It takes more than two to make a milonga (30 sep 2008)

This past weekend had a peculiar slow energy in the Bay Area tango community, at least as far as the milongas were concerned, and I'm not entirely certain why, although I surmise that Luciana Valle's workshops may have had something to do with it. Her all-day workshops are very popular (rightly so) and also demanding, so I'm sure some folks have been conserving their energies to focus on them and/or are exhausted after attending. The All-Nighter at the Beat had a relatively light attendance despite having the wonderful Ney Melo as a guest teacher for the pre-milonga class and also being the closing event of the Tango Insomnia triptych. But I have been hearing from a lot of people lately that they have been feeling unusually fatigued and my sense is that there is something happening climate-wise that is affecting all of our energy somehow. Either that or the world is just getting more stressful in a way that we don't quite register on a conscious level.

Toward the end of the milonga when there were only about three or four couples dancing on the floor I was preparing to put up the dividing wall that splits the room in half but was admonished by a colleague and we got into a discussion about it. My position was that when you have too big of a space for the number of dancers it diffuses the energy of the milonga. Her argument was that the bigger the space the better as it gave the dancers more freedom. I have to say, her stance didn't convince me as even with half the room there was more than enough space for the number of couples to move with great freedom. This isn't to say that I think that milongas need to be crowded to feel cozy or anything like that, in fact, I don't much care for dance spaces where I have to significantly throttle my energy and expression. But it goes back to my perspective that when you dance at a milonga you are dancing with everybody at the milonga. And the way I interpreted her perspective is that she was really only dancing for herself and her partner. I feel if that's your motivation it would be better for you to dance only as a part of a show, or get a studio space of your own.

Even though it's not a big deal, just a difference of opinion, I was and am inordinately adamant and resentful about her position and I'm not completely sure why I feel as strongly as I do. Certainly, there is a petty ego thing about it where I feel she just doesn't "get it," that she's not really a milonguera because she doesn't understand these things. It's the same when I discuss music with people who say traditional/golden age is "boring" and want a lot of "alternative" stuff. But with the former at least, I think part of it is that I get really tired of selfish dancers on the floor, and also that one of the things I miss about the (good) milongas in BsAs is the beauty of watching or being a part of an entire room moving as one harmonious unit.

If anyone would care to share their thoughts on space vs. community on the dance floor, I'd like to hear other perspectives.


Frances R said...

Wow, I caught a cold mid-last week, and had to sit home, hugging a box of tissues. Still recovering. So, it wasn't just me, huh?
My feeling is same as yours. I care very much for the energy of the milonga. Dancing with a partner in an empty studio is a completely different thing. Even if I get to dance, I still crave that milonga mood, all the dynamics between couples on the floor, between the music and the crowd, dancers and bystanders... just watching that, at times... it's the whole world.

Limerick Tango said...

I really don't like going out on an empty floor. Apart from the 'loneliness of the steppe' feeling it also means that I have to think of everything. I enjoy feeding off the changes of space around me.

Maybe the financial woes were getting people down.

Malevito said...

Hi guys, how are you?

It seems that, at least in our micro sample size, we have a consensus. But I wonder if that's partly because of the way I framed the question, having come out so strongly against selfish dancing and all that.

To even things up a bit, I should remark that I'm not totally against being selfish--certainly, no one should get on the floor feeling like a martyr for everyone else (unless they enjoy being in that position). I'm all for freedom of expression and individualism as long as it doesn't impact on anybody else's said freedom. If a milonga affords one the space to indulge, then by all means go for it. And I have to admit that I personally prefer milongas with space for expression, which is why I tend to shy away from very small, crowded milongas and also from dancing at peak hours.

But there is a balance, as always, and if there is *too much* space then the milonga feeling is gone--that sensation of being caught up in a current. Like the difference between being a single drop falling from the sky or being a part of a waterfall. It's especially nice when you are surrounded by friends whose dance styles you are familiar with, and there is a kind of give and take where everyone is allowing each other the space they know they will need while keeping the flow moving. This is where floorcraft is not only effective but also a great pleasure and a collective art in itself, like teams of bike riders in the Tour de France.

There is also the loss of potential discovery that comes from the changes and adjustments in the dynamics of the energy of the dance floor. I love it when an unforeseen or forgotten possibility presents itself to me as a matter of sudden necessity.

Anyway, I appreciate your comments. Hope you are feeling better now frances :)

Elizabeth said...

Well, I guess I am not alone in feeling like sleeping 10 hours and not going out.
We have a big lovely dance floor in Seattle that I have never once had a good time on. Because it is so big, and rarely crowded, the energy in the room is very flat, and everyone seems far away. This dampens the social interaction, makes cabeceo impossible, and makes it feel lonely. I am sure that if the room were half the size or even a third, that there would be a warmer, more festive feel.

Malevito said...

Hi Elizabeth, how are you?

I think you hit the nail on the head. Here in the SF Bay Area one of the most popular milongas is at a place called El Valenciano, which has a relatively small dance floor and things get tight, but people love the energy and the atmosphere and general vibe.

At the other end of the spectrum, there have been larger venues here where they have tried to get a tango thing going but which ultimately didn't work out. Whether or not that was because of the size of the venue is a matter for debate.

So is the cabeceo a regular practice in Seattle milongas? I haven't really seen it applied outside of Argentina.

Anyway, thanks for the comment :)

Elizabeth said...

Hey Malevito,
At La Garua, a lovely milonga operated by Argentines, the cabeceo is done and is highly encouraged. I love this practice, and find it very polite and kind to all concerned. Since they use it there at a very popular milonga, at least people know how to use it, and can use it at the other milongas, but not everyone does of course. We have such a devoted community, and so many of us have spent some time now in the milongas in Buenos Aires, that the cabeceo feels natural. At first though, I admit, I found it difficult to look people in the eye....

Malevito said...

Hi Elizabeth--

I, too, have come to prefer the cabeceo as a manner of invitation but I've found that for the most part it's near impossible to use in my community. Most followers, even the many who have been to BsAs, are not attuned to it here because most men are more direct in asking for dances, and also the preferred atmosphere for our milongas tends to be fairly dark which exacerbates the utility of the practice.

I sometimes end up doing something in the middle, where I'll situate myself close enough to a desired partner to catch her eye, whereby I will nod toward the floor. But for the most part I'll begin by striking up a conversation to break the ice before asking. As a general rule I never approach someone and ask out of the blue, which feels very awkward to me.


Elizabeth said...

And if one approaches me from "out of the blue" I feel very much as though I don't have much in the way of options, and if I don't want to dance, (i.e. if I don't know them at all and haven't seen them dance) it is hard to hurt someone's ego. Oh Well.