Aires today, and none of them as good in his opinion.

The music of the tanda has to be of the same style and compas.  Often DJs play music of one orchestra from different years.  There is tango for the milonga, tango for dancing, and tango for listening.  A DJ has to know the difference.

In the 1950s, milongueros went to the same place every week on a certain night because the music was always different.  There are 5,000 tangos for the milongas, but the milongas today in Buenos Aires have the same music every week.  A milonguero wants to hear different music each time he goes to a milonga.  He knows the music after listening for so many years.

Miguel Angel feels that a disk jockey should study the music of the milongueros and have a good choice of rumba, jazz, Foxtrot, salsa, not just tango.  The milongas should have different music each night.  The disk jockey should watch the floor for help in mixing the music.  When someone asks for a particular orchestra or tango, he should try to fit it into the program he has planned for the evening.  He should also watch the dancers and ask himself why isn’t so-and-so dancing?  And find out why not.

A milonguero takes pride in the way he looks and always dresses elegantly.  He has a reserved table at the milongas.  He often waits an hour before dancing.  He watches the floor for someone who dances well.  He also enjoys watching good dancers.  He never has to move his head to invite a woman to dance; he simply makes eye contact with her and moves his lips as if to say, “Bailamos!” because women in the room are patiently waiting to dance with him.  He won’t stretch his neck or leave his table to ask a woman to dance.  He knows that there are women waiting to dance with him.  He doesn’t dance every tanda.  He patiently waits for music which inspires him to dance.  He doesn’t dance for the sake of exercise or meeting women.  He may dance only once a night, but that is enough for him.  If nobody dances well in a new milonga, a milonguero will leave and go to another.  A milonguero takes care of his appearance and has a wardrobe of suits, shirts, ties, and good shoes.  When it’s 40 degrees in the summer, he still wears a suit to the milongas.

Miguel Angel learned tango from his four uncles who were milongueros (they never married) and took him to the milongas when he was 15.  He began singing tango at home from the age of 6.  His uncle would put him on a table to sing.  He developed his own personal style.  Today, people have a tango style imposed on them and not the freedom to choose how they want to dance.  New dancers today lack individuality in their dancing.

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4 Responses to “Miguel Angel Balbi”

  1. Ricardo Says:

    Thanks fot this great clip. I cannot imagine a more pure, elegant and authentic way of tango dancing. Mr. Balbi is one perfect example of sophisticated minimalism.

  2. Michael Lavocah Says:

    Fascinating and valuable information, Jan. Have you been fortunate enough to hear from any milongueros/milongueras what milongas were like in the early 1940s? I’d especially be interested to know how the music was structured, whether live or otherwise; the brief information from Miguel Angel Balbi above regarding the 50s milongas is a real eye-opener
    Warm wishes from England

  3. jantango Says:

    See https://jantango.wordpress.com/2009/02/01/golden-age-of-the-milongas/

  4. Chris Says:

    Milongueros stopped going to the milongas in the 1970s because the musical format changed to what is more common in the milongas today

    What an odd claim. Many milongueros from the 1970s are going to the milongas today. Surely what stopped them in the 1970s was the dirty war – long since passed, today.

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