Of el Tango

Last night I went to a milonga. These are a kind of party held in halls where people congregate to dance tango. Typically you see a large central dance floor surrounded by tables where people sit and drink and look out for partners to dance with as they watch those already on the floor. This particular milonga was part of a tango festival so in addition to the normal dances were a few “shows” (pronounced ‘chose’) where a well-known couple takes the floor and dances, ellos solos, for a song or two. Sometimes the music is live, and this is always fantastic–especially so if there’s a good accordion player. Last night the music wasn’t en vivo, although there was a brief interlude in which an accordion virtuoso offered a solo.

There were four couples last evening who danced for the benefit of a happy audience. Two young couples and two much older couples. All were wonderful to watch. There’s something particularly great about watching the older couples for no reason other than you get the sense that they’ve been dancing this way for decades, that they know something more about what it means to dance the tango.

For lack of a better way to describe it, the tango looks a lot like a performed interpretation of foreplay. It’s all hesitation and delivery and hesitation again. I have been watching for weeks now, trying to figure out how the women know when to move and in which direction and as of yet I haven’t a clue.  The torsos of the dancers remain very close to each other and somewhat rigid but the their legs move fluidly and there are all sorts of sweeping gestures and kicks, little flourishes that vary with each dance. Imagine the dance version of a woman lifting a single leg as she kisses a man.

What’s most enjoyable about a good milonga is the variety of people in attendance. Last night the crowd was a little cheto, which is to say wealthy and potentially a bit snobby, but there were nonetheless a sizable portion of young hipsters, foreigners and the like. These dances go all night as well. When I left at 3 a.m., it was still standing room only in the hall.

Tango originated in lower class, immigrant neighborhoods at the close of the 19th century. It was appropriated by the Argentine aristocracy and thus became a more broadly practiced dance and more commonly played music in the early years of the 20th century. But, at least according to a friend of mine, as a popular pastime it was mostly absent–which is to say dangerous and more or less prohibited–during the years of the dictatorship. It, like any folk practice, falls in and out of favor. At the moment, though, it seems a legitimately popular way to while away the night. And while I don’t know a step, I love to sit and watch.


3 Comments on “Of el Tango”

  1. Morno says:

    Really, a good accordion player? I may have to come down with my instrument and take on tango music! Who knew I was so cool?

    • admin says:

      You know, Morno, maybe you can help me with this. So it’s not the same accordion you play. It’s a different instrument in the same family. Any idea what it’s called in English?

  2. […] few nights ago, to celebrate a friend’s birthday, I went to a milonga in barrio San Telmo. The dance-hall, Maldita Milonga, may be my favorite in town. It is […]


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