Home > Buenos Aires, Tango > A charming old Milonga

A charming old Milonga

By Beryl Cook

After over a month of Spanish classes I am ready to enter the world of Tango. We’ve been swapping emails with a lady called Jan who, originally American, has lived in Buenos Aires and specifically in the world of milongas for the past twelve years. There is nothing Jan doesn’t know about milongas and the traditional tango songs.

So yesterday, when we received an invitation to join her at an afternoon milonga in Balvanera (on calle Bartolome Mitre), we jumped at the chance. Milongas in Buenos Aires take place in any space which is large enough to hold a couple fo hundred people and 40 or so couples dancing at the same time. Nuevo Salon de Argentina is no different. It looks like a bingo hall from the outside. The milonga was organised by El Arranque tangos.

We paid (Ar$14 for las damas and Ar$16 for los caballeros) and entered the hall at just past 5pm. There were around 80 people in the hall and a very large percentage of them dancing. Milongas are not for people who want to come and watch and drink and chat. These are serious places where people come to lose themselves in the music and dance.

As we sat down, we watched the dancing couples moving anticlockwise around the dancefloor and soon spotted Jan (we had seen her photos on her blog). Jan was there with an old milonguero (turning 82 this year) and dancing cheek to cheek to a tango song in the middle of a tanda.

A tanda is a set of four songs which you dance with your partner. A tanda usually consists of three tango songs and a waltz because there were many more tangos recorded than waltzes.

Jan explained how the milonga tango is about the embrace, the feel of the music the rhythm, the passion and how the man dances for the woman but the woman should totally surrender to the man. This is why you sometimes see the ladies dancing with their eyes closed.

At the milonga I didn’t see any of the kicks and flicks I expected to see in a tango dance. I left learning a lot about the different styles. Milongas are the traditional way to dance a tango What you see on the streets of San Telmo and on Strictly Come Dancing is a performance tango popularised by those who dance tango for the profession not for the heart as milongueras do.

Thanks Jan, for the introduction to Milongas!

  1. February 9, 2011 at 15:19

    It was my pleasure to introduce you to the world of tango in Buenos Aires. I feel it’s important to see your goal before you begin. This way you will know when you are going in the wrong direction.

    A “milonguero” is a man who lives for the night and the milonga. The milonga is his way of life, and he is married to it. You saw me dancing with Alito who has spent his life in the milongas since the age of 17. He was the first to organize dances like El Arranque with recorded music. There are few “milongueros” and even fewer “milongueras.” They are the ones to watch in the milongas. They show us tango is a feeling which is danced.

    The deejay programs the recordings in sets of four: four tangos by one orchestra, then four tangos by another. This is followed by four valses or milongas (the other two dances included in the milongas). It takes time to recognize the recordings of each orchestra; each has a unique style. The recordings from 1935-1947 are those played in the milongas: Anibal Troilo, Carlos Di Sarli, Juan D’Arienzo, Miguel Calo, etc.

    I know you will enjoy your journey into tango. Please keep me posted along the way and let me know if I can help out.


    • February 9, 2011 at 17:02

      Janis, thank you! I have moderated the post to take in the ‘milonguero’ edit. We will head out to another milonga son. Is there a schedule you follow?

      • jantango
        February 9, 2011 at 22:14

        The milonga called El Arranque at Nuevo Salon La Argentina is held on Mon/Tue/Thurs/Sat. My second home in Buenos Aires is Lo de Celia Tango Club at the corner of Humberto Primo and Entre Rios.

        Salon Canning on Scalabrini Ortiz 1331 in Palermo has a milonga seven days a week, and each one is different. It’s another good place to go and observe while enjoying the music.

        I’ll send you the current issue of B. A. Tango with a guide to the milongas.

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