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, June 02, 2012

The Milonguero Way Redux

This topic has come up again recently and so I thought I'd repost this from April 2010:

I am a "professional" dancer because I teach tango and get paid for exhibitions. But I wouldn't be a pro here in Buenos Aires if it weren't for my partner, Ruben Aybar. He is the draw. He is the Argentine who spent most of his life in the milongas, who lives and breathes and sings the tango. He is the teacher that students admire, adore and try to emulate.

Foreign dancers especially love getting to know a milonguero like Ruben and hearing his stories and dance secrets that otherwise they wouldn't be able to do, particularly if they don't speak Castellano.

Ruben wasn't always a professional dancer; he used to work in television until the crisis of 2001. He was passionate about his job, traveled all over Argentina working, and danced tango every night for the love of it.

Now tango is his job. He earns his livelihood from tango. It's now more than pleasure; it's work--which he enjoys. He teaches, does taxi dancing, and gives historical Tango Tours of Buenos Aires.

Sometimes this puts him in a difficult situation with friends at the milongas we go to for enjoyment and socializing. (We also go to milongas for work when we do milonga accompaniment.)

Foreign women friends expect that Ruben will dance with them. Sometimes he does. But if not, sometimes they outright ask him to dance, which puts him in a bad place as it does with all milongueros. For one thing, milongueros don't like to be invited, nor do they want to refuse a lady, and for another, if he danced with all the women who wanted him to, what about me? What about our social evening together? We are at Los Consagrados or Chiqué to enjoy ourselves.

The macho milongueros of Argentina do not like to be put in an awkward position they didn't choose. I've seen men refusing a woman forever because she once asked him to dance. Don't do it, ladies. If you want to invite men to dance, stay in your own countries/milongas; don't try it in the traditional Buenos Aires milongas where the cabeceo rules. The men want to decide when and with whom to dance, as well as how to embrace and lead their partner. (If a woman wants to invite, she should lead as well and there are several alternative milongas in Buenos Aires where she can.)

Ruben will always dance one tanda with current students. It's part of their education and he likes to check their progress. And he will bend over backward to make sure the friends sitting at our table get their drink orders, are comfortable, and have a great time at the milonga.

But there are friends who expect dances with Ruben at the same time they are telling me they are taking classes at DNI, or Canning, or expensive privates with Maximiliano Superstar. They ask me to "tell" Ruben to dance with them! Ruben owns his own dance. (I do not give him orders.) Read more here.

They expect him to give it away for free. They forget that the tango is what he has to sell.

Do these same people ask for free consultations from doctors and lawyers at social gatherings back home?

Ruben is a low-profile real milonguero, not a stage dancer who tours the world giving classes and making a big name for himself and who no one's ever seen at a milonga. Ruben is in Buenos Aires every week of the year dancing in the milongas, as he's done for the past 30 years. All the women want to dance with him and all of the men want to dance like him. But he is a professional. Friendly, affable, funny, and fun as well. And available for classes and milonga accompaniment.

I wish the women would remember that at the milongas.


Anonymous said...

It was a great pleasure to recently get to dance with Ruben at a milonga. I would never have dreamt of asking him -- or any other man there -- to dance directly, since this was a traditional milonga where invitations are made by cabeceo. Because I wanted to dance with him, I looked in his direction and when he nodded his head, I got up and we danced. (I would not, of course, have looked over at him if he had been sitting with you).

Under some limited circumstances, with some men, it *is* OK to ask men to dance directly (without leading them). But those circumstances apply only to very relaxed men who are already good friends, with whom you often dance and/or foreigners from cultures where that is acceptable. At informal milongas where cabeceo is not universally used. And with much younger men. At the traditional milongas, you have to follow the rules. That just seems like common sense.

tangocherie said...

You are so right--common sense. However sometimes it's left behind in the home countries of the women in question.

Thank you so much for your comment, Terpsi. But women are free to look at Ruben (and they do) when he is with me. He often dances one or two tandas with others when we go together. But going up and grabbing him or asking verbally is another story.

And BTW, it doesn't work the same for me and I don't mind at all. I enjoy the occasional dance with friends but I never search for the cabeceo of someone I don't know. I'm very traditional too.