Chapter 6. What Does It Mean To Be A Milonguero?


Video courtesy of Janis Kenyon

To explain what is a milonguero is really very difficult because the feeling of this beautiful emotion is something new in each person. It is almost impossible to put it into words, but I shall try to do it, and I hope I am able without offending or hurting anyone’s feelings.

To be a milonguero, first of all you have your own style of dancing. It means that you have a unique feeling for the music, rhythm, cadence, and embrace. When you have all this, the music invades your body and mind, and then and only then, the chemistry begins that really makes you transmit to your partner- as if both were talking, whispering, sliding on the floor with sacadas, corridas, turns, dancing only one for the other, not for the people. In that moment when both are listening to the magic of the music, the skin of one and the skin of the other, the smell, the touch produces the miracle of something like a mantra, and the yin and yang is there. We are dancing tango.

The priorities of a milonguero are the feeling and the woman. The codes are like the commandments which were born with the tango, and the music is defined in three parts. The first is a question, the second is a pause or prologue, the third part holds the answer. All this is in our feeling and that is why we milongueros improvise, having the pleasure of being ourselves, in our own style with the rhythm and the cadence.

Today, people teach in methodic ways, but the tango, the real tango salon, does not have a method, because it is a feeling. Technique and choreography are only for performance. This is a tango which has been learned for hours and hours for show business. There are hundreds of couples doing the same thing, and only a few of them – let’s say ten or fifteen – are really very good, because they are different and that is another thing.

Every tango dancer of the streets, those who practiced in the squares and parks with other men developed technique naturally without knowing it. His steps and feeling were a technique.

My advice is to walk — walk with your toe first and always in the music, walk and practice to be yourself and not a copy of anybody else.

Ricardo VIdort

Published in El Once Tango News No. 41 – Winter 2003/2004 Dec/Feb and No. 44 – Autumn 2004 Sept/Nov and reprinted with permission



The following is a transcript of an interview between Ricardo, Victoria and Jeanette, Buenos Aires, 2005

V – Should one know of the existing codes and rules before going to a milonga?

R – Yes, they exist.  The first code is ethics.  One doesn’t go to the university.  For a milonguero, the woman and the music are a priority.

V – Why?

R – First, because one goes to dance.  Second, because for us the woman, be she a housewife, a professional prostitute, should be respected.  It is so in all the decades, the 40s, 50s, and 60s.  Ethics is a new word.  To have it, one needs to be born with it.  You cannot study it.

A milonguero is a person who goes out looking in the music of tango for distraction and joy of being able to dance.  It’s not only to listen to it, but to feel it.  The codes are enormous and are many.  They imply good customs and manners.  They affect the one who knows less but  knowing more we should not make us believe we are omnipotent.  The nicest thing in tango is that one knows when it starts but it doesn’t have an end.  Today tango has transformed into the largest club in the world.  It exists in over 40 countries and in 500 cities.

V – Do you believe today that some aspect of the codes has been lost?

R- There is no longer a code of respect.  Yes, for example, a woman is sitting at a table with a man, another man comes to greet her, the normal would be that he would ask the permission of the man.  But today, this isn’t being used or practiced.  The codes of behavior are innumerable.  To say hello when you arrive and goodbye when you leave, ask for a favor at the bar or a waiter, these are things from the past. The young ones who have time to learn to dance tango and its essence, aren’t taking time to learn the codes; hence the codes are getting lost from day to day. All desire to learn techniques to sell to people who know nothing about tango and therefore learn nothing.  So it is, there are actually more than 1,200 couples dancing professionally and teaching that which they believe is the essence of tango, which in reality they are teaching what they learned — techniques to sell.   I’m not saying that among them there are no good dancers, but tango is a spectacle in which those who dance it delight.

V – What codes come into play in the moment of inviting someone to dance?

R – To invite one makes a movement with the head.  It is difficult for the foreigners to accept this form, but in this way the looks indicate which direction the invitation goes and there are no mistakes.  The logic is that a woman gets up when the man arrives and does not run towards him.  And the correct behavior would be when the music stops, the man accompanies the woman to her table.  If not, how does the woman feel if he drops her in the middle of the floor.  That implies that the codes of the milonga are being lost.

V -In what way should one respond to the invitation?

R- It happens through eye contact.  As I said before, the woman should wait until the man arrives near her table.

V- Relating to clothes, is there a dress code?

R -Before you wouldn’t see anyone without a jacket.  The women would buy the finest clothes to wear to the milonga.  Today, you see the men unshaven, with body odor, wearing sneakers and with expectations to dance.   That’s what happens today.  It doesn’t matter to these men with whom they dance as long as they dance — it’s a big mistake.  Dancing just to dance is not the priority. The priority should be the woman and the music.  The man should protect the woman.  He should dance for her and not for the public.

The recognition of being a good dancer is achieved on the floor, not through publicity.  Having danced in a big review on stage does not make one a professional as it happens today.   You gain the title in the milongas, with manliness and acknowledgment of others.  This is what makes a milonguero.  You don’t have to be old to be one.  Milonguero is the one who has his own style of dancing. This does not imply that it’s necessary to dance a hundred steps, to feel and make others feel; there could be only seven steps done elegantly.  Tango produces a miracle that comes from the music, because the body feels pleasure and the soul becomes free.

To choose tango as a physical exercise is the best therapy that any human being can have while enjoying it and having pleasure.  The music makes us happy.  It is a daily recreation that brings joy to life.  And it’s free!

Tango encompasses the immensity as the soul does when it is ready to give.  The essence of tango without feeling that we are a spectacle.  It is to meet with people without knowing who they are and what they do.  Of course, there are people in tango who are kind, respectful and with education.

V- What should men and women wear to the milonga?

R- Men should wear a jacket or a suit.  The jacket is basic for perspiration, it’s the sign of being well-mannered.  The woman makes herself up, and the man should do so as well.  She should dress according to her age, but of course, everything has its form and fashion.

V- Does there exist a determined position in which a man and woman should place themselves before dancing? 

R – Yes, it’s a natural code.  When a man walks out on the floor and embraces the woman, it is she who should be facing the center of the floor and he should be standing with his back to the center because his first step will be to his left.  The flow of the dance is counter-clockwise.  There are professionals who put themselves in the center and stay in the center. This implies that the salon is the stage for real teaching.

V- Is there any significance of talking while dancing?

R – The conversation doesn’t exist except between Tango and Tango.  Today the woman takes charge; before, no.  This doesn’t mean that the woman is easy, but the men interpret so.

V -Does there exist a code with whom to share the table?

R – I have my table.  I invite the people whom I want.  I would not go where I pay the entrada and have no place to sit down, not even at the bar.  It is important to leave your coat in the coat room, so it doesn’t take place in your seat.

There are infinite number of codes to which ethics imply.  For example: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Remember that in a fight no one wins and that he who knows how to speak finds a solution.

J – Do you remember any code from the past that you wish would be used again?

R – It is no longer as in the past.  A woman of a friend is protected.   Another example is when there are three women at the table and I dance with one, morally I should not dance later with the others.  The principal code is to respect others as you wish to be respected.

V – Is there a code in reference to the use of the dance floor?

R – To dance in the middle of the floor is fine if you don’t disturb anybody.  Those who want to demonstrate what they know go towards the center of the floor.  The nicest is to do it the simplest way and to delight in the moment.

When it is said that tango is in Argentina, it’s a lie. Tango is being killed today.  There are musicians without feeling, great dancers without knowledge, without technique and without feeling, and this is why tango in Argentina is dying.   In a few years, more Europeans have become more respectable dancers because they know the codes.

J – Do you like to dance with people whom you don’t know?

R – I am used to dancing with people who ask me.  Ninety-five percent of the people with whom I dance I know, but if a woman comes to ask me to dance, I never say no.   In the 1950s, milongas were different.  The woman of that era did not dance to be pretty; she danced because she knew how.  Actually fifty percent don’t know how to dance.

J – Which orchestra do you like best?

R – Pedro Laurenz, Carlos Di Sarli, Anibal Troilo; every orchestra had its own style.  There are grand musicians who took into consideration that there are dancers who always dance the same choreography.  A salon dancer grows every day because he dances with different women.  On stage you always dance the same and with the same partner — like the monotony of marriage.  He who knows the salon style has the advantage on the stage because he knows how to improvise.  No one owns the steps; you own what you feel.  That which produces the music is different every day.  It doesn’t matter who you dance with because you can feel the music.  The difference is in what you transmit so that she can follow.

Ricardo and Jeanette Delmar


Published on 30/01/2011 at 1:00 am  Comments Off on Chapter 6. What Does It Mean To Be A Milonguero?  
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