Archive for the ‘milonga’ Tag


A Manifesto by Nena Pezonchico
(Agitator, troublemaker and a mistress of exaggeration in the rarest of thin air)

Tango is in trouble. Living in our own world of music and dance, we are failing to see it. The milongas in Buenos Aires are full. And when they are not, the practicas are (100-300 people). But in the real world, outside of the milongas, the picture looks very different.

Argentines, essentially, are boycotting the tango. Many even hate it. Out of 100 radio stations in Buenos Aires, only one plays tango music. Argentine companies do not use tango music in their TV commercials, preferring rock, foreign or national. And Argentine people that love tango music are in despair. They no longer have hope that the young Argentines will embrace the tango. Many also have lost hope in the Europeans. But they have a lot of hope in the Americans and their belief in how stupid Americans are at dealing with things they don’t understand.

Many Argentine people that are involved with the music of tango, such as tango historians, taxi drivers and pizza delivery guys, who may not even dance themselves, feel that the Americans have a genuine interest and love for tango music. It appears that many people from the US are buying a lot of tango music, and not just the most obvious selections, but things that are rare, and they know what they are buying because they have been looking for it. These Argentine tango historians look at the American dancers and DJs with respect and hope they don’t wise up. They believe that if anyone can save the tango, it will be the Americans that love it.

There are many young people (18 +) in Buenos Aires, who dance beautiful traditional tango with great style and energy, and they do not dance “nuevo” or dance to electronic tango (both of which seem to be the domain of dancers outside of Argentina). Instead, they love to dance to Donato, Canaro, Lomuto, etc. But there are not enough of them to keep tango from oblivion. That’s where the Americans come in.

This complexity demanded a great skill from the DJ when there was recorded music in the milongas all those decades ago. It is that same special quality that we bring to you at my milonga.

Our DJ does not DJ from a play list. Instead, he creates his tandas in advance, which allows him to match all the songs according to singer, date of recording, ‘mood’, tempo and key. He never selects consecutive tangos that are in the same key. He insists that it is the job of the DJ to maintain proper sound and volume at all times. He is a sound engineer at heart with a laptop choke full of mp3s.

We hope that you will come and enjoy this beautiful music. We hope that the men will learn what music makes them the best dancers in the world. For the ladies, we wish that every dance reminds them how beautiful, alive and happy they feel in this music. And we hope that every one of you, who loves tango, accepts the monumental challenge of keeping it alive by dancing it and knowing well its poetry and music.

Come to my milonga because you don’t want to be held responsible for the death of the tango.

Posted March 12, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in HUMOR

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AS THE ORGANITO GRINDS   Leave a comment

Those who have written about the tango and its origin, usually have not been interested in the popular aspect, only in the marginal, ‘forbidden” part. That makes all their body of work historically irrelevant for not being representative of the entire porteño society. As a consequence of quoting each other in their perpetuation of tales and misconceptions, the stories of the tango and its origins have been based in myths that have made it into the fertile imagination of those who seek the passion and exoticism of a foreign culture. One is the tale about illiterate musicians who played by ear, whistling into each other’s ears tunes that became the foundation of the tango music. Another is about men dancing with men. Another is that the often mentioned academias were places where dancing was taught.

The Archivo General de la Nacion, Argentina’s National Archives is an amazing place on Avenida Leandro Alem, a few blocks from Casa Rosada, the government mansion. There are records of publications, city council meetings and police reports all the way back to the beginning of the nineteenth century. It is the right place to spend plenty of time for anybody interested in finding out where people danced, what they danced, who were the dancers and the musicians, and when the tango made its appearance. The first reality that strikes the researcher is the realization that there was a full fledged living society in nineteenth century Buenos Aires.



Entering the decade of the 1880 there was still no evidence of anything particularly called tango being danced at the public dances. The most popular source of music for dancing was the organ grinder with a repertoire that included valses, polkas, schottische, mazurkas, habaneras, milonga, gato (a folk music from the interior of Argentina). The organito was not really an instrument but a mechanical reproducer of music previously programmed, sort of player-piano, whose use goes back at least to 1837. It did not need a musician, just somebody who transported it and made it work turning a handle. Programing the organitos required qualified musicians, the kind that graduated from conservatories and who very likely played with the many symphonic orchestras at the opera houses.

Dancing was high among the main sources of entertainment for dwellers of the city and the outskirts. People of all social backgrounds danced at legal and clandestine academias and cafes. The negative consequences of theses activities were public inebriation and rowdy behavior. That upset and annoyed the families who lived in the neighborhood. City ordinances were promulgated to prohibit, fine and tax public dances that served alcoholic beverages. The hardball police  efforts  to enforce the edicts, gave place to the proliferation of clandestine places for dancing.

In the September 27, 1880 issue of La Patria Argentina under the heading of Gresca chistosa or Funny fracas, there is a conclusive police report recommending the closing of one of those clandestine dance places, quoted from El tango en la sociedad porteña by Hugo Lamas and Enrique Binda.

“The prohibitions, fines and taxes with which public dances have been hit by the Municipality, have had the consequences of creating an original method of catering to the merriment of the populace.

Generally, the establishments where the clandestine activities take place are the cafes. On dirty windows, painted white, illuminated from behind by the inside lights, stand out in big black letters the name of the Cafe So and so…

In the first room, closest to the street, there is an actual coffee shop with relatively ugly waitresses. The back door is closed and the noise in the room is the typical sound generated by the voices of the patrons and the nature of the service. Suddenly somebody gets up and disappears through the back door for a considerable amount of time. Sometimes the back door opens and a tired looking character walks in to the counter and orders a refreshing glass of French wine and soda water, that strange concoction that the Italians drink when bowling.

Each time the door opened, it could be heard from the other room the noise of feet shuffling on the floor as if many people walked dragging their feet. Behind that door there was a great salon where people danced some quite original dances.

On the far wall of the salon there was one of those organ pianos, covered with a mattress. The mattress had the purpose of preventing the sounds from reaching the street, or even the room in front. The muffled hits of the instrument’s hammers evenly marked the rate of the piece that was being danced, with a strange noise, something like an instrument of percussion on wet wood.

With that strange music they dance in the salon. And they dance with two, three, or four women who are hired by the owner as dancers. These unfortunate women dance all night long. Every night, without resting, they go from the arms of a Creole dancer who twists them in a milonga, to the arms of a British guy who shakes them dryly in a jumped vals, or the arms of an Italian who dislocates their bones with a peringundin.

The salon is packed with dancers and since the women are few, the rest dance man with man to take advantage of the song that somebody has paid for. At the end of the song, somebody shouts, “Lata!” That means that he gets to pick the next song. He approaches the organillero (organ player) to request his favorite tune, he pays for the song and he gets a tin token for the piece that he requested. And the dance continues in a warm atmosphere because the room is closed, the smoke of the cigarettes clouds the air and the brushing of the feet on the floor is the dominant noise. Everybody is quiet; nobody speaks; because there they dance for the sake of dancing. There are no chairs in the salon to discourage loitering; those who enter, must dance or leave.”

No specific mention of the dance of tango is ever made until 1886 when a newspaper article refers to “the famous masked dances in the theaters where Army officers, violating rules and regulations, their own honor and the dignity of the uniform, swayed exaggeratedly their bodies to the rhythm of a tango milonguero.”

By the end of the nineteen century dancing reached the street corners of busy tenements. Entrepreneurial young men hired a couple of organ players and taught young girls to dance in exchange for the girls paying the organ player for each piece of music. In many neighborhoods, it wasn’t unusual that the lack of gender balance lead to bread with bread practicing, that is people of the same sex, going through the learning process in anticipation of getting ready for the real dances at salons, recreation centers, private clubs, and cafes and restaurants.

It is evident that people then had a notion of the meaning of the word tango as a musical genre, but they didn’t leave any messages buried in capsules to be opened at a future date explaining what it was or how it sounded.AS THE

ONE DAY NOBODY DANCED   Leave a comment

Almost every day he drives by the site and every time she casts a glance to the corner where the place where she used to dance the tango once stood up. Sometimes he’ll pull over to the curb and she will get out of the car and walk up to the corner. There, she’ll stare at the brand new store. Buried under the masonry and plaster of the colorful new structure rests in peace the place where she used to dance the tango.

It doesn’t seem to be a long time ago that people from the city and other neighborhoods gathered once a week to act out the ritual of the embrace.

Standing on that corner brings her memories of a time when she would share the laughter and the joy with her friends. One of them would always be in the mood to pour herself into a sexy dress and motivate the others to drive the distance to the nearest milonga. Like everyone else, they wanted to be where everybody was. And almost every day there was a place for the fledging tango community to meet again, to thrive for firnedship, to build camaraderie, to partake a snack, a drink, a pleasant look.

The loud roar of a four wheeler whizzing by the main road startled her. The early winter breeze played havoc with her long shiny black hair. How unfair, she whispered. We never quite appreciated the handful of dedicated men and women who gave so much of their time and money to make it possible for all of us to dance the tango.

Week after week, they would all eagerly go down the stairs to that old beat up lounge, to greet those who had already arrived, to find a chair to sit down and change their shoes, to stop by the DJ table and drop a fiver and get a hug.

Surely, she remembered, at times some would complain about the music. Even then, people who could not get the feel of the tango and those who could not keep time to the beat of Di Sarli, would roll up their eyes and snobbishly blame it in the music. It all seemed cute then. They were all rookies at this tango business. There were no curious stares even for newcomers. To the contrary, it was the norm to greet and treat everybody as another member of a proud community. There were but a few recognized teachers, a handful of dedicated volunteers and lots of eager dancers supporting everybody’s efforts.

When and how it all changed? A persistent tear in her eyes reflected the last efforts of the sun trying not to fall down behind the mountains. She fought the sense of bitterness stalking at her thoughts.

Maybe it started when the solicitation for memberships interrupted the flow of a milonga. Or when the hosts became more important than their guests. Or when they began greeting some people like frogs from another pond. Dancing became a trial run. The dye of envy began to tint the glare on some evil eyes. She couldn’t figure out when she lost her sense of belonging to become just another ten dollar bill.

Perhaps it was the sudden change in attitude in those who become allured by the prospect of fortune, power and control. They put on suits for the first time. They smiled a lot and even danced with the less skilled. In an ironic twist it seemed as if the whorehouse had returned to the tango. Then, one night nobody danced. All the teachers stood up, looking perplexed at each other in a sort of proverbial circular firing squad. The dancers had stopped coming to this place.

The buzzing neon lights were beginning to overcome the last vestiges of daylight when she began to walk away ever so slowly from the site where the place where she used to dance the tango is buried. From the fast passing cars people would stare incredulous at the sight of the beautiful brunette walking backwards in high heels, crossing her left foot in front of her right foot every so often and seemingly embracing some invisible remembrance.

Posted November 29, 2008 by Alberto & Valorie in FICTION

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