Steps and compas:

Tour of the milongas

By Sylvie Berthiaume

It is literally a culture, a philosophy, a life in movement. The symbol of beauty and harmony, to celebrate love. With a backdrop of nostalgia, treason and jealousy…


Add to that the complexity of its hundred steps, positions, figures… and the codes of connection between men and women, in addition to the ethics between pairs of dancers, and there you have a whole program of harsh training. Tango is a true long-term commitment.


This is why the new students pick it up very quickly if they have the capacity and perseverance to dance tango or not.


Before going at a milonga: A few bases to know


The tango as known and danced today was born at the end of the 19th century. It has a hybrid origin, inspired by three dances of the time: The Spanish milonga, the Cuban habanera and the Uruguayan candombe.


In the beginning, it was not rare to see men practice together, before venturing into a milonga, a term which is used to appoint a type of dance in itself, a music title and a dance hall, as well.


The traditional tango was popularized at the beginning of the 20th century by Carlos Gardel. The modern tango which has crossed the borders of Argentina thanks to Astor Piazzolla, is characterized by the mix of tango music with classical music or jazz.


It is also important to know that there is the tango "to listen", faster, merry and vector of hope, then the tango "to dance", languorous, soft and passionate. The orchestra of Argentine tango must be composed

of a piano, a double bass, three bandoneons and three violins.


Charming rules


The many codes guiding the tango practice affect not only the arms, feet and body. They are also directed to the eyes.


Proud - The Argentineans have found a way to avoid the frustration of

a rejection on the part of the coveted partner. Rather than standing up and to approach the lady to ask her to dance, everything happens at a distance. The mirada consists of giving a look by far to the woman who accepts by a subtle nod of the head, or refuses by looking elsewhere.


Respectful and practical - The Argentineans still use the look, this time between men leaders, when they arrive on the dance floor : The new couple thus indicates that it will take a place, next to a couple who is already dancing. Hence, everybody occupies the space needed to dance in all freedom and without stepping on other people’s feet.


Polite and sociable - The Argentineans practice the tanda: They dance with the same partner on 3 to 5 music titles, whenever everything is going well or not; and between each piece, a pause called the cortina allows couples to converse and to befriend each other.


With privileged access


To see professional tango dancers, it is very easy in Buenos Aires. They are everywhere: Halls, restaurants, parks and street fairs every Sunday, or at annual festivals.


But we wanted to see the real world, the Portenos of all ages, dancing their own tango daily, without being watched by tourists, cameras or smart phones. Of course, we knew that tango originated in Buenos Aires and assumed that it is still very popular, however, we had no idea of its magnitude in Buenos Aires: There are more than 150 milongas, open 7 days a week, according to three types of schedules…, depending on the age of the customers and their dance level: From 6:00 PM to 3:00 AM

or 7:00 AM, and even from 3:00 AM to 7:00 PM! The latter serves even coffee and breakfast….


To promote meetings without generating unhealthy jealousies - the tango evokes already enough stories of tragic love - some milongas are reserved for singles, while others are for couples. It is easy to retain the services of a private guide, passionate of tango, via a receptive agency as Tango Trips, to have a guided tour of real milongas.


The menu of our evening, and to our specific request: Two milongas among the most popular for residents of Buenos Aires.


Club Gricel:  It has been in the urban landscape for more than 50 years. Spacious, it is filled each evening with people from 40 to 70 years old, who dance tango in a more classical way. Men and women formally dressed sit separately on each side of the dance floor. The tradition of the brief conversation between the four music titles is respected.


The Place-Club: The accustomed dancers of 25 to 40 years old, dressed more casually, engage in avant-garde tango. On stage, the charismatic singer Marco Bellini and the Orquesta El Afronte, which plays its own compositions, as well as classical tunes and modern tango.


Carlos Gardel, in its museum


It is almost impossible to leave Buenos Aires without having visited the home of Carlos Gardel, which has become a small museum.


Everything is intact: Kitchen, office, piano, gramophone, typewriter, clothing, records, honors, photos, posters, etc. Even a small room for private projections because he has had, as Elvis Presley, a period where he played in several popular films.


Beautiful man to the phenomenal success, women truly worshiped him. At his tragic death in an aircraft accident in Colombia, at the age of 45 years old, a fan committed suicide and another in Cuba, made a suicide attempt.


But Carlos Gardel and tango are still alive everywhere in Argentina.

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Place-Club : avant-garde tango