What is it that makes going to a Milonga such a vital part of life? Why does it still excite me to go and meet the same old crowd, in the same old building, dancing to the same old music? The gaelic word for it is ‘craic’
Tango is a social dance, although I must admit after the last Milonga I attended, for some old enough to know better, you’d get the impression it was an anti-social dance, what with their elbowing and shin raking malarkey. One buffoon I know, not so long back, attempted a manoeuvre so bizarre and ludicrously ambitious with a woman half his age that he was seeking to impress, they both ended up in the middle of the floor sprawling in an overdressed, red-faced heap.
I love to dress up. It makes me feel good to put on a snappy suit and a slightly flamboyant shirt and tie, probably too loud for work, maybe even for normal social circumstances. It’s my equivalent of Judith putting on a dress that shows a little more leg and her 4 inch heels, many of which were bought in a heavenly shop at one of the higher numbers in Suipacha in Buenos Aires. They know a thing or two about going out to a Milonga, looking sharp, in Buenos Aires. After all, that was what tango was all about to begin with, wasn’t it?
We arrive and even as we approach, we hear the music. there’s nothing like it in the entire world. that heady mix of bandoneons and strings. Ah! Heaven! We enter, changing our shoes before we hit the salon. That’s our traditional, tanguero’s way, not changing out of street shoes in public. It’s a silly little thing but why not make your entrance fully prepared? Oh, the joy of seeing old friends, the meeting the greeting the hugs and kisses! We chat and catch up the news with those nearest and others who swoop down from around the room. ‘How are we all? Where have we all been since we last met?’ All up-beat and joyous; scandal and gossip may come later. Oh yes!
A tanda comes to its conclusion and our excellent DJ offers us an amusing 30 second cortina. We laugh as the floor clears. What will he offer next? Canaro! Oh Bliss! We ease into our comfortable embrace and stand, not motionless, but in sympathy with those about us until, after a few bars, the room begins to move as if as one. We are in our element, second only to when we dance in the kitchen, still in dressing gowns when we are supposed to be making breakfast but can barely pass each other when a tango is playing without one of us imposing an embrace. That’s tango! That’s life at its richest! Viva!
My favourite Milonga is a tea dance. It’s not that I like cake so much, though I get through enough of it that you’d suppose so. No, its a different feel from an evening milonga. I suspect it may be something to do with the time of day; we are all still fresh. Maybe it is also the fact that matinee Milongas are usually on Sundays. We’re rested from the working week but looking for some stimulation, knowing full well that at 5pm we’ll go home and enjoy a restful evening and a fully-zonked out night in bed before having to face the ravages of the next working week. Saturday evenings can be fun too but there’s a different feeling about those too. They can be a touch more formal in some ways, as if expectations are a little too high. An afternoon of dancing feels just right.
I’m always interested to not how little alcohol has to play in tango. I know I can’t concentrate to dance tango as it should be if my mind is fuddled, any more than i can if I’m preoccupied by some problem I must solve. Tango is not something you can do by halves. It fascinates and annoys me to watch some couples circulate on the floor, often for an entire tanda, seemingly oblivious to those around them or the music because they are chatting away. I simply can’t do it. I don’t have brain enough to speak two languages at once. In my estimation, neither are the chatters. The chat rules and tango comes a poor second. The rest of the room comes nowhere at all.
The same thing occurs when the couple have just learned some snazzy new sequence at a class and are hell-bent in incorporating it in their dance somewhere, somewhen, anywhere, anywhen, whether the music suggests such a move or there is adequate space around them to finish it. I know that the bard said that ‘all the world’s a stage…’ but I do wish some dancers would choose some theatre to stage their ‘performances’ and not a Milonga.
I’m beginning to sound quite grumpy and don’t run away with the idea that I too have never been guilty of the same sort of ‘showboating’ as I now deplore. I did it and I’m truly ashamed of myself. Worse still, I have to confess to a more evil crime. Many yearts ago, I used to partner a tiny, lovely woman who always danced with her eyes clamped tightly shut. What trust! Dancing with her was always a treat because she was a superbly supple and skilled follower but with a few musically applied adornments that are such a delight. One night, at a Milonga, I steered her two full circuits of a packed dance floor, clockwise, that is in the opposite direction to the flow of the dance. I thought I was such a wag and it did cause some suppressed mirth. She of course was not in on the joke.
What a prat was I in those days? OK, Your Honour, I’ve pleaded guilty and expressed remorse so please sentence me leniently. ‘Always invite one wallflower to share a tanda at every Milonga’. I’m joking of course but I will and I do, though not as a duty but simply because I’ll never forget what it was like when I was a wallflower. How flattered I was to be asked to dance by a woman whom I could see could dance with any man in the room, she was so attractive and so competent a tanguera. How that boosted my own confidence, improved the security and decisiveness of my leading and made me practice all the harder to get better as a leader and a follower.
Oh tango, the ways you have helped me grow!