Choosing a milonga

A typical milonga
As I mentioned in Kid in a candy store there are over 128 milongas each week in Buenos Aires. Choosing the “right” one for you each day is obviously important if you want to have a good experience and not waste your time or pesos. There are a number of factors to consider when choosing. The weightings you apply to the factors depends on your tango objectives.

My objective is to dance close embrace milonguero style. These are the factors that might run through my head. The list is not exhaustive and your weightings for the factors may differ from mine. I divide the factors into 4 broad categories.

People

How many, how friendly, how old, how good, how many singles?
Obvious things really. At this stage in my tango development I want to and need to dance as much as possible with as many different people as possible. Working on there being 6 tandas  an hour and staying for 4 hours I would like to dance about 12-18 of them. It is not usual to  dance more than 1 tanda with the same partner. Not everyone will want to dance with me and I’m still choosing to dance only with taller partners. So there needs to be at least 30  followers for me to have a chance of getting all the dances I’d like.

By friendly I really mean how receptive are they to dancing with extranjeros or people  they don’t already know. I don’t really care how friendly they are. If my castellano was  better then I might care a bit more. Right now the standing around for 15-30 seconds at the start of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th tracks in each tanda making (or not making) small talk is generally an awkward waste of dancing time.

There is almost a whole generation of porteños (I’m using the Spanish custom of masculine plural referring to a mixed group of both genders) – roughly the 30-50 year olds – who don’t tango. And the 2 groups either side of that generation don’t generally dance at the same milongas as each other. While I appreciate that the older dancers may be fantastic dancers,  and many of them have danced longer than I’ve been alive, it’s nice sometimes to dance with someone of a similar age and not old enough to be my mother.

How many singles is a question of how many potential partners are actually available to  dance, not how many are actually single. This is more easily determined at the more traditional milongas where single tangueros sit opposite the single tangueras and the couples and mixed groups sit together.

Music

Is the music any good?
In my experience the music in most of the milongas I attend is much the same. It’s nearly all  traditional, even in the more informal milongas at Villa Malcolm, loca!, Practica X etc.  People who know the music better than I do say some DJs are better than others. Whether  they agree on which are the best DJs is another matter. The only difference I really notice  is whether they play the traditional 2Tango-1Milonga-2Tango-1Vals-repeat tanda   sequence or something else.

Internal

Traditional/tourist/informal, what’s it like inside, how big is it, how big is the pista (dance floor), what’s it made of and what condition is it in, what’s the seating arrangement, how much is the entrada (entrance fee), how much are the drinks, what are the mozos (waiters and waitresses) like, what are the food options, is there a bog troll?
The traditional/tourist/informal category largely determines the nature of the people.  Traditional milongas are mostly frequented by older porteños. A few curious or brave  tourists may be present. Tourist milongas have a mixture of locals and tourists, the ratio  depending to some extent on the time of year. Right now, in July, we’re very much in low  tourist season and some of the tourist milongas, for example at Salón Canning, have far more  locals than tourists (they also have much lower numbers overall than they do in high  season). The informal milongas generally attract the younger locals plus tourists and those  who want to dance more open embrace tango. Some people care more than others about the ambiance and surroundings. Some people like more space on the pista than others. More important than the actual size of the pista is the density of dancers on it and the quality of their floor craft. It makes little difference to me whether the pista is tile or wood but I like it to be even. Very few of the wooden pistas are sprung, some of the pistas (especially the tile ones) are very slippery and some of the wooden ones are very uneven and/or have holes which can trap stiletto heels.

The seating arrangements go somewhat hand in hand with the traditional/tourist/informal category and affect how many successful cabeceos you’re likely to be able to make.

At most of the milongas I attend the entrada is at the upper end of between $15 and $20 (pesos not dollars). I mentioned inflation in a previous post and other bloggers have mentioned it in relation to milonga entradas recently. I haven’t noticed an increase in the entradas since April, or since my visit last December, but both Janis and Bob have commented on how much they’ve increased in the past few years. They’re still relatively cheap for tourists, especially those only here for a couple of weeks, but for the residents and long stay visitors I wonder how much higher they can go before they have a serious impact on the number of admissions. Some bloggers think this is already happening and have bemoaned the death of the milongas.

Lots of dancers drink water at a milonga and a bottle is between $6 and $8. Many milongas have waiter/waitress service and of course they expect a propina (tip) per order or at the end of the evening depending on when they charge you. At one they stick your bill for each order on a little spike on your table and collect their money when you signal you’re ready to pay. Every now and then one of them wanders round the room with a little rubber stamp  stamping all the tourists’ bills with “Service not included” or words to that effect. I do know  that, stamping it on my bill doesn’t give me a warm fuzzy feeling! The level of service varies greatly from milonga to milonga; I find it especially poor at one in particular.

Different milongas have different food options ranging from simple snacks like peanuts or crisps through empanadas to full dinners.

The state of the restrooms and their facilities varies widely and bears little relation to the perceived status of the milonga venue. I don’t know what the ladies restrooms are like but  some of the men’s are bad, or very bad. The best I’ve seen are at Practica X. At some milongas there is a bog troll, an attendant who holds the paper towels and maybe even the toilet roll hostage. As well as expecting a propina in exchange for a bit of paper towel some of them have stuff to sell, ranging from sweets to CDs, photos and posters, and sometimes even clothing. One I find particularly amusing has an honorific title, clippings and pictures of himself with various famous people all over the walls and advertises in the tango magazines. He’s got an email address too. Hang on – “Dear Bog Troll, please get some nice soft toilet paper for tonight’s milonga…”

External

Where is it, what time is it, is it in a safe neighbourhood, how do I get there, how long will it take and how much will it cost to get there?

The milonga venues are scattered all over the city although there are some distinct clusters visible on the Caserón Porteño tango map. Obviously some are closer and easier to get to than others. Some start in the afternoon and run until about 10pm or 11pm, others start at night and run through to 2am-6am.

There are 4 basic options for getting there and home again: walking, subte (subway), colectivo (bus) or taxi. Some of the venues are in not-so-nice to unsafe neighbourhoods. While you might be happy to walk/subte/colectivo there you might prefer to take a taxi home. The subtes stop running by about 23:00. The actual time depends on the line and day of the week. It’s safest to assume the last train leaves by 22:00. The first train of the day is at 08:00 on Sundays, 05:00 all other days. The colectivos run all day but with reduced frequency at night. Taxis are often available from right outside a venue, or within a couple of blocks. A subte ticket currently costs $1.10 to go from anywhere to anywhere within the network. There are about 150 colectivo routes, each operated by different companies. If you’re travelling by colectivo your journey may need more than 1. There are 5 different fares, currently ranging from $1.10 to $2 depending on distance. All of my journeys are $1.25 or less. Taxis start the meter at $4.60 and most rides are about $15-$30.

Out of all that lot, the people factors are the most important to me.

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