Not so many

It is fairly amazing the large number of porteños (residents of Buenos Aires *) who don’t dance tango. Many non-Argentinians assume that “everyone” in Buenos Aires dances tango but in fact the percentage of the population who regularly attend milongas is miniscule. They grow up, live and work surrounded by and listening to the music but very few actually dance to it. My guestimate is that out of the three million or so people who live in the city, and additional ten million or so in the surrounding districts, fewer than 10000 actually tango. I can’t find any published numbers to support this, it’s just based on observation of the number of weekly milongas and the number of people in each one.

Depending on which list you use there are about 130 milongas per week in Buenos Aires. There are actually more because not all of them get listed. Let’s call it 20 per night plus half as many again which aren’t listed. So that’s 30 milongas per night. I’m assuming the unlisted ones are smaller than the well known, publicised, listed ones. Let’s assume an average of 100 porteños  in each milonga each night. 3000 porteños dancing each night. Maximum. Some dance more than once a week, or dance in more than one milonga per night. So 10000 seems like a plausible upper guestimate for the number who regularly dance tango in a milonga. That equates to about one third of one percent of the population of the city. Actually I think the real number is less than that, but I’m trying to big it up.

Does anyone have a more accurate number? “Do you dance tango” wasn’t one of the questions on the census form on 27 October this year. They wanted to know what the floor in your dwelling was made of, but not whether you danced tango on it, or anywhere else. Given that tango was declared part of the world’s intangible cultural heritage on 30 September 2009, and both Argentina and Uruguay are eligible for United Nations funding to maintain and promote the dance it might have been worth including a question about it on the census form.

This post was prompted by TangoBora’s discovery, reported in her blog here that not everyone in Buenos Aires dances tango.

* See my glossary for the meaning of porteño and other “funny” words.

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3 Responses to “Not so many”

  1. tangobob says:

    I totally agree, in fact I did a blog on the same theme, but I cannot find it (suspect I have not published yet. My estimate was less than 1% of Porteños dance. But knowledge of the music? well as you know it is encylopaedic. I took part in that census, and to be honest, all they were really interestd in showing was showing how much better things are now, afterall they treated me as a resident. If they had done that with all the touristas then that would have pushed up their education and literate figures, so what would it have done to the tango dance figures? Your guess is a s good as mine on this one.

  2. Cinthia P. says:

    Hey Mark,
    I find that there is a generation gap in tango. My grandparents apparently danced it and so did their parents in family gatherings. However, my parents never danced it, neither did my aunts. I have some family members that really don’t enjoy tango music..they think it is kind of tacky. So yeah, it is interesting.

    • Mark says:

      Hi Cinthia,

      Yes, the generation gap in tango in Buenos Aires is a well known fact. It obviously doesn’t help with the numbers of people who attend milongas to dance.

      It will be interesting to see over the next 20-40 years as the generational void progresses, expands and is filled from the bottom how tango develops.

      Happy New Year to you, and best wishes for 2011. Hopefully I’ll join you at the writers’ group again in September.

      Un beso.

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