Daily Archives: October 15, 2008

Tango in Buenos Aires (Part II)


We have only been to 4 different milongas so far… and they have been quite the rollercoaster ride.  The first milonga was OK although it was full of mostly tourists.  We sat together, observed mostly, and danced together a bit.  We were surprised that men were trying to cabeceo K. even though we were sitting together.  There wasn’t anyone worth dancing with (especially since we didn’t come all the way to Buenos Aires to dance with a bunch of tourists), however, at the end of the night, a young Argentinean man was doing all he could to get K’s attention for a dance.  K accepted his dance and enjoyed his embrace – the embrace that cannot be found in Toronto (more on this later).

Our second visited milonga was amazing.  We were the youngest there by oh… 20-30 years. We sat together again so we could observe and chat about what we saw.  At this milonga, it mattered that we sat together and we were not asked to dance by anyone.  We danced together a couple times and although crowded, it wasn’t completely crazy. Jorge’s navigation/dancing was really good. We were given positive feedback and told at the end of the night that our dancing is “muy elegante”.  It was fascinating to see every old man there being able to dance Tango AND with musicality.

One of the most lovely dancers there sat right in front of us.  We were watching him dance with smiles on our faces and when he noticed this, he started showing off!  He had the moves! And he knew the songs inside out. He was winking at us and started chatting with us… He informed us that he’s been dancing since he was 18 and that he’s 88 now!?!? He danced like he was the youngest guy there – with his hearing aid and all!

We were scared shitless dancing there :) but we ended up being quite well received.  Jorge’s floor navigation was good… now he would like to learn the very rounded way they dance here socially on a crowded floor… so much to learn!!!

Our third visited milonga was a nightmare.  We went to the guided practica beforehand.  The teacher/organizer is such a sweetheart and she was teaching us all these old-school moves (not that we wanted to learn moves, but it was cool).  What a sight –leading K when she only reached K’s bellybutton ;)  But the milonga that followed… eek.  Choose one of your city’s worst milongas and this was it.  There was one lovely couple dancing (only together) and that was it.  K danced with one man who had nice musicality… otherwise… eek!  The men led roughly with too much right arm.  Many of them didn’t even follow any of the “codes”.  No cabeceo from some of the men – although they were reminded by the organizer during a little announcement to do so.  Most didn’t follow the line of dance and there weren’t that many people, although apparently that was one of their busier nights.

We re-visited milonga number two to restore our faith in beautiful tango.  People were happy to see us there again – which was really nice. We chose to sit apart this time and even though everyone knew we were together, we had given the sign that we were willing to dance with others. The staff there is incredible and the young man who seats people is awesome.  He was kindly offering us advice throughout the night and this was very much appreciated. He gave K. a front row seat which she was shocked by (even though he had seen us dance last time… it was odd). He sat Jorge more in the back though.  There’s less space for the men and all the men seem to be really good regulars. However, a man that wasn’t there last time told Jorge to come and sit with him at his table! He kept quizzing Jorge on the orchestras playing and was surprised over and over again when Jorge would answer correctly :)

K. danced with 5 men that night (not counting Jorge).  It is definitely difficult to find men who are not a foot shorter than her with heels on. Let’s get to the truth of the matter. Many of these men CAN dance and DO have really good musicality… but the majority of them feel like crap (sometimes even crappier then the men back home!?). They know the dance, they know the music… but they don’t have the embrace or the feeling. Just like in Toronto, they are used to leading unleadable women – women who don’t wait and have to be forced into their steps. Jorge danced with 4 different women – he could have had more dances but was too scared ;) Of the women he danced with, two were foreigners and 2 were portenas. All of them were better than dancers found back home (with about 4 exceptions in Toronto). Jorge had to really lead them/contain them all though.

We were both given lots of compliments from everyone – muy lindo/a, you really can dance, etc! It was so nice to hear and made us feel more confident. Yes, we do need positive reinforcement and we do know we have so much to learn here.  The mother of all dances happened at this milonga and will be spoken about in “The Elusive Embrace.”

After dancing with “The Elusive Embrace”, a man showed up in front of K as though he had been cabeceoed… which he hadn’t. Actually, it was virtually impossible that K. had even suggested it by mistake because she was looking at a man at the tables on the other side of the room. Of course K. got up and pretended she had asked him for a dance and luckily it was pretty good… but it was no Elusive Embrace :)

The fourth visited milonga was good in a very different way.  We trekked it out all the way across town.  It took us an eternity to figure out which bus would get us there and back. There are many different private bus companies and the way to figure out the buses is by looking at a gridded map and corresponding the bus number in the grid you are starting from with the bus number in the grid you want to go to. You find out which bus shows up in both grids and then look up that bus number at the back of the bus guide. There, you are told which streets the bus travels down. It’s quite the hellish process – especially when you don’t know the names of the streets and where they’re located on a map!?

Anyway, we made it to the milonga and decided to sit apart. We were given tables that were beside each other though. What we quickly realized was that everyone arrives there as couples or big groups. There are no single tables… So after quite a while apart (and feeling a little embarrassed by the whole ordeal) we moved together :)

There was no dancing with other people for us at this milonga and in general, people are dancing with the person they showed up with or with their friends at that table. There were many tourists which is surprising since they’re saying that tango tourism is really down. There was a group of women with their very obvious taxi dancers – blah!

To describe the dancing at this milonga: it is completely different.  Once you look past all the stupid tourists (yes, including us), you see how the dancing there does have a completely different embrace – more of a “V” and definitely a more flexible embrace. The steps are more intricate and not as predictable as what we saw at the last milonga.  There is a very specific style of dancing that happens there.

More to come in Part III.

Read more about our experiences in our previous posts Tango in Buenos Aires (Part I).

Tango in Buenos Aires (Part I)

We arrived in Buenos Aires at the beginning of the month with nasty colds. Scratch that plan of diving into Argentina’s tango culture, we were diving straight into bed every day for a week. Once we began feeling good enough to venture outdoors, we visited one of the popular milongas… just to see. The sight of the floor and the sound of tango had us running back home to get ourselves ready for our first night of dancing tango. And so began our immersion into Argentine Tango.

With almost 6 months of tango ahead of us, losing one week to a cold wasn’t too devastating, but we are aware that we need all the time we have to find the milongas we like on any given day, break into those milongas, find dancers/teachers we might be interested in learning from, and learning from those teachers. Some days six months feels like it will last forever, but most days… most days it feels like it will never be enough time.

We are thoroughly enjoying Buenos Aires. It is a beautifully ugly city that has us on our toes at all times. We’re either avoiding being hit by cars, jumping off buses or trains while still moving, or trying not to be ripped off by the locals.  We are loving every minute of this experience. For this reason, we are going to start with the one big negative we have that we just read about on Tango Trails. Then we’ll move on. We think it’s a good thing to point out so other foreigners will be aware if and when they visit the city.

Negative Stuff – The Rip Offs

We have been ripped off or almost ripped off twice since we’ve been here (and probably more times that we weren’t aware of). Both times by waiters at two different milongas. The first time, the waitress charged us 9 pesos per coffee (at most, they are usually 5 pesos each). K. called the waitress on it, but the waitress stuck to her guns and K. was too flabbergasted to fight her on it more. Now we are little more experienced and we know we should have asked to see the menu or asked the organizer about it. Although, we witnessed the organizer tell two foreigners that the milonga cost 10 pesos, but when the organizer saw that they came with 12 pesos each from their tour operators, the milonga was all of a sudden 12 pesos!? And let us say that this organizer was the sweetest person ever!

Rip off number two almost happened again at another milonga. We asked how much our empanadas and water were, knowing that it was 18 pesos, but the waiter said 28!? Right away we said, “nooooo” and we said we had only had one water (even with the extra water, it would have been 24 pesos)… It’s really sad, it’s like a bad stereotype that the Argentineans will cheat and steal from you (the foreigner) if and when they can. It’s so frustrating because then you don’t even want to tip them (even though they gave you good service). However, we do end up tipping them because we know we’ll go back and we want to have good service again. Now we know we have to always be aware of the cost of everything when we order and what we order… It really isn’t good when you feel like you can’t trust anyone here.

Good stuff in Part II coming soon.