Once upon a time…
There were no tourists in the milongas, only portenos. All the men wore suits and ties. Women wore dresses. There was respect for the codes, and men did the inviting. You were given a front row table for your excellent dance skills. Men and women wore street shoes for tango.
Today, foreigners are present in most of the milongas, but that wasn’t the case twenty years ago. Men aren’t the only ones wearing pants or doing the inviting. Anything goes these days in the milongas — shorts, sneakers, jeans. Casual dress is more common for men and women. Women change clothing and shoes, pack a bag, comb their hair, touch up their makeup at the table as if no one is watching. All the women wear shoes made for tango. First-time visitors get a front row table on the dance floor and then dance tandas with milongueros without knowing how to dance well or anything about the milonga codes.
A friend and I were discussing change and the evolution of tango. We agree that change is inevitable in life. A dance originates from the music. We listen to the same music from the 1930s and 40s. Personal styles don’t change. Tango is a feeling danced by two. The embrace is basic. The dance is different, and so is the embrace. Today we have “thinking tango” and “feeling tango.” It’s not difficult to tell them apart.
I danced recently with a man from Europe. He moved well with the music, but he lacked the firm embrace I’m used to with portenos. Although he has visited Buenos Aires many times to dance in the milongas and has taken classes with portenos, his embrace was typical for foreigners. He dances tango, but hasn’t integrated the feeling of tango with an embrace. He prefers to use the embrace from his country even when dancing in Buenos Aires. I believe the main reason tango is changing is lack of cultural understanding and commercialism.
An example of tango’s evolution gone awry appeared on the cover of a tango magazine. Two shirtless men with bare legs in high heels was the most shocking cover photo I had ever seen. This style is sold as tango in Buenos Aires and around the world. If men want to dance with men, and women with women, that’s fine; but they show respect for tango as a social dance with codes.