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.
*Being patient.
*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,


Anonymous said...

Why indeed, Cherie. But you left out another very popular motivator for a great number of people: been there, done that.

Perhaps it is human nature to wish to go to "famous" places so we can speak from a place of "experience". Perhaps it passes as adventurousness for those who lack "courage" and/or "patience"; traveling to a geographical spot but not interacting with the natives.

I've been three times to BA, the first two with a friend, the last all by my lonesome. I don't know how it would have gone for me had I not had someone to show me the ropes the first time, but I had absolutely no problem at all getting dances, or meeting people, or having a grand time.

Although I do speak Spanish fluently, none of my partners knew that when they asked me to dance, since I hardly look Latina. But I was very observant and respectful of the codigos, and tailored my dancing to the conditions on the dance floor.

It also helps that I am very gregarious and curious, and unlike the bozos who proclaim that they'll do whatever they want, I prefer the "when in Rome" approach to travel. I can always do what I do at home when I'm, um, at home.

tangocherie said...

You are so right! Thank you for pointing out the "cartel" of a BsAs tango trip.

Lots of people take huge group classes with famous people and then put, "studied with Gancho Famoso" on their resumes.

As you say also, it helps if you assert a pleasant and outgoing personality. Some tango tourist ladies have attitudes that scare off the milongueros and everyone else.

Anonymous said...

"Gancho Famoso" LOL!!!!

Although to be fair, some of the native ladies are also pretty scary :-)

Ron Weigel Urbana IL said...

Hi, Cherie.

This blog post was great. I've often wondered why people bother to go to Buenos Aires and seek out the tango instructors and type of dancing (exhibition tango) that masquerades as social tango back home. Some even say they have been to Buenos Aires, went to Villa Malcolm, and everyone dances just like they do at home, so they must be dancing an authentic Argentine social tango. Everyone at home who hasn't been to Buenos Aires then nods their head in agreement, wondering what the hell this other guy is talking about saying that people dance differently in the milongas of Buenos Aires.


n a n c y said...

And there is Gancho Panza who never taught a tango lesson in his life and is brought to the US as a professor. Yeah, he is lovely to dance with but he doesn't KNOW what he is doing.

Charl said...

As someone who has not been to Buenos Aires, reading about the tango scene in Buenos Aires is quite intimidating even it is catered for foreigners. However, I am looking forward to the day that I go there myself and experience it first hand.

Anonymous said...

It's cute that you call her "an acquaintance" - I think more distance might have been even better - maybe "acquaintance of a far distant acquaintance

"*Courage." That's probably the most important thing needed and one trait I don't have
and actually have less and less as the years go on.

Interesting article.

Anonymous said...

Very very interesting.
This article makes me wonder about something that i´ve been seeing from a while in uk and usa people (sorry, no offense to anyone). The music and dance that they call "tango" seems to be only the one that appears in perfume de mujer and any smart guy that uses some machines to create something that they call "modern tango".
Seems that life is only on tv or movies.

Anonymous said...

Porteño 100% here.
How can some people separate tango from Buenos Aires?
Sur, if you think that Pompeya is only an ancient city of rome?.
Sorry, but like someone said here, Perfume de Mujer and some fools dj´s that make that s... called modern tango seems to have brainwashed thousands of brains in usa and uk.
I see some issue of "im american, tango is what i say tango is" (sorry, i´ve seen it THOUSANDS of times), kind of cultural imperialism. Tango is what I say it is or what i´ve seen in the movies, not what ACTUALLY is.
Sorry, no offense to anyone, just facts;(

carolina said...

I think that the comments about the Tango scene being so intimidating here are a bit exaggerated. I took a few months of lessons in the US before coming here, and after living here for a little over 4 months and taking group/private lessons I am now venturing out to the Tango clubs alone. Am I a good Tango dancer yet? Absolutely not. But I know the basics well enough to feel somewhat comfortable on the dance floor and I have found the male dancers to generally be forgiving when I make mistakes. It took me a number of years of instruction/practice/dancing before I was able to go to Stephen's Steakhouse in LA (one of the best Salsa clubs) and feel that I could hold my own with the better dancers. Just like everything else, you have to pay your dues.

Panayiotis said...

I've been questioning the validity of the teaching I'm getting here in the states and always wonder if I'm on the right track with my Tango.

I want to be able to dance small movements on a crowded floor without the flashy patterns. Is it worth it for me to go to BsAs, or should I request a teaching "style" by name to my teacher.

This blog really made me think about where my Tango is now and where it could/should be going.

Any suggestions?

Pete | The Tango Notebook

tangocherie said...

Why thank you, Pete, not only for reading and commenting on my blog, but for saying that what I wrote made you think. No greater compliment is possible, and it gave me warm fuzzies.

So now as to your tango, it sounds like you want to dance milonguero style--emphasis on the embrace, connection, music, improvisation, sensuality and elegance.

My opinion is that a teacher understands and teaches and dances that style, or he/she doesn't. If you requested it, most tango teachers, ballroom or nuevo or whatever, would probably say, sure, because they don't want to lose you. But it would be far better to search out the milonguero style teacher. If you tell me where you live, maybe I can help.

But absolutely, you should come to BsAs as soon as possible. Not that there aren't other styles ("nuevo") here, but there are also so many traditional milongas and dancers. Two weeks of absorbing traditional dancing to traditional music, and three or four private lessons to learn technique--not steps, and your tango will change forever.