Henry of KnowTango Blog asked me to write about what makes a good tango venue.
I’ve been dancing tango for a long time, and in many venues around the world, and in Buenos Aires since 1997, where I now live and teach. Looking back, it seems I’ve danced everywhere—from outdoor plazas and bandstands to vacant factories and shopping malls to castles.
Where do I enjoy dancing most? Which salons are most appealing? What are the requirements of a great milonga?
First and most importantly, Ruben and I like to go where our friends are.
But then there is the space itself-- salons can be elegant traditional, modern, or funky. (I do tend to like antique salons, maybe recycled from a previous era--old theaters, restaurants, shops.) The personality of the surroundings adds something to--or takes away from-- the ambiance.
Every night here in Buenos Aires there are around 20 milongas to choose from; how to pick where to go?
What are our considerations? (Probably everyone has their own requirements.)
First of all, the floor is important. We like “soft” wood floors (Region Leonesa, Gricel) as opposed to hard tile (La Ideal, La Milonguita, Viejo Correo) and our knees and legs thank us for it. Centro Konex is large and funky, but the dance floor is cement--no thank you.
We also like space. We dance large when we can, and we are tall. We feel cramped when the floor is small and the ceiling is low (Maipu 444, El Beso). But other folks may feel cozy in intimate spaces.
We enjoy watching the dancers, and so we like the salon to be well-lit. We are traditional, and only use the cabeceo; for that, you have to be able to see across the room. Because we like to watch, milongas that are divided up spatially or with lots of columns in the middle of the floor, aren’t appealing (Boedo Tango, Dandi.)
The placement and size of the tables contributes to the ambiance. Small cozy tables, with tablecloths, scattered around the floor are ideal, as opposed to clustered all in one area, or large banquet tables.
Because of the importance of the music, the sound system should be good and the DJ the best. Just putting on iTunes playlists and letting them run doesn’t cut it.
The organizer should make attendees feel welcome and at home. It’s nice if out of towners are introduced during announcements.
The dancers hopefully are at all levels, but the majority advanced, with a flowing ronda and no crashes on the floor or high-boleo stabbings by stilettos.
People are not there to get drunk or to buy drugs. They come to dance and are clean and well-dressed.
We like to have good table service by a friendly waiter/waitress.
Good ventilation is important, as well as fans and air conditioning in the summer.We are most comfortable where the codigos are known and observed: cortinas, cabeceo, good manners.
If we can have all this in a historic ballroom with ornate chandeliers and gilt, even better. An elegant setting, elegantly dressed dancers, make for elegant tango. Traditional salons in Buenos Aires are like this. But there are funky venues as well: La Catédral, Peru 571, Independencia 572. The floors are bad, the music may be alternative, people are dressed casually in athletic shoes. Folks go there for other reasons than to dance the best tango possible.
Practicas are of course less formal, but still a good floor is necessary—dance studios if large enough can work well as practicas. There should be enough room that dancers can really practice without worrying about injuring someone else.
Tango classes can be held anywhere on a good floor with a good sound system. Mirrors are nice, but not necessary.
What about Festivals? I’ve been to plenty of those too, all around the world. I like it when everything is in one place—like a hotel or convention center. I wasted so much time, for example, in Amsterdam trying to find my way around to various studios/clubs/salons. I used to attend Norah’s Tango Week outside of San Francisco, and while perhaps it wasn’t the most gorgeous of venues, I liked that my room, the classes, and the nightly shows and milongas were all at one place—in this case, the Holiday Inn.
Many factors make up a good tango venue, and when they all are there, the effect can be magical and keep dancers returning time and time again. It’s worth it to think about the ambiance, because when it all comes together and makes magic, the dancing does too.
What do you think makes a good venue? Where do you like to dance?