dancers in the dark (13 dic 2008)

So what exactly is the deal with the low lighting at milongas? I don't know where the consensus happened but apparently the standard here (in SF, and perhaps the states in general) is for milongas to be lit as if by candlelight. Personally, I don't like it. For one thing, it exacerbates the difficulty of the subtle, non-verbal invitations to dance (a topic recently touched on by Alex in his blog.) But the thing I mostly dislike about it is that it makes it more difficult to dance, and it does this in two ways: first, obviously it decreases visibility and so makes it harder for me as a leader to be attuned to my surroundings. Secondly, and I suspect this is part of why people like dim lighting, it makes dancers feel more inclined to be self-obsessed--dancing in their own world, so to speak--thereby making them even less concerned about their surroundings or the impact they are having on the social floor.

When I've asked others why they like dim lighting the response is always about ambience. Some say that with the lights on it feels more like a práctica than a milonga. I don't know about that. I like being able to see everybody dance, and as long as no one is stopping in place or working out a particular difficulty--in short, if the ronda is flowing--then what's the problem? I can think of a few solutions to eliminate the práctica vs. milonga issue. First off, if people would dress up a little at a milonga it will make it feel less casual. Second, people should stop treating prácticas as milongas but rather as places to work out the dance--that pretty much means there doesn't really need to be any semblance of a ronda, or dancing in tandas. You can claim your spot and start working on specific things, stop whenever and discuss, not worry about holding up the line of dance, etc.

One woman told me that women like it darker because they are neurotic about their appearance and the dim light softens things and makes them look better. A concern which seems kind of pointless to me since I'm not looking at a woman when I'm dancing with her but feeling her presence--sorry to tell you this, but darkness does nothing to physically improve a figure. Also, what good does it do for a woman to dress up and make herself look good if I can barely see her? It's a shame all the thought that goes into color coordination that inevitably turns into shades of grey, all the money spent on glorious CIFs that disappear into the shadows. I suppose one thing to take into account is that followers don't have the same sense of responsibility concerning floorcraft, so they don't tend to take the inherent difficulties into account. But I would assume that of primary importance is for a woman to feel safe when she is dancing, and of perhaps lesser importance but nonetheless valuable is that a woman craves a lead that is clear and dynamic. As a leader, all of these qualities are compromised in a darker room because the floor is less controlled and consequently riskier, and as a result I as a leader dance more tentatively and conservatively.

Another thing about dim lighting that I've noticed is that, particularly for late night milongas, dimmer lighting lowers the energy level as the night wears on. It's natural--darkness signals the body to prepare for sleep.

I'm not advocating floodlights all over the place, but there needs to be a balance struck between atmosphere and practicality, and I think most places tend to err on the side of atmosphere. Thoughts?


Frances R said...

I prefer more light. I get sleepy when it's dark. Some may argue it's a good thing for a follower, but a) I am already myopic to begin with, and b) I often close my eyes while dancing. That provides the right amount of dreaminess.
Besides, I do not look good in a dim lighting! People, please stop taking horrible pictures of me at milongas. Or else, turn on the lights.

Alex said...

I'm with you...more light...like 50-60% level...not too dim...not too bright...

tangojunkie said...

I used to enjoy lower lighting at Milongas, "Ambiance" as you stated, but after several years learning this dance and really this way of life I've come to appreciate the subtleties of good lighting and what it can do to enhance the Milonga experience for everyone.

For example Cabeseo is much more difficult in a dark room, and I think needs to be at least available in order to make the Milonga a more genuine experience.

One of my favorite Milongas in Buenos Aires is Lo De Celia, it combines florescent and incandescent lighting with light green paint and stone flooring to make a most pleasant if decaying atmosphere (doesn't sound very appealing, but it is an awesome enviroment for
Tango). Another favorite is Nino Bien, well lit yet elegant.

tangojunkie said...

Oh, also when I got back to your blog I noticed that it is awful dark "in here", turn the lights up a little will ya! ;)

Malevito said...

Hi tangojunkie, how are you?

I seem to recall that most milongas in BsAs had fairly good lighting (La Viruta notwithstanding). Although the last time I was there I did go to one called "Milonga Oscuro" which was pitch black.

Speaking of La Viruta, yesterday a friend and I were on the subject of cabeceo and dark milonga halls and she said that she once caught a cabeceo at La Viruta where she was sitting near the bar and the other guy was somewhere near the dj booth! I don't think I can even see that far in that lighting.

On the subject of lighting, another guy told me that, especially as you get older, darkness tends to throw off your equilibrium. While I haven't heard this as a complaint and some older people who I've spoken with about this have denied feeling this effect, it is something I have certainly experienced and I'm not an old guy.

Anyway, thanks for the comment!