Tango is losing its role models

January 6, 2018

Making the journey to the home of tango is no guarantee that one will find good role models for social dancing. You need to sift through so many styles and venues to find the real thing.

Group classes rarely produce good social dancers. After so many years in Buenos Aires, I feel that tango is best learned in the culture it was born. Those who come to dance in the milongas reap the benefits. It’s where they learn the codes and customs which are basically ignored in their local communities. Dancers may call it tango, but they are adding their local flavor; Buenos Aires isn’t an ingredient.

My approach to teaching today is entirely different from when I began in 1993 in Chicago. I could teach what I learned from others, which had no resemblance to the social style of the Buenos Aires milongas. My eyes were opened in 1996 in Buenos Aires, and it took years to understand what is so different about tango there.

Now I offer a free three-hour weekly session to anyone who is interested in social tango. We begin with exercises to prepare the body. I talk about the rhythms and feeling the music, not about steps. The milonga codes and customs are part of each class from the start. I record during the class for self-criticism and improvement. The goal is to dance well with a stranger at a milonga. I’ve learned so much from the milongueros viejos who are no longer around and want to pass it on to keep social tango alive and well. Tango is losing its role models. Performers aren’t doing social tango any good.

[My comment posted on Tango High and Low, May 12, 2017]


Which is your technique — gazing or staring?

November 26, 2017

Over the years, several milongueros viejos have told me how important subtlety was when inviting a woman to dance if she refused him by looking in another direction.  After one refusal from a woman, a milonguero viejo didn’t look again in her direction.  That way they avoided public embarrassment after a refusal when the mirada/cabeceo came into use in the early 1940s.  Men moved from standing in the center of the floor to sitting at tables*.  It wasn’t obvious to anyone who invited who until two people united to dance.

I like watching the men who nonchalantly make the slightest movement (from where they’re seated) to invite a woman on the other side of the room or a table nearby.  That takes practice and perfect timing.

There is a big difference between gazing and staring at a stranger across the dance floor.  Often just a glance is all it takes.

gaze: look steadily and intently, especially in admiration, surprise, or thought.

stare: look fixedly or vacantly at someone or something with one’s eyes wide open.

glance: take a brief or hurried look.

The stare technique may only result in the other person looking away as if not to notice you.  The gaze technique is clear yet subtle.  Glances with a smile are nice surprises.

Which technique do you use successfully?

*Alito was the first to use tables in the salon in Centro Region Leonesa.  That way the men didn’t have to leave the dance to have a drink.

Rodolfo Tejedor

November 21, 2017

April 12, 1951 — November 21, 2017

Ernesto Jorge De Gouvea

November 20, 2017

November 20, 1934 —

It doesn’t take much to make Jorge happy.  That happens every time he has his arm around a beautiful woman and makes her happy dancing with him.

It was twenty years ago that I danced with Jorge for the first time in the milonga Glamour at Boedo and Carlos Calvo.  He invited me for a milonga tanda.  It was probably my first time dancing milonga con traspie.  I was trying so hard to follow him that I made mistakes.  Being present and feeling the music makes all the difference.

Nestor Leon

October 25, 2017

October 25, 1934 —

Chiche probably never had anyone singing happy birthday by phone, but that’s what I did when I called him today.  He and Elba go every Saturday night to Club Gricel.

I first danced Chiche at the milonga called Pavadita and organized by Alicia “La Turca” Juan and Juan Carlos La Falce in the former Confiteria Monte Carlo on Corrientes and Libertad that closed in October 2000. Alicia moved to Confiteria Ideal on Mondays, and Juan Carlos eventually opened in Nuevo Salon La Argentina.  Not one of those three venues hosts a milonga today.  This is a glaring example of the decline of tango in the city where it was born.  There were milongas seven days a week at Confiteria Ideal.  Nuevo Salon La Argentina had milongas on six days.

Mario Hector Camartino

October 10, 2017

October 10, 1928 —

They say that age is only a number, and that’s certainly true in Mario’s case.  He’s full of energy and joy.  He knows all the lyrics, and I enjoy listening to him sing.  He is always smiling and always a gentleman.  I love putting my arm around him and holding him tight.

Arnaldo Koller

October 9, 2017

December 23, 1933 – October 6, 2017

I had a phone call today from Juan who never calls me. He called to let me know that “El Rubio” passed away on Friday.  It’s a year since I last saw Arnaldo.  He went to visit his son in Miami as he did regularly and returned last week to Buenos Aires.  He and Juan had their last visit on Thursday.  He received the news on Friday.  Arnaldo always asked me about Alito whom he knew since they were teenagers and went to dance at the Pista de Lima.

Stepping out of your comfort zone

October 5, 2017

That’s what we do when we decide to learn tango, whether we knew that fact or not.  It’s true.

Getting close to a stranger of the opposite sex is the first step outside your comfort zone, unless you are someone who gives hugs to everyone.  It’s a step worth taking, and the only way you’ll discover the intimacy and feeling of tango.  It is difficult at first, but once you get used to it, your comfort zone will expand.

Tango offers a social setting in which we step out of our comfort zone by meeting new people.  We’re not introduced or engaged in conversation.  We get to know them through the embrace.  The conversation is a silent communication with our hearts.  We can feel who they are without any words.  It’s the music that allows for us to communicate to each other.

Tango was born in Buenos Aires.  It’s a foreign culture to most people who are learning and dancing tango in the world.  Taking classes with Argentine tango teachers in Europe doesn’t mean you’re getting the tango of Buenos Aires as they danced here in the golden age during the 1940s.

Immersion in the culture of tango in Buenos Aires is the best way to understand what tango means to the milongueros and how it is so much a part of daily life.  A visit to the city milongas is essential to knowing tango.  It’s another step out of your comfort zone in a new city with a different language, where there is respect for the unwritten milonga codes.  There is no milonga anywhere in the world like those in Buenos Aires.

The weekend encuentros that are popular abroad bring dancers together for tango.  Those events try to imitate the tango culture of Buenos Aires, but they lack the most important thing that makes the milongas what they are in Buenos Aires — the milongueros.  These men learned tango as teenagers, know the orquestas and singers, and the lyrics that have meaning to them.  Life is the milonga for them.  They are married to the tango.

Many foreigners come annually to immerse themselves in the culture of tango and for the milonguero embrace.  Buenos Aires is their comfort zone.

Overcharging tourists is nothing new

September 21, 2017

The cost of admission to milongas increases once or twice a year without fail.  About twelve years ago, there was one milonga charging a higher entrada to foreign visitors than local dancers.  That policy didn’t help the bottom line and word got around.  It’s widely known that teachers don’t pay an entrada, supposedly because they bring their students, which most do not.  It’s only logical that the milongueros viejos who are the best dancers in Buenos Aires gain entrance without charge wherever they go.  Foreign female visitors come to Buenos Aires specifically to dance with the milongueros.

I thought that this policy of overcharging tourists at the milongas wasn’t around anymore until a friend mentioned that she was told the entrada was 235 pesos.  She had been away from the city for several weeks, and knew that 100 to 235 was an outrageous increase.  The cashier knows who the locals are and who the foreign visitors are.  My friend is a foreigner, living many years Buenos Aires.  She wasn’t about to pay 235 pesos, and ended up paying the general entrada of 120 pesos when she questioned the cashier.

What can you do if you are a newcomer or a returning visitor to the milongas in Buenos Aires?

  • write the organizer asking the price of the entrada when you make a reservation.  All milongas have FB.
  • ask me or your friends about the entrada at various milongas
  • wait to see how much others in line pay, and then pay the same.
  • have bills for the exact amount ready to pay the entrada (like a regular) without asking the cashier.  Very few milongas put a sign on the desk announcing the general entrada.

This same cashier, who was unsuccessful in overcharging my friend, quietly avoided giving me change one night when others distracted my attention.  We don’t know if the organizers are aware of the situation.  It’s not about the money, when the entradas are less in Buenos Aires than in many countries.  It’s the discriminatory policy charging unaware foreigners more than the local dancers and then pocketing the extra cash.

Roberto Segarra

September 18, 2017

September 16, 1920

There is no doubt that tango keeps Roberto active and happy.  When we dance, I feel like I’m dancing with a younger man.