Be quiet

All the chatter is really getting to me.  I go to listen to the music and watch the dancing.  The milonga isn’t a social club, it’s where people go to dance tango.  I may share a table with a friend, but we aren’t engaged in incessant conversation.  Blocking out the chatter is a challenge, something I’ve had to practice so I can enjoy the music.

I had a good view of the floor and the first row of tables from the second row where I sat alone.  There were as many as six women sharing a table.  When they weren’t dancing, they were chattering away.  There is no interest in listening to the music or watching the dancing.  I believe this is one of the major changes in the milonga ambiance.  Over the last 15 year or so, the milongas are more social clubs than a place where people go to enjoy tango.  Newcomers fall right into the social club mode.

One professional is a good example of how things have changed.  She has danced for more than twenty years in the milongas.  She respected the codes and customs of the milonga.  After years going abroad to teach, she gets the star treatment.  Her front and center seat is waiting for her.  She stands on the edge of the floor during a tanda as if she entered a restaurant to meet friends for dinner.  She removes her coat while chatting with other women at the table.  The conversation continued for a half hour.  Then she removed her knee-high boots at the table; the ladies’ room is too inconvenient for her to bother. She has the skills of a contortionist changing into her tango shoes with very little space, while trying not to display her bare legs and feet.  This was taking place a few feet away, and I kept my eyes on the scene.  She never stopped talking either.  Then she sat for an hour without an invitation to dance.

The men listen to the music and watch the dancing.  They reserve their conversation for the women.  That’s why there is no end to the chatter.  The women talk at the table with other women, and then with the men between dances.  There was a moment when I wanted to stand up and shout: be quiet!  Don’t you want to hear the music?

The milonga I attended yesterday had lots of chattering, too.  A friend and I sat between two tables of chatterers who never stopped talking, even during the demonstration by the new senior city tango champions.  After the demonstration, a young woman from the USA sat with us.  The woman next to us interrupted tell us not to talk, so we don’t miss invitations to dance.  Her remarks were amusing, and came across as  “do as I say, not as I do.”

Those who chatter away don’t appreciate what the milonga offers them.  They don’t know what they’re missing.


12 Responses to “Be quiet”

  1. Rianne Says:

    Indeed, but also between songs during a tanda the chattering between men and women goes on for so long that is is hard to hear and appreciate the music.

  2. L. Says:

    The “milongas” of NYC have devolved re: rudeness, code oblivion, pathetic skill, lack of interest in anything actually having to do with dancing tango; dominance by “instructors” and their cliques etc. to the point where it’s all pretty much intolerable for me anymore… the more I hear and read, there’s no real point in blowing the airfare etc. to go to BAs for more of same… seeking argentine tango has apparently become an exercise in futility… not any fun anymore… :>(

  3. jantango Says:

    I hear you. Finding milongas where the codes are respected is a challenge in Buenos Aires. A few hours early in the evening is enough to satisfy me.

  4. Tango Tails Says:

    After some advice from you, Jan, we are going to try to restore the codes. They will be on every table, on the wall, taught in class, and on a folding business card along with all of the dates of the milongas & location. Hopefully, this will have an impact for better milongas. I’ll keep you filled in on the progress. I think it will be a slow & hard hill to climb. I agree, I don’t like to hear all of the chattering when I’m studying the floor and listening to the music. I think that I’m a rare bird these days, though. . .

  5. jantango Says:

    It’s worth a try, and I commend you for your efforts. Keep me posted.

  6. Felicity Says:

    I’m pretty sure I remember Ricardo Vidort saying in a video interview just the opposite – that the milonga is a kind of social club.

    People go to dance, to listen for sure but I liked the warmth there was in the milongas in Buenos Aires and you don’t get that without chat, hellos and embraces. I often don’t dance now. A lot of the good time I have in the milongas near me in Scotland now is having a drink, chatting with friends, listening and watching. I don’t think I’m disrespectful.

  7. jantango Says:

    Yes, Ricardo described the milongas as a kind of social club. Dancing is a social activity. I keep hearing people say, there are no more milongas in Buenos Aires. The milongas are more social than ever. I have some recollection of the milongas from 1996-1998 during my visits. Conversation didn’t overtake the music as it does now in so many milongas. The codes are not respected as they used to be.

    Of course one can speak with others during an evening, but when the entire night is spent chatting away, you could do the same at a bar. Tango deserves more respect than it’s getting these days. It’s treated like background music for dance floor conversation.

  8. Felicity Says:

    Tango Tails: I avoid milongas with written out rules. For me it’d be like going to a dinner party and seeing the host had stuck up a list of all the social niceties on posters round the room!

    I think people pick up these things from other people. Or they don’t, which is useful to see and so the milongas divide along those lines – one group goes to the places that has the environment they like, the other group goes elsewhere. That suits me fine.

    A recent illustration: I asked a couple if they were going to a milonga on Saturday. No, it’s too dark for us, they said. I tried it. Indeed, I lost belongings in the darkness when I left.

    The floor was small and people walked around the edge, getting in the way of dancers. On top of that, there was a often a showy dancer near me which was dangerous and distracting.

    I was in the guide role and my partner was a guy so we were dancing in swapped roles. This is OK in this milonga. If people objected they could go elsewhere. If I knew the host minded, I wouldn’t go.

    Another guy kept weaving into me the ronda. After one knock too many I let go the partner I know well and covered my face with my hands in sheer frustration. Later the guy’s female partner came to us to apologise for him. I felt guilty at betraying that frustration and so embarrassing her. So I don’t know that I’ll go again. I’ll either seek out milongas further away with better floorcraft or just stay home. When people see plainly these things happening why do you need written rules? I think what is most needed is more milongas so people can find what they like, and a host that has a quiet word with the party at fault.

  9. jantango Says:

    I don’t feel that more milongas around the world will change the conditions; the dancers make a milonga. Either they have respect for tango and others, or they do not.

  10. Chris Says:

    Felicity wrote: “For me it’d be like going to a dinner party and seeing the host had stuck up a list of all the social niceties on posters round the room!

    Same here. A “Do this” notice is telling me “People here have to be told to do this, because they aren’t going to do it otherwise.” Unsurprisingly, they usually don’t do it then either.

    If I enter a new milonga and see the tables carrying those ‘flow’ diagrams so beloved of German tango class instructors , I pretty much know what standard of dancing I’m going to find.

  11. Felicity Says:

    I have started to believe that the more you tell people what to do, or what they should do, the less they actually do it. This is a truism known to many parents – not only do they not do it, you render yourself ever more peripheral the more you your kids to do stuff. That isn’t the way IME. Teachers of grown ups on the other hand are able to tell people what to do because they get the “buy-in” by…taking money. The Edinburgh tango festival last year had, no joke, an actual pamphlet of rules and behavioural suggestions on the tables, also with just those diagrams on the back. The floorcraft in contrast was virtually much non-existent. I didn’t go this year.

    Re: more not fewer milongas, this article suggests one maximises happiness when reducing decision making and surrounding oneself with those one likes to be with. By those lights then, more milongas means means more groups of people preferring slightly different things e.g. milongas for people who like rules, milongas for people who like to avoid show dancers, milongas for people who like to be shown to a seat etc!

  12. jantango Says:

    As they say, “Rules are made to be broken” and this is certainly true in the milongas. Those new to social dancing may not know anything about the history to dance etiquette. If they don’t take the opportunity to watch the experiences dancers, they may never learn.

    Those who respect social rules of the milonga will continue doing so, while others do as they please. That’s why conversation on the dance floor takes priority to the detriment of social dancing.

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