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.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Why Do Some People Bother to Come to Buenos Aires to Dance?
The springtime tango tourist season is drawing to a close here in Buenos Aires. Dancers come year round, but most people prefer November and March, perhaps because of the weather, and also perhaps because of the various festivals and events designed to attract tourists that are programed for these months.
Recently a friend wrote to me,
Sometimes I wonder why foreigners go to Buenos Aires, some repeatedly, and they go home and they still don't understand the dancing or the culture.
I wonder some of the same things about how foreigners can return home from BsAs without a clue. It's like they brought their tango with them from their home town and protected it from all Argentine influence while here. It's possibly due to the syndrome that one acquaintance of mine loudly asserted at a milonga, I'm an American, I'm on vacation, and I'm going to do what I want!
Or it's the desire for instant, safe learning, or a quick fix, that encourages people to attend hermetically sealed events like Milongueando and Pulpo and CITA, etc. They dance with foreigners like themselves, they take classes in English from teachers who spend most of their time teaching the very same students in workshops and festivals back home in their own countries, the teachers who have made names for themselves outside of Argentina.
Often the demand for the steps and figures students have seen on stage or TV slants the classes away from social tango as it's danced here. After years of these classes, some people go into shock when they go to a "normal" Buenos Aires milonga for the first time; they don't see anything that they've learned, and they have no idea how to navigate a packed floor. They know even less about how to dance to the different orchestras, and how to actually find someone to dance with. Women sometimes cause confusion by doing flashy "moves" they've learned that here have other connotations (i.e., lifting their legs high off the floor.)
My friend continued,
I think some people are hesitant to come to Buenos Aires and tough out the milongas if they don't have a partner or don't know people already. Being able to speak Spanish is helpful, fluency is even more helpful. So I shouldn't be so impatient with people who flock to tourist festivals and tourist milongas.
But I don't agree with him that it's necessary to have a partner here to dance a lot, or that speaking Spanish is absolutely necessary. I came here alone for years not knowing any Spanish. I also remember taking a wonderful class many years ago from Olga Besio in Spanish; at that time I didn't understand many of her words, but still I learned a whale of a lot.
There are other ways to manage a tango trip if one is alone and doesn't speak Spanish. No need to attend an "incestuous" event for foreigners where the only locals are paid employees. For example:
* Staying in a so-called Tango House, which I did several times in the late '90s.
* Or traveling with one or two friends and mixing with the regulars at milongas.
* Searching out the best local teachers who perhaps have never traveled outside of Argentina.
*Possibly hiring milonga accompaniment in the beginning.
*Learning the codigos and observing them.
*Putting in the time.
Tango is worth it.
If people come here just for the festivals and the big classes with big names, why not just attend festivals in their own countries? It's certainly cheaper than coming down here where they might as well be at a festival in Altuna, PA, or Sydney, AU.
As my friend wrote:
Unless you mix with the locals in the milongas, you're wasting your money coming to Buenos Aires for tango.
To read more about Tango Gringo, go here, here, and here,