Monday, November 16, 2009


We were at a milonga over the weekend and were surprised to see what can be termed in Toronto as an anachronism – a couple who danced a style of dancing that we hadn’t seen in about two years.

We won’t go into lengthy descriptive details, but let’s just say it involved some “choreography” and a lot of back linear boleos (For those who have been personally “touched” by this kind of dynamic movement in a crowded milonga – you know what we mean when we say “Ouch!”) Luckily there was plenty of space and at least the couple looked like they were really enjoying themselves.

We had never seen this couple before, so we thought they were from out of town – but no, they were actually from Toronto! Perhaps they had been in hibernation, or perhaps they were frequenting milongas we weren’t going to - but thinking about it, the quality of Tango in Toronto has really improved a lot since their style of tango was last in vogue. Here on our blog we know we gripe and complain a lot – but the point is, we don’t see this kind of dancing anymore in Toronto. Toronto Leaders and Followers have improved since three years ago.

Especially the Followers.

Let us make a bold statement. In our humble opinion, Toronto has some of the best Followers in the world. Watching some of the Followers dance in Toronto, we are in total awe. Their aptitude has gone beyond mere “Following” – many Toronto Followers already have the skill to follow almost anything that is thrown their way – into something “more”.

Into the realm of the "Milonguera".

We use the term “Milonguera” for the purposes of this post in a very narrow sense. We are not talking about a lifestyle choice. We are not talking about a code of dress or a code of conduct, or a style of dance (as in "Milonguero Style"). We are not even talking about people knowing the music from front to back and back again or having the experience of dancing during the Golden Age. For all of that you will have to turn to the real Milongueras, the ones who are married to the milongas of Buenos Aires. Here in Toronto, we simply do not have the same culture, and therefore cannot make the same comparison on a cultural level.

However, what Toronto Followers could aspire to, and perhaps even achieve, is to “dance like a Milonguera”.

What is it like to be dancing like a "Milonguera"? Man Yung has danced with quite a few Milongueras in Buenos Aires, and has always expressed that they all had a quality in their dance that was quite beyond the average Tanguera. Man Yung and I discuss this topic incessantly. I confess that I would like to dance like a Milonguera, but I have yet to attain this. I still struggle day to day with just understanding the concept. What is the key?

From my discussions with Man Yung and my understanding to date, there seem to be some obvious things that cannot be considered "Milonguera":

1. A Follower who can't follow.

2. A Follower who does continuous unled ochos, ganchos, leans etc.

3. A Follower whose adornment addiction frequently disrupts the lead and results, in minor cases, in her “Not Following”, and in serious cases, in her using the Leader as an ahem, “Phallic Prop” with which she can pole dance to the fantasy of her adornment queendom.

4. A Follower whose “Will” to dominate the dance manifests itself physically, and leads her to be either

a) as heavy as a ton of bricks; and/or

b) as forceful as a braking train; and/or

c) as painful to dance with as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu double pretzel joint lock

– all on purpose, to show that she knows "better" than the Leader and therefore the Leader should submit to her interpretation of the dance, the music etc. This kind of Follower may think she is a Milonguera but in fact she is just an arrogant, heavy and unpleasant dancer.

4. A Follower whose “Will” to dominate the dance manifests itself passive-aggressively, as revealed in

a) Deliberate absence of “frame” and firmness (and "frame" and "firmness" does not mean pushing forcefully, but a natural receptivity to the lead) in the right arm to feel any lead, mimicking a limpy strand of cooked spaghetti. The Follower may even drop her arm entirely to prove to the Leader "Ha ha! You CAN'T lead me!";

- which may or may not be accompanied by a case of

b) Interruption of the dance to “correct” or “belittle” and "blame" the leader for mistakes in following arising from the Follower’s own lack of ability or desire to follow.

This is especially common in Followers who became “Teachers” or “Maestras” or “Tango Professionals” too soon. Since these Follower's ability to follow has sadly not matched the elevated status claimed by such Followers in the tango hierarchy, such psychological tactics are required by such Followers to “Save Face", frankly, when they couldn't follow. Even if the Follower is on a higher level than the Leader in skill, experience, knowledge etc. - this kind of behavior is absolutely unacceptable on the dance floor during a milonga (and that goes for Leaders teaching Followers on the dance floor as well). If the "Maestra" doesn't want to dance with a particular Leader in the milonga, she should just refuse, and not play games.

Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to be Argentinian or a Portena to dance like a Milonguera, and indeed, some Argentinians/Portenas do not dance like Milongueras.

Even more surprisingly, Man Yung has told me that "Milonguera" does not equate to "Perfect Following". Some Milongueras can follow perfectly. But Perfect Followers do not necessarily dance like "Milongueras". Indeed, Man Yung says that many Perfect Followers are too high-strung, nervous, tense, or precisely robotic and overall, too concerned about being Perfect Followers to be dancing "Milonguera". In addition, Man Yung has danced with Followers here in Toronto and in Buenos Aires who have not been Perfect Followers - but who have still conveyed to him a sense of being "Milonguera".

So how does a Milonguera dance like a Milonguera?

A Milonguera dances for herself and her partner, and not for the ulterior purposes of showing off, proving her style or her philosophy of dance is right, or for impressing onlookers, future partners and/or prospective students.

A Milonguera dances in the moment. She is not thinking of Wal-Mart.

A Milonguera dances because she enjoys dancing with the Leader. Which does not mean that she will dance with anyone who asks. Rather, she will reject Leaders who are dancing for ulterior motives - showing off, impressing onlookers, etc. etc. When a Milonguera is giving her all into the dance, the last thing she wants is to be nauseated by a Leader who is not dancing with her but who is using her in his own tango fantasy. She requires that she and the Leader dance - TOGETHER.

A Milonguera does not care if she is a Perfect Follower, and will not tense up and become as rigid as a board when she makes mistakes. Mistakes do not bother her. Dancing for her is not a contest of skill with the other Followers in the room, or with the ideal of what a Perfect Follower should be like. However, all Milongueras are Very Good to Perfect Followers - and not because they are trying to be, but because they are NOT trying to be.

A Milonguera can feel and show through her dancing the Leader's interpretation of the music. On a basic level, this means the Leader's choice of steps. On an advanced level, this means the Leader's emotional reaction and interpretation of the nuances in the music - whether the music is hard, soft, tender, fiery, peppy, tormented, joyous, etc. Just as the Leader must dance each different orchestra (and each different piece of music in each orchestra) differently, the Milonguera must feel, follow and convey this interpretation and not impose her own.

For the duration of the tanda, the Milonguera dances like she has given her entire being to her Leader and her Leader alone. But the Leader must also give his all to her, the Milonguera. This is the pact that they made, which they must not violate.

Just think, only two years ago many Toronto Followers had trouble doing more than one giro at a time! And one year ago we were contending with a plague of rabid adornistas. Now you can hardly count the number of Toronto Followers who are dancing beautifully - because so many of them are.

Man Yung is so lucky.*

*Except that Irene still drives him nuts by following every piece of music like she is dancing to Di Sarli.


tangocherie said...

So nice to land on your blog and see a photo of Los Consagrados!

Interesting post as well!

Anonymous said...

"a plague of rabid adornistas".


you slay me, Irene. Great, great post. I have often been complimented for being a great milonguera. I guess now I know what they mean :-)

Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear Cherie,

Centro Region Leonesa (did we spell that right?) is one of the most elegant halls in Buenos Aires for tango - it sure photographs well!

Thanks for your comment!

Irene and Man Yung

Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear Johanna,

It is so wonderful that you dance like a milonguera (I wish I could - but I'm thinking too much about Wal-Mart!). More and more followers outside of Buenos Aires are getting there, because they give their all to the dance. The leaders however... I've got to say they still have quite a bit of distance to go! But that's subject for another post!

Thanks for your comment,


tangocherie said...

You're right, I thought the tablecloths were beige and maroon (Los Consagrados), but they might be black and white (Nino Bien.)

Anyway, whichever night of the week, I totally agree with you about the salon at Region Leonesa--elegant, grand, with the best floor in Buenos Aires!

Anonymous said...

Irene, I think it's the absence of all thought which gives a milonguera her qualities. But you have perfected the skill of having EVERY thought and still being able to dance :-)

Arlene said...

Thank you to Johanna for leading me to your blog and this post. Very funny.
We also have rabid adornistas (hilarious!) here in the UK. I have enough trouble dancing on my own two feet, and getting my posture right to worry about what little fancy footwork I could be doing. That's when I usually step on my own foot! So, I don't do that anymore! ;)

Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear Arlene,

Thanks for your comment and for enjoying the post! "Rabid Adornistas" was merely one of the biblical plagues of Toronto Tango. We also had (in no particular order)

The blood red sea of tinny, scratchy sleep-inducing repetitive music

The long arid drought of decent Leaders

The murderous horde of space-hogging big movement dancers

The unstoppable invasion of the suave lady-killing Fabios (you have to check out our posts to find out what a "Fabio" is to us)

As you see, dancing in Toronto can get pretty hairy at times.


Irene and Man Yung

Anonymous said...

God Irene, you are such a hoot! If Toronto has cleaned up it's Tango, then it will be pretty tame compared to London these days? I think Toronto may be now what London used to be in the old days so I hear!
We have our fair share of Fabios, but they are really not that good looking, and space hogging big movement dancers. I just call that dancing large.
I have been to Toronto many times before the kids, but before I learned to dance Tango. I liked it. I'm glad things have calmed down for you in the Tango world. I look forward to reading some back posts. You are hilarious. All the best. Arlene

Golondrina said...

Hi Irene and Man Yung,

I've also discovered your blog via Johanna and I'm loving hearing about all your thoughts. Keep them coming, they make marvellous reading. :-)

I'm also inspired by your idea of what constitutes a 'milonguera' - its something to aspire to become!

Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear Arlene (londontango),

London has "Not good-looking" Fabios? Impossible! Every Fabio is by definition the most delicious morsel of tangosity ever presented to tanguera-kind and therefore completely irresistible, even if he is missing teeth, hair, height, personal hygiene, fashion sense and personality!

Hope you enjoy our back posts (cross our fingers) and thanks for your comment!

Irene and Man Yung

Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear Golondrina,

We can all dance like milongueros and milongueras, we don't believe that there should be some "mysterious path" or "elusive club" or "special talent" required, contrary to what some tango professionals may like everyone to think! The most wonderful social dancers (as opposed to professional stage dancers - now that takes a lot of acrobatic training) in Buenos Aires are just normal, ordinary people off the street, just like you and me. Our greatest asset in this dance is what we already have, being "ourselves" - because tango becomes beautiful when we can put ourselves completely in our dance, and (and we know it sounds corny, but it's true) we can "be ourselves".

Conversely, our greatest obstacle is also "ourselves" - in all our lapses of insincerity and insecurity, our neurosis and our fears about not being good enough in and of "ourselves".

For us it is not only a journey of tango, but also of life.

Thanks for your comment!

Irene and Man Yung

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