After eleven years living, dancing, teaching tango, and writing in Buenos Aires, I came home to L.A. in 2014, where I'm reconstructing my life.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Which taxi would you hire?
Maybe it all depends on where you want to go!
My first trip to Buenos Aires was in 1998 (read about it by clicking the link below.) I went with an organized tour of about 40 people from all over the U.S., none of whom I knew until our first get-together at La Ideal after we arrived.
Very astutely, the organizer hired local dancers, called teaching assistants, to dance with us during the classes and at the milongas. Not only were they paid a salary, they were also able to make separate deals with us, the tourists, for private lessons. So everyone was happy, and one assistant even went back to the States to marry one of the tourists.
The term "taxi dancer" wasn't used in tango until recently, coming from the cabarets of the 20's and 30's where young women danced with strangers for tickets and encouraged the purchase of champagne. The popular torch song, "Ten Cents a Dance" was about this custom.
When big tango festivals began several years ago, people traveled all over the world to dance. But, as usual in social dancing, there were more women in attendance than men. These women were often very unhappy about not having someone to dance with in the classes that they paid large sums of money for.
So the organizers started bringing in young male dancers from the local community, and the women paid for them. Then at the festival milongas, when there were so many more women as well, it was a short jump to figure out taxi dancers were needed at night too. Soon the practice became highly organized, with the taxi dancers wearing special tee shirts and the women buying tickets and choosing who they wanted to dance with. Sometimes there were also a few young women taxis as well.
When all of these tango dancing foreign women then descended on the milongas of Buenos Aires, where they were already more women than men, it wasn't hard to see that paying a taxi dancer to dance with you might be preferable to sitting planted in your chair all night, especially for the tourists who don't know the codigos or how to carry off the cabeceo. So the profession of "milonga accompaniment" was born. (This is something that Ruben (cel # 15-57-99-20-38) does a lot, and me too, on occasion.) There are now several websites devoted to the taxi dancer business in Buenos Aires.
The problem is that, because they are cheaper, organizers hire (usually for 20 pesos). young twenty-something boys who are beginning dancers themselves. And most of the foreign women who request this service are over fifty. You can spot these couples a kilometer away at the milongas: older bejeweled foreign lady/boy in a suit looking uncomfortable. The taxi is used to dancing open and nuevo, the client close-embrace milonguero. Everyone can see what the arrangement is, nobody else will ask the lady to dance, and it's all a bit awkward.
An alternative way of handling the taxi situation is to hire someone close to your own age, and not to have him sit with you. He sits with the men across the room, and you sit with the women. He will cabeceo you at pre-arranged times (not every tanda!), and you will have the chance to dance with others as well. Your taxi should be an excellent dancer/teacher, and then the milonga becomes a dance learning experience, just dancing several tandas with a great dancer. Normally this arrangement is for 3 hours and the client also pays expenses (transportation, entrada, a drink). Once again, as when I wrote about tango teachers, you get what you pay for (unless a middleman is taking advantage.)
This week in Buenos Aires begins the big CITA conference, where taxi dancers are used extensively. People even sign up for them in advance. I think it's a great idea, but would prefer to go back to the more dignified term, "teaching assistants." There's something just, um, a little smarmy about "taxi dancer," but then smarminess is also part of the allure of tango.
But you sure don't want to travel all the way to Buenos Aires to be taken for a ride!