By Valorie Hart and Alberto Paz
Excerpts from Gotta Tango. Copyright (c) 2007-2013. All Rights Reserved
Did you know that in Buenos Aires there is an official definition of what constitutes a “milonga?” You’d need to meet specific criteria to obtain a permit to operate a milonga. By definition, a milonga is a place where the dance of tango and its codes of conduct are taught and practiced.
In a milonga, the dance floor is clearly demarcated from and surrounded by the area occupied by tables and chairs where the public remain seated, except when they step onto the dance floor to dance.
The structure of this type of dance requires sufficient space for its execution as well as the additional space for the circulation around, which is also preordained by this dance. That determines its capacity. The number of tables and chairs needed to accommodate everyone in attendance and the need for circulation corridors for the waiters to take care of servicing the tables result in an especially low density of participants in relation to other popular dance venues, where agglomeration is the norm.
The public is mainly adult, with a certain level of education. They are local habitues and foreigners who come to practice or to perfect the knowledge of the dance.
The atmosphere is familiar, similar to a social club, where the majority of people know each other. There are particularly demanding codes of conduct and courtesy, which are as important as the knowledge of the dance itself.
The lighting, unlike in typical dance halls, must be relatively high to allow all the participants to get a good look at all the premises.
The music must have a low decibel level in order to avoid affecting the auditory capacity of the public engaged in normal conversations at the tables. (Normal is considered approximately 75 decibels; 130 decibels is the level at a disco, which is barely bearable for less than 15 minutes without causing a reduction in the level of hearing.)
The dance is done exclusively in pairs.
The presence of live music does not modify any of these parameters. The patrons remain seated at the tables or dance on the floor with conduct identical to that acceptable for recorded music. In other instances, when a singer performs or professional dancers give a dance exhibition, the duration does not exceed the length of a tanda and the patrons remain seated, without crowding any areas or exceeding capacity of a space.
All these conditions (lighting, sound level, characteristics of the music, quality of the dance, codes of courtesy, and age of the patrons) contribute to an atmosphere of intimacy at the milonga that is conducive to calm and friendly behavior, diametrically opposed to what is characteristic of other places of dance.
Most important, they contribute to create something unique to any other social dance. It is called the dynamics of the “milonga.”
Now, we don’t live in Buenos Aires, we live in New Orleans, and let me digress by saying thanks God. So our promise to you is that we’ll work hard to recreate the dynamics of a “milonga” every Thursday night at the Planet Tango milonga.
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