Archive for the ‘Milongas’ Category

Social distancing

May 4, 2020

The new social behavior, forced upon us during the pandemic, is the antithesis of social behavior for tango.  This new normal is strange for portenos who are accustomed to closeness, not distance.

In a way, I’m glad that I was no longer dancing tango this year.  My visits to the milongas ended in 2018, after 20 years.  I found other activities to replace my milonga routine.

Elba Pateiro called me last week to see how I’m doing during the quarantine.  I told her that I’m fine and get out for exercise on my building terrace on sunny days.  She hasn’t left her apartment in weeks.  Her partner of 17 years was a milonguero, who passed a year ago.  She misses going dancing, even without him.  Her solution is listening to tango radio all day long and dancing alone in her apartment.  She dances her tango from the heart, wherever the music takes her.  This is how she manages the social distancing and quarantine alone at home.  She feels that the milongas will not reopen, and social tango is gone forever in Buenos Aires.  We don’t know the future, but I tend to agree with her.  I always said that when the milongueros are all gone, there won’t be anymore social tango in Buenos Aires.  We didn’t know that a pandemic would change everything.

Jorge DeGouvea called me today to see how I’m doing.  He’s been in his apartment for 49 days.  All he does is eat, sleep, play cards, and watch television.  I could tell by his voice that he is stressed during the quarantine.  A milonguero lives to dance tango.  Jorge has nothing else to do.  It’s not easy to accept the possibility that he may never dance tango again.  The milongas were his social life and exercise routine.  I told him about Elba and suggested he do the same.  Listening to tango will bring him joy.  He needs exercise that will help him reduce stress.  Even if he doesn’t feel like dancing, I know that listening to his favorite orquesta Juan D’Arienzo with Alberto Echague will make him sing along. That will take care of stress.

Both of them are 85.

Zero Milongas in Buenos Aires

March 18, 2020

Months ago I decided I would compare the number of milongas in March 2000 with those in March 2020.  I posted the March 2000 list three years ago.  I certainly never thought I’d be comparing the old list with zero milongas today.  But that is a fact.  The milongas listed on are cancelled until further notice.  Organizers met and decided that closure was the right decision during the pandemic of Coronavirus which has reached Argentina.

The city government has closed all concert venues, museums, and schools, so it is necessary for the milongas to stay closed as well where so many seniors are at risk.  Tango is a close contact sport and an easy opportunity for passing the virus.  I understand that Italian tourists were dancing in the milongas this month.  The virus  has changed life as we knew it on the planet.  It’s a wake-up call that we must hear.

There are 138 milongas on the March 2000 list above.  I referred to Hoy-Milonga to determine there are 118 milongas in the capital federal, not including the provincial milongas or practicas.  I have to admit this is more than I expected.  A few years ago there were around 75, seriously low for Buenos Aires.  What is also amazing is that many of the milonga venues in 2000 are still operating in 2020: Salon Canning, Club Armenia, Salon Rodriguez, Salon El Pial, Club Gricel, Salon Marabu, Salon Region Leonesa, Club Pedro Echague, Club Glorias Argentinas, and Club Fulgor de Villa Crespo.  All the venues were built as social venues for dancing, so tango continues in them.

In March 2000, a weekend had 96 milongas, versus only 52 today.

Were there milongas in 1943?

January 11, 2020


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.

Salon La Argentina

January 9, 2020

While checking recent posts on Facebook, I discovered an  announcement of a new milonga opening next month in one of the oldest dance venues in Buenos Aires.  Seven years ago I had a peek inside Palacio Rodriguez Pena to see the beautiful dance salon.

At a time when tango venues in the city are closing or being turned into a health club like Nuevo Salon La Argentina was (isn’t a milonga also a health club?), it’s incredible that Salon La Argentina will host a weekly milonga after decades without public social dances.  I wish the organizers much success in their endeavor.  During the 1950s, La Argentina was on the list of venues for the 18-35 year olds, who frequented the confiterias bailables along Corrientes from Avenida Callao to Avenida Florida.

Salon La Argentina in the early days

Tango BA Festival

August 15, 2019

The annual tango festival is underway this month, culminating with the world tango championships at Luna Park on August 21.  Tango enthusiasts from around the world descend upon Buenos Aires for classes, concerts, talks, movies, and the competitions.

One of the many open milongas during Tango BA 2019

A view of the Salon Mayor at Usina del Arte in La Boca where there were daily milongas.

I checked the Tango BA site for the program and found lots of concerts by tango orchestras.  There are more of them this month at Usina del Arte and Centro Cultural Kirchner that the rest of the year.

Orquesta Tipica de Ernesto Franco, bandoneonist of the Orquesta de Juan D’Arienzo.

Sexteto Mayor (ensemble for Tango Argentino that traveled the world in the 1980s), Quinteto Real (formed by the late Horacio Salgan, now led by his son), Color Tango celebrating 30 years, José Colángelo, the last pianist with Anibal Troilo’s orchestra, and Ernesto Franco and his orchestra, the 90 year old bandoneonista who played in Juan D’Arienzo’s orchestra, are only a few of the those on the festival program.

Jose Conangelo (last pianist with the Orquesta Anibal Troilo) and his quartet along with the Franco Luciani (harmonica) trio for the final concert of the Festival 2019 at Usina del Arte.

I haven’t gone to dance at a milonga in a year, but I went yesterday to one held by the festival in the Abasto shopping mall, near the home when Carlos Gardel lived with his mother.  The milonga was advertised on the site:  At the Patio del Zorzal, Gladys and Oscar Zalazar will conduct a dance class for all levels; then there will be an Open Milonga with recorded music spun by DJ Andrés Valenzuela, followed by a dance exhibition featuring Jesús Velázquez and Natacha Poberaj.

An area on the first level of Abasto was set aside for the milonga with chairs and tables around it.  The Zalazars invited people to participate in their class.  A foreign visitor and I decided to have coffee and talk instead of watching it.  When we returned, the milonga floor was full of dancers of all dance levels.

There was no word in the promotion that this milonga was “contemporary tango” music, which I learned much later from a person in charge.  It was easy to see that many were trying to dance because they came to dance, not because they were inspired by the music.  Plain and simple: the recorded music was horrible.

I started talking to seniors on the sidelines about the music.  They all agreed with me.  They wanted to hear tango music for dancing, not contemporary tango for exhibition.  When I had the opportunity to talk with the person in charge, I asked him why the DJ wasn’t playing dance music that the people wanted to hear.  He said this was organized as a milonga with contemporary tango, whatever that means.  Why? Did they expect to draw a younger crowd?  The majority of the dancers were over 60.  Many sat out in protest.  I asked one couple on the floor if they liked the music.  They replied, no.  So why are you dancing?  They immediately walked off the floor. More should have done so.  It would have sent a strong message that this is not the kind of music real tango enthusiasts want for dancing.

I recall a story Alito shared with me years ago.  He said, “in my era, if the DJ played DiAngeles or any orchestra not for the milongas, he could be taken out to the street and shot.”  That’s how demanding the milongueros were about the music.  If they didn’t like the tanda, they did not dance.  It was a strong message to the DJ that he had to play the music they wanted or else the floor was empty.

If the music presented for dancing doesn’t have a strict tempo, it’s not for dancing.  The milongas in Buenos Aires that offer this kind of quasi-tango, the level of dancing will suffer.  Dancers need and require the best tango music available.  The music of the golden age of tango is available everywhere in the world.  There is no reason not to provide it for dancers everywhere.

D’Arienzo, Troilo, Calo, Di Sarli, and other orchestra recordings will never go out of style.  These recordings endure for one reason: it’s great music for dancing.  Substituting inferior music that attempts to compete with the greats will only bring on the demise of tango and the milongas.   Any DJ that avoids and rejects the golden age music has no respect for tango.  It’s only a job.

Sexual misconduct at the milonga

July 30, 2019

“What we are witnessing at the moment is nothing short of an uprising of women against sexual assault. They are revealing its epidemic frequency in our society and all the ways in which it is enabled by a culture of silence.” 

Laila Lalami, The Nation

I wrote in this post about sexual misconduct in the milongas, but I failed to use those words.  I began writing this post in 2017.  It hasn’t been easy for me, but all the media attention focused on sexual misconduct has helped.  This has been a big wake-up call.

I’ve experienced sexual misconduct in many ways for many years in the milongas.  The problem was I didn’t react appropriately when it happened; I just laughed about it and excused the behavior in my mind as no harm done.  I’ve joined others at #MeToo by speaking out here.

There are so many terms for things we didn’t want to talk about and if we did, we women took the blame:

  • Sexual misconduct includes sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual abuse, and any conduct of a sexual nature that is without consent, or has the effect of threatening or intimidating the person against whom such conduct is directed.
  • Sexual assault occurs when someone touches any part of another person’s body in a sexual way, even through clothes, without that person’s consent.

Sexual assault goes on in the milongas of Buenos Aires.  Of course, there are men who act appropriately, but some who take advantage of being intimate in the embrace with a woman for only ten minutes, even in a public place.

It’s time for me to write about this from personal experience.

We know that tango is a dance of intimacy unlike any other.  Inappropriate touching and sexual comments are common.  Workplaces have rules about sexual harassment, but there is nothing written about appropriate conduct at the milonga.  Sexual misconduct in the milonga is public.  Very few women talk about it.  They know if they don’t accept an invitation for “coffee” (a euphemism for sexual relations), future invitations to dance won’t happen.

There is a general acceptance of that type of behavior.  I know.  I’ve accepted it for years.  I had my butt patted as I returned to my table.  I had unwanted tongues in my ear while dancing.  A kiss on my neck is not how I want to end the tanda, but my laughing response was only encouragement.  Saying “no” in the moment is the only way to change the culture of the milongas where some men expect women are ready for a sexual encounter after dancing with them.

Too many of us tell ourselves, “it wasn’t that bad.”  The truth is it’s all unacceptable.

A milonguero told me: I touched her breast with my hand when we danced, and she didn’t say anything.  In his mind, the woman likes what he’s doing to her without her consent.  I doubt it.  She’s in his embrace in a public dance.  What can she do?  Push him away and tell him to stop?  That’s long overdue, but she remains silent like a good little girl, and let’s him have his cheap thrill while she hopes that no one notices.  Ladies, what do you say or do in these situations?

I spoke my truth as I was leaving a milonga.  I had the courage to say “no!” to a milonguero who turns on his seductive behavior when greeting women. I avoided him for weeks.  He approached me, and I offered my cheek for the customary cheek-to-cheek air kiss, but he went further by sucking my earlobe!  I looked him straight in the eyes and said “NO MAS.”  He smiled as though he didn’t believe me, so I said it several times for him to understand that I didn’t like his unwanted sexual advance.  We’ve danced only a few times and have no contact outside of the milonga.

Recommended reading:

Tourism keeps the milongas open

March 6, 2019

Jorge de Gouvea and I stay in touch by telephone since I no longer go to dance.  He told me that he went to Lujos in El Beso where the entrada is 200 pesos (about $5 for tourists).  Jorge enters free wherever he goes to dance.  Frankly, organizers should pay him to show up and dance with foreign women.  He dances with them anyway.  There are very few remaining gems like Jorge in the milongas.

Jorge said that the foreigners are the ones keeping the milongas open in Buenos Aires.  That’s the truth.  He heard there were 155 at Lujos, 96 of whom were foreigners.  They outnumber the locals at some milongas, and the milongas can’t survive without them.

I remember when the tourist season was November through February many years ago.  Now the tourism is no longer limited to one season, which helps the milongas.

That was quick

February 15, 2019

I saw a sign on the street today announcing the opening of Smart Fit Congreso on Bartlome Mitre 1759, so I went to check it out for myself.  I wrote about the demolition of Nuevo Salon La Argentina in December, and its conversion to a gymnasium.

Smart Fit, a Brazilian company, opened its first site in Argentina on February 9th, two blocks from the national congress.  What was once a spacious dance salon with stage was quickly turned into a modern fitness facility with wall-to-wall machines.  The place is open from six in the morning until eleven at night.  I noticed only a handful of people on the premises today at 7:00.  Membership is $800AP per month.

My next investigation will be Club Gricel on La Rioja.  Yes, it is another milonga venue that has permanently closed its doors, and all the milonga organizers found new places.  I’d like to know what plans Hector Chidichimo has for the place.  Stay tuned.

Members of the family

January 19, 2019

I was out grocery shopping this afternoon.  While on my way back home, I saw Olga and Mario Cozza walking in the opposite direction.  I haven’t seen Olga for years.  She stopped working in the coat room at Lo de Celia because of health problems.  Mario continued a bit longer, but finally retired.  I was so happy to see them.  Anyone who was a regular at Celia’s milongas knew them.  They were the ones who greeted everyone at the door, Mario collected the entradas, and Olga took care of coats.  They are such a dear couple who were always ready with a greeting and a smile for everyone.  They live about five blocks from Celia’s.  I told them I’ve stopped dancing and that other members of the family tell me they are not dancing anymore either.  We all felt like one big happy family at Celia’s.

Retiring from the milonga

December 31, 2018

I often meet people on the street that I know from the tango community.  I’m finding that I’m not the only one who has retired from the milonga.

Carlos and Lila live two blocks from me.  They were passing by one day recently on their way to the vet with their dog.  I asked how things are at Lo de Celia.  Carlos said they haven’t danced all year and don’t plan on returning.  I saw them every Sunday at Lo de Celia.

I was out walking along Av. Callao on Saturday when I saw a familiar face.  She was sitting on a bench with her dog.  I asked, don’t I know you from Lo de Celia?  Susana recognized me and remembered my name.  I asked if she was still dancing at Lo de Celia.  She replied, I haven’t danced all year.  Lo de Celia isn’t the same without Celia.  It was like family then.  Things have changed.  So many feel the same way.

The same day I saw Eduardo on the street.  He lives a block from me.  He, too, said he no longer dances at Lo de Celia.  He had his reserved seat at the front table near the bar.

Celia was the glue that kept her milonga family together.  She worked hard to build and keep the milonga going for many years.  The people who took over her business have no idea what it takes to run a milonga, so organizers are in charge.  Jonatan Rojas has Wednesday and Sunday; Alberto and Edit have Friday, Adriana has Saturday, and Bibiana Ahmad opens on Monday, January 7.