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, July 13, 2011


Lots of time is spent discussing and arguing in English over various terminology in tango--especially by Americans, and especially on the internet via tango blogs or tango mailing lists.

What style is danced: nuevo, apilado, orillero, Villa Urquiza, del centro, club, milonguero, de salon? To me it's like the monks in the Middle Ages arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

When students are learning a new move, the men often ask, what is the name for this? The tangueros of Buenos Aires don't worry about the names of things--is it ocho cortado, ocho milonguero, or ocho arrepentido? What is important is only how you dance the movement, call it what you like.

And so what/who exactly is a milonguero? Besides a term that is thrown around casually, derisively, or as an honorific?

In other cultures the term milonguero is used almost interchangeably with tanguero--a man who dances tango. But here in Buenos Aires, milonguero  has a special meaning: a man who is married to the milonga. He probably has some kind of menial day job--usually in a factory, or in an auto garage, or as a taxi driver--but every night he is found in the milongas, where he comes alive. He is not a stage dancer, nor a tango teacher--unless he has been coerced into instructing for lack of funds or by (usually) foreigners who want to dance like he does. And he has never taken a tango lesson himself. Tango is his life, not his work. He is famous for using his dance skills to conquer women. If you ask him if he is a milonguero, he will deny it and say he is a bailarine, a dancer.

Milonguero used to be a pejorative term, an insult, as in, "Oh, he is nothing but a milonguero!" Meaning the man hangs out in dance halls, seduces women, and has no real education or profession. A milonguero isn't a doctor, lawyer, engineer, or college professor who dances tango as a hobby. A milonguero is more the dance equivalent of a bar fly--a man who lives to dance, who gets drunk on the tango, and can not live without it.

Because of the history of the word, you can't really call a tanguero in New York or London or Sydney a milonguero, because he hasn't had time to be one, even if his culture allowed it. Most foreign tangueros are professional men with real careers and families and even if there were milongas all night long every night where they live, they probably wouldn't spend all their time dancing at them.

But nowadays, because the best dancers tend to be the ones who have danced the longest, the true milonguero is getting old, disappearing and unfortunately dying off. The modern world doesn't seem to have a place or time for a young man to loiter every night in tango halls, learning by watching the older men. And perhaps today's young men are not inclined to spend years waiting to be great dancers. So they take classes, and after a couple years of classes, they teach classes, because there is always someone who knows less than they do. And then they enter competitions to get a name, and then they take teaching engagements in other countries and are always touring, rarely are they in the milongas of Buenos Aires. No matter what style they say they dance, these men are not milongueros.

Today, to be politically correct, especially when the country's president is a woman, some people talk about milongueras, the female counterpart to the milonguero. But there really is no such thing. A woman hanging out in dance halls every night, meeting, flirting and dancing with strange men, has another name, and it has nothing to do with tango. So the correct term for a woman who dances tango is tanguera.

If you see a guy wearing this shirt, he is not a milonguero.
As times change, as the tango changes, as the milonguero viejo dies off, certainly the meaning of the word will also change. But while we still have real and true milongueros, men who grew up in the milongas and learned and followed the codigos and spent their lives dancing, let's not throw the word around lightly. A few decades ago it was an insult; now it is a compliment, and who knows what it will mean in the future. But while we still have the real live deal in our Buenos Aires milongas, let's save the term for them.


Angelina Tanguera said...

Thank you Cherie. Once again I have learnt something more about tango and the culture...we have a couple of men in Sydney, older immigrants who fit your description. But now I know the history of the word I will be much more careful in its use.

Elizabeth said...

What we have been getting so far away from in our contemporary, and global tango culture, is this historical context. I was wondering about the use of the work and this clears some things up.
Remember Senator Bentsen and his debate with Dan Quayle, when Qualye compares himself to John F. Kennedy?
I always think of that comeback when people call themselves milongueros. I have only danced with a few, that's all it takes.

And there are some who don't come from BA, and who seem to be channeling a ghost....there are. And there are some of course who don't fit all the aspects of the classical type. But your point is well make and it is important.
Thanks, E

Anonymous said...

Is there some kind of recognised meaning for Maestro / Maestra in tango? And is it assumed that Milongueros are Maestros>

tangocherie said...

Hi Anon (please use your name as normally I don't accept anonymous comments)

Thanks for the good question. Maestro and maestra mean primary school teachers. High school and college teachers are called "profesor/a".

But the term can be used as an honorific. For example, when we went to a private dinner with Alberto Podesta, people directed conversation to him with "Maestro."

It's like an honorary doctorate, a term of respect.

But today in tango, it's used in marketing to make the teacher seem more impressive and important.

Melina Sedo said...

Hi Cherie!

I presume, you may have written this post as a reaction to my last postings, where I speak of European Milongueros.

I can very well understand your point of view, and the ORIGINAL definition of Milonguero is surely the one you are explaining so nicely.

But we do have to admit, that words and meanings of words change or develop over the years. So even if the "young men" (both in and outside Argentina) now have a regular work - maybe even teaching Tango - they may still be Milongueros, beause they basically LIVE FOR THE MILONGA. Everything ekse is just to make a living - as the job in the factory was for the "old Milonguero".
Because of changed circumstances or because of not living in Buenos Aires, they may not have the time/opportunity to spend EVERY evening of the week dancing at the Milongas - but they do it WHENEVER possible, focus all their energy on it and would certainly end up living EXACTLY as the old Milongueros do. Believe me, I've seen quite some European guy who has basically given up everything else - a profession as engeneer, doctor or lawyer - just to dance Tango. And if they haven't given it up yet, they are on the verge of loosing these jobs, because they do not apply themselves properly - no wonder as these new Milongueros spend every minute available with Tango and waiting for the next Milonga.
These are the guys, I'm gonna write about.

As for women: Yea, i get the meaning of the original term Milonguera. But here in Europe, the meaning has changed as well with womens liberation and the percetion of women in the Milongas. There are some - although less - women, to whom all the bove mentioned criteria apply as well. So I call them Milongueras as well - hoping they will not misunderstand me. ;-)

Please note, that I do not describe myself as a Milonguera. Although I gave up my profession as a psychologist to do Tango, I did not do it to dance, but to teach. I see myself as a professional Tango teacher who dances social Tango. The center of my life are not the Milongas, but the teaching of Tango - and all the work that comes with it.

My... that was a long comment.

ou see, we do differ in this definition, but I hope you can understand my point of view.

Have a nice day,


tangocherie said...

Hi Melina,

Thank you for your long and interesting comment!

At the time I didn't think my post had anything to do with your "European Milonguero" post, but maybe it did spark my theme unconsciously.

Like all language, these terms are changing. I simply was trying to clarify the meaning of the words as used here in Buenos Aires, and thought I emphasized that.

I wasn't talking about Europe but the U.S. when I said that sometimes the words "milonguero" and "tanguero" are thrown around loosely as having the same meaning. And I wanted to point out the history of the words and their true meaning "here in Buenos Aires."

I love words. Words have a lot of power. And they are "alive" and so over time they can change.

When the old milongueros are gone, the word "milonguero" will probably change to mean just a man who goes to milongas.

Un abrazo tanguero!

Melina Sedo said...

Yea, I get the difference between Tanguero and Milonguero.

But I think, here in Europe, we do make a clear distinction, with Tanguero just being someone who dances Tango - no matter which style, philosophy or intensity.

Milonguero is connected to an identification with the traditions of the Milonga, a certain style (focus on embrace, seemingly simple movements) and a strong intensity - we're talking about the crazies who hold Tango above all! ;-)



Anonymous said...

I love this post and the comments that have ensued. I agree very much that the word milonguero gets thrown around a little too loosely. To the point of irritating me quite lot.

I can also confirm, though, what Melina says, having lived and danced in Buenos Aires, Europe (Italy) and the United States.

I was about to give up on tango in Italy until I went to my first "encuentro (or raduno) milonguero)". These gatherings, which take place just every few months or so, have a tight limit on attendance and attract only a certain type of tanguero - the "milonguero" that Melina describes.

I discovered a world very much like that of Buenos Aires. Not the same, but close. (And hooray! Combine that with the food I get to eat, and we have a happy Tina! But don't worry, I will come back to Buenos Aires.)

These guys "get it" and apply it in such a way I have not seen very much elsewhere. (But true, there is nothing like the real thing!)...

But in any event, I am SO glad you wrote this Cherie, as I do often have a similar thought, particularly when DJing at festivals in Italy and listening to people talk.

Nancy said...

For what it is worth: a real milonguero once pointed out to me various men on the floor. His designations were: milonguero, tanguero, and bailarin. None of the milongueros were under sixty. The tangueros were all ages, but usually had day jobs. The bailarines were all others ranging from beginners to old hands who were not especially good at dancing or were not devoting their lives to the life. I don't know of any Americans whom I would call milongueros albeit there are hundreds of very very good tangueros. Some of those tangueros have better technique and certainly more vocabulary and flexibility and energy than the milongueros but they do not and may never have the feeling for the music or the desire to please the woman as do the milongueros of BsAs.

Daniel said...

Hi Cherie, I just want to clarify something: They are two different groups. In Argentina, we call tanguero to someone who loves tango, usually a tango expert, the type of person who listen tango all the time, a classic tango lover. Also, a musician who plays tango is called a tanguero. A tanguero not necessarily go to the milongas and most of the time they don’t dance. Milonguero in the other hand, is someone who grow up in the milongas.

tangocherie said...

Thank you, Daniel. I thought I had made that clear, but you clarified even more that a "tanguero" who is someone who loves the tango, but a "milonguero" is someone who lives it.