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The quintessential definition of a milonga   Leave a comment

The quintessential definition of a milonga
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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Buy our book from us, please   Leave a comment

A recent life altering event have gotten me to think about the way being immersed in the tango sometimes means to be disconnected with reality. It’s like one lives and operates in a different dimension often times trapped in a vortex where values are distorted.

One thing I don’t understand is why we have been so shy about ringing the bells, beating the drums, and blowing the horns about our book GOTTA TANGO (the publisher’s cheesy choice of cover photo has a lot to do with it). We gave up fighting them and ended up getting them to print a special edition with our choice of cover, and we get to sell the special edition out of our website and suitcases.

The book is without a doubt the ultimate reference in the state of the art in tango dancing. Not a single word of confessional or high school confidential nature can be found in page after page of honest historical references and time honored solid technical concepts about the structure of the dance.

So please, buy our book from us. The few extra dollars you’ll pay for getting the book signed by us with our mug shot on the cover will go a long way to help us retire the humongous medical expenses we incurred in Canada.

In the world of Argentine tango, sometimes it seems that there are more social dance teachers than students and dancers. The odds for a new woman showing up at a tango dance party and being given express tango lessons right on the floor are very high. The attraction that some people have to teaching cannot be denied.

How does one become a teacher of Argentine tango? There are no college or university courses. There are no officially sanctioned programs. There is no official or sanctioned certification. Several enterprises exist claiming exclusive training methods and delivering official looking certifications for a fee. At times the process of becoming a teacher seems like a free-for-all with no standards. Yet, we know when a good teacher leaves a lasting impression in our lives. For now, common sense and integrity must rule.

If you are a good communicator, if you have a comprehensive understanding of the structure of the dance, if you have a complete knowledge of the music, if you have knowledge and respect for the Argentine culture and knowledge of the history and environment that formed the dance, if you have solid skills as a dancer, and if you have the time to dedicate to teaching, then perhaps teaching is for you.

Acquiring all these skills is a process that you will have to undertake on your own. Business skills come into play too. Classes need to have a dollar value put on them. Studio space must be found and paid for. Advertising for classes needs to happen. Don’t underestimate or overlook the value this book has for the aspiring teacher as well.

Of course there is a high standard for dancing Argentine tango. While it is a dance of the people and for the people, it has a level of difficulty that must be reckoned with. There is a structure of the dance from whence improvisation is created. There is a learning curve and a developmental curve that comes from putting in hours that lead to weeks that lead to years of taking classes and dancing socially. Even the uninitiated eye of a newcomer can look at a room full of tango dancers and see various levels of ability. Most important is that those who dance Argentine tango hold themselves to their own standards of excellence. The judgment of self is the most rigorous!

This go-around of the Argentine tango is still new. For the first time in the history of the tango, more people outside of Argentina than inside of Argentina are dancing the tango. Those who are not natives of Argentina are evolving and taking small steps that deal with a culture that is not their own, trying to make it a meaningful experience. Regardless of nationality, the tango lifestyle requires great effort and commitment. It is difficult to learn to dance, to learn the music, and to socialize. Be aware of opportunists who, while outwardly banging the drum for the Argentine dancers, devise ways to remove most things Argentine, the essence that once nourished them.

Inside Argentina the evolution is taking place as older dancers pass on and the younger dancers try to revamp the dance to make it their own. The poignant hug of an older milonguero can be appreciated as much as the forceful dance of the younger dancer. All these tender feelings will sort themselves out, and perhaps there will come a day when dancers of Argentine tango will have a mature confidence that might allow the dance to become an Olympic sport or maybe just a friendly contest in a neighborhood milonga that nets the winner a bottle of champagne and bragging rights.

With evolution will come preservation of the Argentine tango (music, culture, poetry, and dance) that has been formed over the last hundred years. Today there are living witnesses of a tango covenant that has bonded generations of men and women in the mission of preserving what we love; seeing to its preservation when we are gone; and exposing all attempts to distort it, exploit it, and destroy it.

The ones who started this current cycle of the tango in the 1980s had a heartfelt mission to foster and preserve the Argentine tango. Now, at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, some are becoming dinosaurs or simply dying out. We will not live long enough to see the rose planted firmly again in alternative teeth. The tango seems to need to die only to be reborn. We and many of our friends, associates, and disciples work hard to make sure that when someone wants to see the relics of the Argentine tango, our archives will be intact, and someone much like us will once again see the beauty and excitement of it and make it live. It could be you. . . so buy our book from us, please.

Excerpts used in this post courtesy of GOTTA TANGO by Alberto Paz and Valorie Hart

Posted December 15, 2010 by Alberto & Valorie in Gotta Tango

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