Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Secret Milonguera

Photo by Chirilalina  with permission

She still had not left town, I realized.

The out-of-town milonguera reappeared at a smaller, mid-week milonga.  The first time I saw her, she had danced nearly all night with her tanguero friend, "Fulano."  He allowed her to show off her great skill and grace, although he needed three times as much space as anyone else on the dance floor to do this important task.  Anyone watching her would want to learn how to dance tango -- such grace!

I did not know it at the time, but I began realizing that Fulano's milonguera was somewhat shy, even though she is a pretty woman and a skilled dancer.  At the first milonga, I couldn't catch her eye.  I figured she just was not interested in dancing my "dialect" of tango.  I was not going to directly ask her to dance.  It was up to her to allow me into her life with her eyes.  Without her eyes, the door is shut. No exceptions.

When I spotted her a few weeks later, I happened to catch her watching me dancing in the manner de los milongueros.  I figured that now she would know for sure that I do not dance in the way she likes to dance.  Surely, she wouldn't want to dance in such an outwardly simple way!  She had moves to show off!  Elegant ornamentos, volcadas, colgadas, boleos!

Then the inevitable happened at a small milonga -- we ran into each other at the snack table.  The conversation was pleasant.  Yes, she was a little shy or perhaps humble is the better word.  I also observed earlier that night that she wasn't acting like the normal tango-snob, which I had been expecting.

At this second milonga, she was dancing with a lot of different tangueros of all levels and styles.  Obviously she had missed the class on "proper-elevation-of-the-nose workshops" and  "how-to-avoid-tangueros-below-you seminars," given world-wide at campuses at the Tango Snob College.  Also, she miraculously looked good with whomever she danced -- or better said, she made her partners look good.

With a cabeceo, a nod of the the head, I was now dancing with her.  She had a great connection.    La Milonguera de muy lejos accompanied me as we joined the orchestra together, co-creating a walking embrace in reverence to the music.

Before dancing the second song of the tanda, I was still in shock, I guess, and I blurted out my pre-planned apology for dancing so simply.  "I am just a milonguero," I said with a pause, and then added,
"but I just try to dance my dance.  I really don't want to try to be somebody else."

"That's fine," she assured me.  "You know, all the wild moves are not really tango.  I merely enter the conversation that tangueros start with me.  I prefer milonguero."

Behind the performance tanguera facade, there was the Secret Milonguera!  I thought she merely understood my milonguero dialect and even knew how to hold a nice conversation.  Bu she was more than fluent in my language:  her mother tongue was milonguero and her second language was stage tango, which obviously helps her survive in the world of Showtime Tango.

I really do need to keep learning lessons like this.  The Secret Milonguera gave me another confirmation of the path that I have taken.  Hers is not a new lesson but a continuing one:
  • I want to keep dancing my own dance.  I want to dance without trying to impress the woman with what I might think she is expecting from me.  In other words, I want to be authentic in my tango.  
  • I want to co-create with my partner, led by the music -- that this is what truly satisfies the soul.  
  • Just because a woman can dance "fancy" doesn't mean that she wants to be on a crazy ride that shows every cool move I have ever learned from performance-focused teachers.
  • I want to dance just-for-one -- my dance partner.  It takes two to dance milonguero.  It takes two and a lot of people watching to dance stage tango or any style that sacrifices the nuances of the dance for the crowd-pleasing effects of "visual tango."  
  • I want to join the orchestra as an honorary musician.  If my partner and I want to impress someone, let it be the invisible tango orchestra.  Do we try to steal the show from the orchestra, or do we join the orchestra members?
These are the lessons I need to learn over and over.

I will still continue to be sensitive to women who cannot accompany me on the tango path I have chosen.  If she cannot come down my path, then I open up and let her dance her dance.  I now understand what many women are forced to do all the time, like la Milonguera Secreta.  Sure, the Secret Milonguera and I can have fun dancing performance-focused tango.  We both can have fun dancing with partners who want to show us all the steps they have collected in their Biblioteca de Figuaras Tangueras  (tango steps library).  After all, they have paid a lot of money to learn that beautiful volcada.  When you add up all the group and private lessons, they have paid easily over $1,000 for that move.  And it is fun.  When the woman cannot easily accompany me in my dance, I join her.  I feel like dancing open or even salón is indeed fun, like the fun I have in dancing mambo (salsa), son, bachata, chachachá, swing, waltz and foxtrot.

But its not my dance.  It's not tango just for two.


  1. I've said it before, I'll say it again. Do you know what we call women who demand 'fancy' steps? We call them beginners.

  2. This is another great article, Mark. I have to disagree with you, of course, on the idea that salon tango is danced for an audience or with an audience in mind. Every style of tango should be danced, as someone I'd like to credit but unfortunately cannot remember put it, "to express, not to impress." This should be completely independent of whether you are dancing salon, milonguero, nuevo or any possible hybrid or combination of the above. If you are dancing lots of flashy moves, it should be because that is the way you genuinely hear the music and feel the need to move to it (and there should be adequate space, as there often is later in the evening, for instance, when the milongas start emptying out).

    For me, aesthetics are not unimportant, but your primary focus is always expressing the music and connecting with your partner. Even if you are actually literally performing. And, of course, at the milonga always. But, paradoxically, that is the kind of dancing that is most captivating to watch.

    "I want to keep dancing my own dance. I want to dance without trying to impress the woman with what I might think she is expecting from me. In other words, I want to be authentic in my tango." Speaking for myself, this is absolutely what I am looking for in a leader's dancing. I don't want him to adapt his style to try to please me. On the contrary, I want him to dance his authentic dance. That's when I can really engage with him, even if it's a style I'm not as accustomed to dancing. For me, experiencing how different different leaders can be is part of the pleasure of being a follower in tango.

    And because, as a follower, it's my job to try to adapt, to connect as fully as I can, independently of the style, you may not be able to tell which style I prefer just by watching me on the dance floor.

  3. I would also just caution against not including so many remarks about 'snobby' female dancers in the blog.

    There is a double standard that I've often observed in the tango scene. When men dance only with a few women, they are described as 'choosy'. But when women also exercise choice about who they dance with they are 'snobby'. I don't think it's snobby to want to avoid feeling physical discomfort or dancing with leaders who have very little consideration for the quality of their follower's experience of the dance. And I wouldn't like to see you perpetuating that double standard here.

  4. @Terpsi: You caught me being overly zealous again. Oh well. I sometimes hope you wouldn't read my blog and point out my obvious flaws. :-)

    But my mantra of tango-para-dos makes for good poetry about the woes of being a milonguero on a dance floor full of theatrics and dangerous maneuvers. Friday I saw feet going over the six-foot high mark, and a foot extended straight back that looked like a kung-fu move.

    Somehow the close embrace reminds me of intimate moments that are tender and loving versus positioning oneself for the erotic film cameras. Now that is a blog I plan NOT to write. :-) But to be fair, you are right in that one can be not even touching in a free dance and have a great, meaningful connection. Opening up can be a playful interaction. Being visual only for your partner can also playful and wonderful. (I am talking about tango here.) Stage tango or dancing for others is not evil, but it is not the heart and soul of tango as a social dance.

    Okay, so next time, I will put on my Terpsichóre Editing Glasses before I press the "publish" button on my blog.

  5. I never post in blogs, though I read some, and started to read this one.
    After few years of navigating the tango world, being originally from Argentina, raised in a classical music world, having had a grandfather that took me to the dance floor more than once and lead me to that "old-people" dance of tango that was on the radio all the time (I definitely preferred Queen at the time!), having been on stage for many years as a ballet dancer and being a performer myself, having danced jazz, modern, ballroom, and whatever else some brave soul could lead me into, it is very clear to me that TANGO dance is one thing, and one thing only.
    Tango is a way of expressing yourself (just like ANY other dance or art form) and sharing your feelings with your partner (UNIQUE to tango in the intimate way that that happens). And, just like in other art forms, the way you dance will follow the way you are feeling at the moment. Nothing is better than having a big repertoire of tools to express yourself. So, I worked hard to obtain the tools and make them mine (and I still do work hard).
    Sometimes I feel quiet, peaceful, content and just want to dance quiet and musical, milonguero style (which is not simple, by the way..look at true milonguero's videos in you tube..nothing boring about that); sometime I am just too happy, and love to fly to a tango-waltz with innumerable turns and colgadas; sometimes I feel energetic and passionate and dramatic, and nothing is better than a Pugliese with a leader that can be dramatic with me, go slow and fast and rapidly change dynamics, and have a great repertoire of tools to do this. Contrary to what I know (safety wise), I love closing my eyes when dancing, because it takes me to mine and my partners' own little world at that moment and I can forget there is people around.
    If you see me dancing on the floor, you might get your own ideas of who I am and what I feel, and your own prejudices might make you think I am a snob if I did not look at you, or if I do boleos and colgadas ...well, you know nothing about me. I might look at someone I know dances quietly and simple if that is the conversation I want to have that night. I might not if I feel that I might burst out of my skin if D'Arienzo is playing and I cannot be playful with that partner. I might go out and dance with an unknown partner if I am feeling daring and curious and open to get to know someone.
    If you, Mark, or others, always feel like dancing milonguero style, it's all fine. Some of us like to change following the flow of our lives. Some others might always like to fly while dancing. Why thinking that anyone is "trying" to impress? all that lives in the receiver's head, probably very seldom in the "producer's" head. You can only do what you do, and be who you are. In the dance floor, in life. And you'll find people you connect with and communicate, and then you'll find the others. In tango, and in life. And it is all cool. There is space for all of us. We are all ok. The ones that like moves, the ones that don't, the ones that like to connect with their partners and the audience (there is magic on that!, when you feel that the entire theatre is coming on a journey with you) and the ones that like it "solo". No prejudices, no judgment. And, by the way, it is all TANGO. Piazzolla once answered to some one criticizing his music as not being (the traditional) tango: "Well, it is my own tango". If there is something you can count on in this life is CHANGE.

  6. Oh dear. I am a born critic, niggler and bossyboots. I try to tone down this side of my personality (mostly without success). But it's always nice when I encounter someone who can work with it :-).

  7. Another informative blog… Thank you for sharing it… Best of luck for further endeavor too.


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