What’s in a tango?

tango in the streets of buenos aires


It is approaching evening, and amidst the bustle to complete my domestic chores, my mind drifts repeatedly to the milonga of the evening; the select one for tonight. In Buenos Aires there is a dizzying number of milongas to select from, just as much as there is a myriad of teachers and styles of instruction. So one must be resolute in one’s conviction as to which style to follow, and also, which milonga to attend.

The milonga venues will naturally sport their allegiance to a particular style, so the attendees will therefore be adherents to the select style. I am a deviant, so I have no convictions, I vascillate between the various styles to feed my multifaceted personality. Moreover, I am an artist, and so I create my own style, based upon what works for my body, taste, and personality. Tonight I have selected Nino Bien; their following is a diverse group. On a Thursday night, the classic style begins the evening and the nuevo style ends the evening. I typically go in the middle of this time frame, and in this way, I can have a bit of both.

I begin to have visions of who I may encounter tonight; there are the regulars who are not slavish to the event, but yet a part of the mundane; both locals and foreigners. Then there is the constant flux of the transient foreign visitors, there is never any telling who one may encounter. In some of these venues, I have encountered tangueros who I have met in different US cities.

I languidly plan my attire, select a coordinating shoe, and loosely make a sketch of the transportation details. As I assemble these pieces together in my head, I begin to realise that there is really an awful lot of preparation, money and energy that goes into these excursions. Then my mind flips over to the other side of this event and look down the road of outcome, or, in economic terms, the product. I realise that on the one hand there are real costs, time and energy involved but on the other side of that coin, there is only an anticipated and expected benefit.Hmmm, the cost/benefit analysis begins to look not so good, and the tango venues begin to lose their lustre.

Haunting the mind of every quasi-normal tango aficianado, is this typical anticipation that a night at a milonga will bring. At the very least, one hopes for one very good tanda in which one will experience, for the length of the three songs, (average of 8 minutes), that mythical, quintessential but elusive embrace. An embrace in which both bodies will move in unison to a rhythm interpreted mutually; an embrace in which both mind and body will surrender to the flow and behest of the bandeneon, and all feet involved will execute movements that respond with precise synchronicity to the deft fingers of the maestro as he pounds out the impulses on the commanding bass; an embrace in which for eight minutes one forgets the reality of one’s personal status: social, political and other.

But the reality is that this occurs about as rarely as a couple in a class can agree on who is off-balance. So if this euphoria is so distant and rare, why then do we pursue it with such ardour? What then is in a tango? There is no doubt that at the milonga, you may likely encounter some instructors who may serve as good dance partners; but, instructors dance with instructors, or with favoured students. They dance with beginners only with the intention to wow them or critique them into wanting to sign up for private classes. And they dance with other students to either show off thier level or their students’ skills (hence enticing others inter membership).

Once the possibility of enticement into registratrion is removed, there is no dancing; their desire to dance with you vanishes faster than spit in the Arizona desert. And if you are trying to improve your dance, dancing all night with dancers below your level will only serve to reinforce bad habits, which will essentailly fossilise your level, thus ruling you out as a possibility for being attractive to the good dancers.

What is it then that we pursue against such odds? Why is it that people arrive in droves to Buenos Aires year-round in search of this illusory tango Shangri-la? The simple answer? I have yet to figure it out. It’s like asking the question, ‘who voted for George Bush?’ I don’t have an answer for that either, so I will stay within my realm of knowledge. It takes a rare connection, with all the elements alligned to accomplish the utopic either minutes on the tango floor, but it is that hope of arriving at our tango Nirvana that sustain out impulses; we keep going as we are all hopeful.

So, after an afternoon of planning and preparing, rotating one’s schedule around the event, paying your entrada of $30 pesos, spending a hefty taxi fare of perhaps $40 pesos, a few drinks to patronise the bar (imperative is some venues) and 4 hours of your time, what have you gained? Perhaps a few unsolicited cards for you to call (personal and also for lessons), tired feet, and a memory bank of experience which you may not care to repeat.

And if you did happen to find that someone who caused you to lose yourself in the tanda, now he is hard to shake, as he feels that you made such an amazing ‘connection’ that it should not be lost on idle good-byes, but should be consummated in the bourdoir.  So, the next time I decide upon a milonga, and I begin the day by spending all the time with preparations, I have always the question playing at the back of my mind, what’s in a tango?


0 thoughts on “What’s in a tango?

    1. Thanks for reading and for the encouraging comment. Glad that it was useful to you, have a safe trip! Remember to add your email so that you can receive future posts, and feel free to share. Thanks again!……j.a.morgan