One major difference between milongas in Buenos Aires and those elsewhere, I believe, is that on the global tango scene milongas are controlled by dancing teachers who attract students by way of performances and various events: classes, workshops, bootcamps, etc. that are focused on movement.
Dancing teachers are in the business of movement, and that is therefore their main focus. They are mainly concerned with dancing that looks good, that attracts attention, that is highly visible and fun to look at.
It’s a basic principle of psychology that the prior stimulus primes your interpretation of subsequent stimulus. If you look at a dancing performance then subsequent evaluation of dancing will be controlled by that prior stimulus, and thus will colour your perception of it.
Musicians by contrast focus on the music. As a result, their interpretation of movement will be less in terms of how attractive it is visually, but rather in terms of whether and how it connects to the music.
In other words, what you view as primary in tango depends on where you’re coming from. If you’re a dancing teacher tango is primarily the dance. If you’re a musician, tango is primarily the music.
It is an interesting question whether the music could exist without the dancing, or whether the dancing could exist with the music. It seems that the two modalities are inextricably linked.
Some musicians play tango music that demands a performance. Then those musicians will probably have similar preferences to the dancing teachers. And the performance oriented dancing teachers will prefer music and musicians who play the sort of music that’s good for a floorshow.
On the other hand, musicians who have good understanding of traditional Epoca de Oro tango music and the reproduction of this sort of music, where that is their focus, are going to be interested in how social dancing connects to this music. The music is going to be their point of focus and their judgement and interpretation of dancing will be coloured by their understanding of the music.
Because tango milonguero social dancing is very inward it does not really have pulling power to the wider audience. It’s traditional tango music that is more likely to attract people’s attention.
One problem is that those who deal with movement are mainly interested in performance, whereas musicians are less likely to be skilled at movement.
Still, I don’t think that this is the main obstacle.
Rather the main problem is that it’s the performances that attract audiences, and once performances become the main vehicle for attracting people to tango then this gives the dancing teachers the power to then impose their particular views about what comprises competent tango dancing.
Performance dancers and their preferred musicians can attract audiences, but then need to translate that into a social dancing scene. The basic spanner in the works is that performance dancers are clueless about social dancing and so create the Frankenstein global tango scene.
So really the music rather than the movement needs to be the leading factor in the attraction of audiences to traditional social tango. Therefore, the people in charge should be those who are knowledgeable in music, in playing music, preferably some tango music, and in music reproduction.
The question then is whether they can teach basic tango dancing.
In my view musicians can develop the necessary movement skills to teach tango milonguero dancing by taking lessons in Feldenkrais Method and reading Moshe Feldenkrais’ “Awareness Through Movement”. If they also take some Contact Improvisation classes that would be even better.
In other words, I see the ideal skillset for a tango organiser as being a musician, or at least being a competent DJ with good listening and technical skills, plus basic knowledge of somatic movement in the form of Feldenkrais Method and Contact Improvisation.
In terms of promotional skills it would be preferable to attract audiences to tango via traditional tango music rather than via performances.
One possible strategy that I am myself exploring is to make a deal with a cafe or cocktail bar to promote their venue if they allow you to play tango music for an afternoon or evening and everyone buys at least one beverage. They will usually have enough space for at least a handful of couples to dance in the milonguero style.
Scoring a rent-free dancing space: make yourself musically useful
I am currently playing unpaid gigs on my guitar in some cafes and cocktail bars.
What I’m finding is that the managers are quite clueless about audio. Often they’ve invested a lot of money in their sound systems but are unable to get quality sound out of them.
Apart from just not knowing how audio equipment works they are quite poor at choosing good music for their cafe or bar.
Like most people they have no idea what a DAC does. Just like the tango DJs, they simply plug their system directly into their device.
I hooked up my Chord DAC to their system and played music from the Tidal.com app. Totally blew their mind.
After the demonstration, they tell me that they’re planning to buy a mixer. I think they believe that the problem is a lack of EQ knobs to get better sound. It’s kind of hard to explain to people what exactly a DAC does and why you need good quality music files.
So I think that if you’re smart and you have even basic knowledge of audio technology, eg., you know what a DAC is and own a good one that you can carry with you, and you can help them with their playlist and advice on where to source good quality music files, you can quickly score points and an afternoon for your tango party free of charge.
And if you keep clear of dancing large kinespheric movements you don’t need to be limited to dancing studios or large dancing floors and thus you save yourself those hefty rental fees.