Were there milongas in 1943?


I received this page of a Buenos Aires newspaper April 17, 1943, with the comment — the word “milonga” is not mentioned — from a reader in India.

First, I tried imagining what it was like in those days when one opened the newspaper and read the list of tango orquestas appearing that Saturday night in the clubs.  Miguel Angel Balbi showed me newspapers from the 1940s years ago, so I am familiar with the advertising.  Was it a difficult deciding where to go?  How did people choose one among the list of orquestas in the Golden Age of tango? The page features the top nine orquestas of the Golden Age, missing only Pugliese to complete the top ten.

Based on my conversations with several milongueros viejos, the reason that “milonga” isn’t mentioned in the advertisements is because these dances with orquestas were held in neighborhood clubs on Saturday.  The “milongas” started around 1948 in nine confiterias bailables downtown with recorded music every day of the week.  The milongueros didn’t like the competition from the singers on stage who distracted the women from dancing.  The women focused on dancing with the milongueros when Raul Beron or Roberto Chanel weren’t around.  Hence the dances in the downtown confiterias were known as milongas where milongueros went to milonguear.  The confiterias bailables were small venues where the dancing changed.

With computer assistance, I enlarged the page to read the details in the ads.

Miguel Calo played in Asoc. S. F. Apolo at Boulogne sur Mer 547 (El Once).  The location is now the IFT Theater, a venue for alternative theater productions.

Juan D’Arienzo was announced to play on Sunday with L’Orchestre Lewis Varona (mambo) at Club Atletico Independiente, Av. Mitre 450, Avellaneda, from 19-23,30 hs. Entrada was 2 pesos.

Angel D’Agostino played at Racing Club, Av. Mitre 934, Avellaneda from 22-4 hs.  Male members paid 1.50, women paid 50 centavos; male nonmembers 5 pesos, female nonmembers 1 peso.

Anibal Troilo with singers Francisco Fiorentino and Alberto Marino, plus a jazz orchestra, were at Club Atletico Velez Sarsfield, Rivadavia 7855-67, in Liniers.  There were limited streetcar lines in those days and few buses, so people had to rely on a friend with a car for transportation. Ladies paid 50 centavos to enter.  Liniers is near the city limit.

Pedro Laurenz with Alberto Podesta performed downtown at Ocean Dancing at 25 de Mayo 279 that had another entrance on L. H. Alem, from 22-1 hs.

Ricardo Tanturi kept two groups of musicians working.  One played at Tribu Social Club at Sarmiento 1374 and another with Alberto Castillo plus a jazz orchestra in Circulo General Urquiza, F. D. Roosevelt 5345, a neighborhood sports club.

Lucio Demare was the headliner at Palermo Palace, Godoy Cruz and Santa Fe in Palermo, where men paid one peso and women entered free.

Carlos Di Sarli with Roberto Rufino appeared at Club Boca Juniors, Brandsen 805, Boca, from 22-4 hs.  This would have been my choice, even if I had to walk there.

Rodolfo Biaggi and two singers were at Club Miraflores at Boyacá 652, Flores, alternating sets with a jazz band from 22 hs.  Entrada was 2 pesos for men, 50 centavos for women.

7 Responses to “Were there milongas in 1943?”

  1. R. Bononno Says:

    Amazing. Thanks so much for posting this.

  2. Chris Says:

    That’s the most interesting internet post I have seen about tango ever! Thanks Janis.

  3. jantango Says:

    The Dictionary of Argentine Speech (Academica Argentina de Letras, 2003) cites texts and dates for words. It cites several definitions of “milonga” including the colloquial usage: place or reunion for dance. C. Gorostiza, El Puente (a theatrical work) (1949) “Anoche que hicieron? Fuimos a la milonga.” [What did you do last night? We went to the milonga.]

    There are many tango lyrics composed in the 20s and 30s that contain reference to “milonga” — La vida es una milonga.
    The use of “milonguero” is cited as early as 1910. Neither “milonga” or “milonguero” were spoken by proper society, only the men who went daily to milonguear. There was censorship from 1943-1946 when General Juan Peron was president, and lyrics had to be changed to eliminate lunfardo. The word “milonguero” wasn’t allowed.

    A dance at a neighborhood club salon on a Saturday night with live orchestra on stage for couples was another world from the tiny venues in the heart of the city every day of the week with a variety of recorded music for single men and women. Couples went to dances together, and milongueros always went alone to the milongas downtown.

    Today, tango dances in any type of venue (even outdoors) are referred to as milongas. The word has an improved status and meaning.

  4. Michael Krugman Says:

    The photo shown above is taken from my blog at TangoDecoder.com. I shot it in the Hemeroteca of the National Library of Argentina. Thanks, Jan for giving me the opportunity to identify my work and my research. I have studied the newspaper ads for Buenos Aires dances for the years 1940-46 and I have never seen the word milonga used to describe a place of dancing during those years. They used the words baile, velada (late-night dance), soiree (early-evening dance), and “dancing” during those years.

    It is true that certain songs of the Golden Age (1935-55) use the word milonga to refer to a place of dancing, but I believe that in those cases it is almost always meant as a evocation of the dances of an earlier era, an era in which the word milonga was still current. The example that comes to mind is SOY MUCHACHO DE LA GUARDIA, in which the narrator declares his allegiance to the “old guard” of tango, back when the dancers weren’t afraid to dance on cobblestones. He calls the place of dancing a milonga, but it’s clear that he means to evoke the dances of an earlier era (c. 1920-35), not the present time when the song was written (1942). My study of the song is at: http://www.tangodecoder.com/2014/09/soy-muchacho-de-la-guardia-not-afraid-of-the-cobblestones-.html

    I recently asked Osvaldo Natucci about the word milonga as a place of dancing, and he said that originally, the African word tango meant a place of dancing, and the milonga was the dance itself. Later, the two words exchanged meanings, and the tango was a dance and the milonga was anyplace one went in order to dance. But somewhere around 1935, the latter term lapsed into disuse, he says. And he says it wasn’t revived until the tango revival in the 1980s. Natucci knows a lot, but he doesn’t know everything, and he was only a child in 1948. I am sure that your informants, Jan, know whereof they speak, and I am sure that when I get to examine the newspaper ads for that time, I will find references to the confiteria bailables and the milongas held there! PS: It’s true that the word “milonga,” like the word “cabaret” and many others, was banned by the military government in 1943 along with all Lunfardo words and many other expressions that didn’t conform to the ruling elite’s concept of correct Spanish. (I am working in obtaining a copy of the “Law of Good Speech,” which is the proclamation of 4 June 1943 that began the era of formal censorship.) However, the disuse of the word milonga (as a place of dancing) seems to have begun some years earlier, and is therefore probably not a direct result of censorship.

    So the short answer to your question is, yes, there were “milongas” in 1943. But they were not CALLED milongas!

    un abrazo milonguero
    Michael Krugman

  5. jantango Says:

    If it wasn’t for your dedicated research at the library, we wouldn’t know about all those gems you have discovered and share on Tango Decoder.

  6. Chris Says:

    Thanks for that, Michael.

    “They used the words baile, velada (late-night dance), soiree (early-evening dance), and “dancing” during those years.”

    The English word dancing?

  7. jantango Says:

    Yes, the word “dancing” was used.

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